Among our churches of Christ there is lively, and decades old debate, concerning the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Some deny He is a person, others deny that He indwells Christians, and still others disagree about the extent of His work in the life of a modern day believer.
This post is not an attempt to fix any of this, but is an attempt to encourage us to carefully look at what the Bible actually says. There are some statements by Peter in the book of Acts that raise some questions that we should at least acknowledge and I believe they beg for an answer.
The Holy Spirit indwells Christians
For those of us who do believe that the Holy Spirit indwells believers today there is broad agreement that He comes to be “in” us at the point of our conversion. Jesus said of Him,
“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers ofliving water.'” Now this he said about the Spirit,whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39)
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16,17)
Jesus gives this comforting promise of the Spirit’s presence “in” His followers and then even indicates that the Holy Spirit is actually Him indwelling them. He continues by saying to them,
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:18)
Paul confirms this idea in Colossians 1:27 using the phrase “Christ in you”. There are many other passages that make it very clear that the Holy Spirit resides “in” believers.
Does the Holy Spirit come to the believer when he is baptized?
Of those in churches of Christ who believe in the indwelling of the Spirit, the answer to this question is a resounding YES! Peter’s words in Acts 2 were,
“Repent and be baptized every one of youin the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38,39)
It is this passage that ties the reception of the Holy Spirit to the point of one’s baptism. How could it be more clear? It is after all Peter’s own words! But, there is a problem, this is not all Peter had to say on the subject.
Peter has more to say…
Peter has preached the good news to a Gentile audience in obedience to God’s command and they believed, received the Holy Spirit and were then baptized. (Acts 10) The order was not what we would expect if we take the Acts 2 verses at face value. Peter said of those new believers,
“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” (Acts 10:47,48b)
“As we have…”? That is what he asked. In the next chapter Peter visits the Jewish brothers in Jerusalem and defends baptizing Gentiles. I encourage you to read the whole chapter but this part of Peter’s defense is striking.
“If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:17)
Now according to Peter’s words the receiving of the Holy Spirit is tied to “believing”, not baptism. In fact, just before the Gentiles received the gift of the Holy Spirit when they believed, and before they were baptized Peter made this statement.
“And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he (Jesus) is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:42,43)
How do we reconcile Peter’s clear statements? He received the Holy Spirit when he believed just as the Gentiles did when they believed. How does this mesh with the traditional teaching of coc brothers about when one receives the Holy Spirit, and further at what point is one saved?
The question then is when did Peter believe?
- Did Peter believe at the moment he was baptized? This would have to be the correct answer if we believe it is only at the moment of immersion that the Holy Spirit is given. But, this is not a logical conclusion. The only reason a person would want to be baptized is because they already believe, not to believe. We are right I believe to assume Peter was baptized but we have no record of it.
- Did Peter believe when he saw the resurrected Christ? I believe it was only after Peter and the others saw for themselves that Jesus had been raised from the dead that they truly put their trust in him. After they witnessed the risen Lord there was never again any of the doubting and fear that characterized them up to that point.
In the passages in John chapters 7 and 14 Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come to be “in” believers when he was “glorified” (John 7:39) later in John’s gospel we can read when that event took place. Jesus had been crucified, he has been buried, and now he is clearly alive. On the evening of the day he rose from the dead he appeared to the disciples in a room with the doors closed. The disciples certainly were expressing unbelief and fear. Here is John’s account.
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:19-22)
It was when they saw his hands and his side that their fears vanished and their faith was firm. Thomas was absent at the event and only after he too had seen the evidence did he believe.
I can’t think of any reason, any evidence from the scriptures, that should make me doubt that the disciples received the Holy Spirit on that exact moment. Was Jesus speaking in vain? Hardly! Peter’s defense to the elders about baptizing the Gentiles was that they had received the Spirit just as he did when he believed on the Lord Jesus Christ.
What about Pentecost?
Again I’ll use Jesus and Peter as expert witnesses. Jesus said of Pentecost, in fact his very last words before his ascension,
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Pentecost was not about people being first indwelt by the Spirit but rather it was about Holy Spirit empowered witness. (Luke 24:49) Peter said this in his address right after this power had fallen upon them.
“But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,and your sons andyour daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ (Acts 2:16-21)
It takes this sort of Holy Spirit power and authority to snatch men and women from the clutches of the evil one. Remember when Jesus gave the marching orders to the disciples? “I have all power (authority) in heaven and in earth, therefore go….” (Matthew 28:18) The purpose was to receive Holy Spirit power. (Luke 24:49)
This Pentecost power was not a one time event never to be repeated. We can read later in the Acts that they were again and again filled with the Spirit for power to witness to the claims of Jesus.
You and I are too commanded to be filled with the Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18) We too need his power to present the claims of Christ to hopeless and helpless sinners. If we humans know how to give good things to our children how much more does our heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit’s power for witness to those who ask and keep on asking him? In Acts 4:31 when the Apostles needed a fresh anointing of Holy Spirit power they prayed for it just like they did earlier in Acts.
God’s work must be done by God’s power. That is Jesus’ plan, not mine. Every person who puts his trust in Jesus is indwelt and those who want to win the lost to Christ need the filling of Spirit as well.
What about water baptism?
The Bible pattern for water baptism is perhaps best illustrated by the man from Ethiopia. After Phillip had preached Christ to him he requested to be baptized. Phillip replied “If you believe with all your heart you may…” Water baptism in the Bible is always believers baptism and is almost always immediately after one has professed faith in Christ. The act alone neither saves or imparts the Holy Spirit but is the God designed gospel symbol of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. It is one moment in the life of a person when they are completely surrendered to another, “self” is not in control. Baptism in the public identification of a person with Christ and Christ’s people.
I can’t find any account in the Bible of Christians who rejected baptism. Rather they at once hurried to be immersed. They knew it was their coming out for Christ, that it would separate them from the word at large and set them apart them as God’s own.
There is no Bible precedent that I can find for baptizing anyone who did not in public, acknowledge his faith in Jesus Christ. Sinners are not candidates for baptism, believers are. And, the clear teaching is that those who trust Christ are saved. This view agrees with Peter’s statements although it goes against our traditional view.
I repeat often that I might be wrong, I am not infallible. But, I might be right too. What do you think?