The gift of the Spirit in Acts 2:38

waterAs we’ve seen, in Acts 2:38 the apostle Peter tells the Jews that have gathered that they need to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. He also says they would receive the Holy Spirit.

It’s fair to ask, “Receive the Spirit in what way?” People in the Old Testament had the Spirit of God come upon them and operate through them. Yet John says the Spirit “wasn’t yet” until after Jesus’ crucifixion (John 7:39).

Does Peter mean that everyone will do miracles? Doesn’t seem like it; for some time after this, the only people we see doing miracles are the Twelve (Acts 5:12). In fact, that was long seen as the mark of an apostle (1 Corinthians 12:12). John the Baptist was said to have been filled with the Spirit from birth, yet never did miracles (John 10:41).

Jesus spoke of an indwelling Spirit, a comforter. That seems to be what Peter is talking about, the presence of God living within us (Romans 8:9-11).

Some people have tried to make much of the fact that the word repent is plural, the word be baptized is singular, and the word “receive” (the Spirit) is plural again. They say that Peter was promising the Spirit to those who repented, not those who were baptized. Need we give serious discussion to that? Notice the phrase “every one of you” after the command to be baptized; unless we’re merely trying to be argumentative, we’ll note that all were told to repent and all told to be baptized.

Peter tells them that if they repent and are baptized, they will receive the Spirit. This is the normal way in which God gives his Spirit, at least according to the book of Acts. Everyone who obeys receives the Spirit (Acts 5:32). Are the Samaritans in Chapter 8 and Cornelius in Chapter 10 possible exceptions? Sure. God is still God, as I mentioned yesterday.

But I’m not sure that we’re being told that the Samaritans hadn’t received the indwelling Spirit in chapter 8. What they were lacking certainly seems to have been observable. It seems more likely that they hadn’t yet received tongues or any of the other outward signs. (I discussed this in an earlier post on “Signs of an Apostle“)

And I think it quite possible that Cornelius and family received similar manifestations. Something happened to let those present know that the Spirit had come upon them. It was something so different that it made Peter remember Pentecost (Acts 11:15). Did they also receive the indwelling? Possibly. We can’t really say. Either way, we know that this was an exceptional case.

Just as Peter said that this promise was for “you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call,” so I believe that it remains today. Repent and be baptized, and you’ll receive the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Temples of God: The Lord is in His Holy Temple

 

cloudsOne of the most beautiful promises of the New Testament is that God will come to live inside of us, his children. We, both individually and collectively, are made into temples of God:

Romans 8:9     You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.  10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.  11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. 

1 Corinthians 3:16     Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? 

1 Corinthians 6:19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 

2 Corinthians 6:16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

Ephesians 2:21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 

Colossians 1:27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 

1 Peter 2:4     As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—  5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

According to the New Testament, the implications of this are that we are to be holy, set apart from “common” things, just as the Old Testament temple was a special, sanctified place. God lives in us! We aren’t meant for immorality. Christ in us, the hope of glory. We are meant for good, not evil. The sanctifying Spirit dwells in us. Because of that, we are to dedicate our bodies to God’s service. The church is the temple of God. Therefore, anything that we do to harm the church is an attack on God’s temple.

We need to recapture that feeling of awe, the recognition of the holiness that is ours, not because of our human efforts, but because the Creator of all has chosen to make a home within our hearts.

Temples of God: The Spirit at work in us

cloudsSo what does the Bible tell us about the work of the Holy Spirit? In the first place, we see that Jesus promised to send his apostles the Paraclete, a comforter/counselor/helper (John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7). We need to recognize that the promises in these three chapters in John were made specifically to the apostles. While we learn about how the Spirit works and what his nature is, we can’t directly claim these promises.

The letters to Christians in the New Testament give us more insight into the Spirit and his work in our life. God gives us the Spirit as a “deposit” on our salvation (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30; Romans 8:23). The Spirit helps us approach the Father (Romans 8:26; Ephesians 2:18; 6:18; Jude 20). He leads us toward godly living (Romans 8:1-17; Galatians 5:16-25) and helps to make us holy (Romans 15:15-16; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Titus 3:4-7; 1 Peter 1:1-2).

