And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” (Acts 19:2)
For a disciple not to have heard about the Holy Spirit is Not A Good Thing.
For those of us who want to emphasise (I think rightly) the priority of preaching Christ and him crucified and who see the Spirit’s role mainly as a spotlight ministry, drawing attention to Christ not himself, this stress on the Spirit in Acts is an important thing to reckon with. There could be a danger that some of us are so keen to distance ourselves from the excesses of hyper-Pentecostalism and unhelpful (or downright non-Christian) (mis)understandings of the Spirit, that we end up leaving people with no doctrine of the Spirit at all.
“If it’s not all about tongues, how do I know whether I have the Spirit?” I was asked recently. Where does the Holy Spirit fit into our proclamation and meeting as church and the Christian life? Do we just believe in the Father, the Son and the Bible?
Acts 19:2 makes me think:
- It seems that preaching the gospel usually included mention of the Holy Spirit and his work. Acts 2 is a great example of this kind of proclamation. The focus from beginning to end is on Christ but all the persons of the Trinity are mentioned: the exalted Christ has received from his Father the Spirit to pour out (v33). A gospel outline like 3-2-1 can be helpful in making sure we talk about the Trinity early on and don’t leave it till later as a clunky bolt-on.
- It seems that the invitation to receive Christ and to be baptised usually mentioned the Holy Spirit. Again, that’s what happens in Acts 2 – v38 – baptism-forgiveness-Holy Spirit. Baptism was into the name (singular) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). When Paul reminds the Galatians of their conversion he appeals to them as ones who clearly knew that they had received the Spirit at that point (Gal. 3:2) – that was not the debate – that was obviously what had happened – what he wants to remind them is how they received the Spirit – i.e. by hearing and believing the gospel of Christ crucified not by Law keeping. It also seems the Galatians knew their Christian life had begun by the power of God’s Spirit (Gal. 3:3), the question is whether they will go on that way.
- It seems that the early discipleship of believers would have been full of reminders of the gospel including explanation of the Spirit’s role in their salvation. You certainly see this throughout the apostles’ letters to the young churches. They are constantly reminding believers of what has happened to them so they grasp the enormity of it and live in accordance with it. Their focus is always on Christ and him crucified but wherever they talk about justification by faith and salvation through the blood of Christ, the Spirit is never far away. Ephesians 1: The Father chose you before Creation, the Son died for you on the Cross, the Spirit sealed you as you believed (cf. similarly 1 Peter 1:2). Titus 3:4-7: Father, Son and Spirit; justification and regeneration. Romans 8: wonderful chapter interweaving the glorious gospel of Christ and the true work and marks of the Spirit.
Putting this altogether it seems that for the apostles to speak about Christ was inevitably to speak about the Spirit-anointed Christ. To speak about his death and resurrection would have inevitably led to talking about the Spirit who unites us with Christ to make the benefits of his death and resurrection ours. They would have left no one in any doubt that without the Spirit of Christ they are dead and that from their first breath of faith to their final good work, all would be the Spirit’s work in them. They would have talked about how God sent his Son to redeem us and sent the Spirit of Sonship into our hearts that we might be swept up into the Son and cry out to the Father as our Father. They would have talked of our natural blindness and desperate need every day for the Spirit to open our eyes wider and wider to Christ.
We’ve started a new term of Training Wednesdays at iServe Africa and here are some resources from the first couple of weeks: