Monday, July 08, 2013

The Power of the Spirit (4)

... continued from Friday.
But this is exactly what it means for someone to be a Lord. A lord is a master, someone whom you must serve and obey. We do not have masters today in most contexts, certainly not in America. We do not have kings who can have us put to death if we do not submit to their authority.

It seems that few people have a real comprehension of what a God is. We take God for granted, almost as if he exists to serve us rather than the other way around. So the notion that we would want to give God complete authority over our lives may at times seem foreign even to many who actually call themselves Christians.

So there is nothing wrong with using the idea of being filled with the Spirit for a new sense of purity, power, and authority God takes over our lives that comes once we surrender completely to him. Although it is not exactly biblical language, holiness preachers were on to a marvelous image when they talked of the fullness of the Spirit. After all, will God take full control of our lives if we have not given him all of our lives that we know to give?

But this idea, valid though it is, does not seem to be what the book of Acts had in mind. [1] As we have seen, the coming of the Spirit in Acts primarily has to do with the initial experience of Christians when they first believe in Jesus as Messiah and are baptized.  The situation of the disciples is different because the Spirit had not yet come in this way until the Day of Pentecost.

In Luke-Acts, the Day of Pentecost, as we saw earlier, is finally the fulfillment of the prediction John the Baptist made that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. [2] The disciples could not have been filled with the Spirit in this way until after Jesus died and rose from the dead.

So what is the coming of the Holy Spirit about in Acts?  Yes, for those who are first believing on Jesus, being filled with the Spirit is truly the mechanism of past sins being cleansed.  Baptism is the outward act with our bodies that corresponds to the spiritual act the Spirit does in cleansing our sins. Acts 15:9 tells us that the hearts of the Gentiles had been purified when they received the Spirit.

But Acts focuses much more on the power that comes when people receive the Holy Spirit.  Isn't this exactly what Jesus predicted in Acts 1:9: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you"?  And it is exactly power that we see the disciples have in the chapters that follow the Day of Pentecost.  They receive power to perform miracles, such as the healing of the lame man in Acts 3. They receive boldness to witness to the resurrection even though they are persecuted for it.

And this power is available for believers even today. In Romans 8:9, Paul tells the Romans that a person is not truly a child of God if he or she does not have the Holy Spirit. Most people today do not experience as dramatic an experience as those in Acts, although some do.  Most today experience a peace, a calm assurance. [3]

Luke-Acts draws a line to us, as if to tell us that in the power of the Spirit we can do the same miracles today.  Luke-Acts shows Paul doing the same miracles that Peter did, which were the same miracles that Jesus did.  The three points make, as it were, a line that points to today.

[1] Again, if the Spirit-fillings of Acts were about a distinct spiritual experience like entire sanctification, we would surely expect Acts to be more explicit about it. We should always question interpretations of this magnitude that require us to read between the lines. Interestingly, John Wesley himself did not use Acts to present his teaching on sanctification anywhere in his writings.

[2] Again, John 20:22 is not part of the narrative of Luke-Acts. As far as Acts is concerned, the Day of Pentecost is the first time the promise of Luke 3 comes to pass.

[3] For whatever reasons, some believers are also plagued with difficulty experiencing the love of God. In such cases, the body of Christ often steps in to embody the love and assurance of God for them.


Anonymous said...

AMEN! Thanks,
P.S. Let's praise Him!

John Mark said...

Ken, I was raised on implicit "Palmerism" though I don't think I ever really got much teaching on ES from the pulpit or otherwise as a youngster (maybe I wasn't paying attention). But I did assume that Pentecost was the ES experience for the disciples and the model for all of us, and was taught that the being-breathed-upon experience in John was an 'earnest' or some kind of 'initial sanctification' experience. For all its faults, the Pentecostal form of theology was clear even if wrong.....if that makes sense. Frankly, though I have read a good bit since becoming a pastor (You, Kinlaw, Collins, Dallas Willard, who says he agrees with Plain Account, and many others) I wish scripture was more clear than I find it on the subject of being entirely sanctified. I can understand those who say "I don't see it." I even understand Ironside who supposedly almost had a nervous breakdown as a result of not obtaining the 'blessing.' I sometimes think life is simpler for all my Baptist relatives who admit there are times when you are 'in the flesh' :). I'm not sure if my expectations have been unrealistic, my commitment less than total, my ignorance too great or something else....but to this day I can't seem to stay in any kind of 'entirely' sanctified state. Regardless, thanks for your continued work on this... I read you blog to my profit, and obviously some times you are over my head, as reflected by the fact I occasionally have commented on topics I am not qualified to say anything about. (I digress) But again thanks for this, it is one more resource for me to use as I wrestle with what it means to be a Spirit-filled person.

John Mark said...

Your blog....I hate typos

Ken Schenck said...

Maybe my "bog" would be more accurate. I hope the net result of the blog is benefit rather than curse :-) Thanks!