In the New Testament, the work of the Spirit is related to God’s Word: both are described as dwelling in us, teaching and convicting, guiding and sanctifying. However, the Spirit is not confined to the Word. He speaks (Acts 13:2-3). He intercedes for us with groans (Romans 8:26-27). He can be lied to (Acts 5:3-9) and can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30). He gives gifts to believers (1 Corinthians 12:11).

There is a definite connection between the Word and the work of the Spirit, but the two are not one and the same. God’s Spirit is the living presence of God in our lives.

A framework for understanding New Testament miracles: Conclusions

337522537_ebc4a82409Let me try to summarize:

At three separate times in biblical history, God used miracles to confirm a new revelation of his will: during the days of Moses, during the days of Elijah and Elisha, and during the first years of the New Testament era.

I believe that the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost, and that there was no indwelling Spirit before this time. From our point of view, we were immersed by this outpouring, baptized with the Spirit as the text says. Before this time, men could have the Spirit come upon them, enabling them to do miracles, and they could be filled with the Spirit, filling their lives with spiritual power, though not necessarily miraculous power.

The power to do miracles is separate from the indwelling Spirit (in Acts 8, we see people who have the indwelling Spirit, but not the outward manifestation; in Acts 10, we see people receive the outward manifestation before receiving the indwelling Spirit). The apostles received the power to do miracles and could pass this on to others, but these “secondary recipients” could not pass on the outward gifts. The miraculous gifts were never meant to be permanent; Paul said they would cease when maturity was reached. Hebrews 2:4 speaks of miracles in the past tense, as do the early Christian writers, those who wrote from the second century onward.

Miracles were a sign of apostolic authority; those possessing miraculous gifts had been with the apostles and therefore could be considered as bearing their teaching. Miracles confirmed the validity of what was taught. Eventually the doctrine was established in such a way that this was no longer necessary.

Again, there is speculation and inference in much of this. I do not and will not draw lines of fellowship based on these teachings. But this framework helps me understand what I see in the New Testament regarding miracles. I hope it helps you as well.

A framework for understanding New Testament miracles: The coming of “the perfect”

337522537_ebc4a82409Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. (1 Corinthians 13:8-11)

Here’s another important passage that needs to be considered. 1 Corinthians 12-14 is the most extensive discussion of miraculous gifts that we have. In fact, 1 Corinthians is the only epistle that addresses the topic at length; most of the letters don’t even mention miraculous gifts.

This passage talks about a time when miracles would cease (or will cease, depending on your view). This is connected with the coming of “the perfect.” Some connect this with the Second Coming of Christ, arguing that we will have miracles among us until then. That’s not an impossible view, especially in light of the verse that follows the section I quoted, which talks about “then we shall see face to face.” Some object on grammatical grounds, while others point out that the Second Coming is nowhere else described as “the perfect” or “perfection.”

It’s been popular in our brotherhood to connect “the perfect” with “the perfect revelation,” the completion of the New Testament. The fact that the verse that talks about perfection also mentions “knowledge” and “prophecy,” two things that can be connected with the inspiration necessary to write Scripture. However, the Corinthians would have had no idea that a New Testament was being written, so this view makes the passage pretty meaningless to them.

It seems better to me to look for the answer within Corinthians itself. Consider this verse: “We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. (1 Corinthians 2:6) This verse is interesting because the word “mature” is the same word translated “perfect” or “perfection” in 1 Corinthians 13. That should be an important consideration, because it’s the only other use of this word in Corinthians. If we read the whole of the letter (always a good idea when studying a passage), we’ll see that the Corinthians had a big problem with maturity. Paul tells them: “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. (1 Corinthians 3:1-2) So it’s not surprising that he tells them that they will have these gifts until they reach maturity. That would also explain why none of the other churches seems to be as fascinated with these gifts, why none of the other letters has a similar discussion. The immature church was focused on the gifts that were meant to be in place at the beginning, not throughout the lifetime of the congregation.

The writings of the Early Church Fathers, the Christians from the first few centuries, speak of miracles in the past tense. This supports the view that the “cessation” came sometime early in the life of the church. If, as we saw last post, the external gifts of the Spirit were only given through the laying on of apostolic hands, it makes sense that the gifts would have died out, would have ceased as Paul says here.

My view is that Paul is saying that, when the church reached maturity, the gifts were no longer necessary.