But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth – Acts 1:8.
Receiving the Holy Spirit is a topic of vital interest to all Christians, but it seems to be tangled with differences and misunderstandings. All believers agree that it is necessary to receive the Holy Spirit. Differences arise over when one receives the Spirit, how it happens, and what kind of results follow.
The New Testament writers spoke of receiving the Holy Spirit in different contexts. Paul talked about receiving the Spirit of adoption into God’s family: For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave, but you received the Spirit of sonship – Romans 8:15. Luke, on the other hand, spoke about receiving or being filled with the Holt Spirit primarily in terms of power for ministry: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you – Acts 1:8.
THE HOLY SPIRIT IS A PERSON
But who is the Holy Spirit, and is the same power that came upon the apostles at Pentecost available to us today? To begin with, the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is a person, the third person of the Trinity: He is God-coequal, co-existent, co-eternal with the Father and the Son. The Trinity is a description of the unique relationship of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He possesses all the attributes of deity. He regenerates the believing sinner. He baptizes us into the universal body of Christ. He indwells all who have been converted. He seals us, keeping every believer securely in the family of God. He fills us, taking control of our lives as we remove any impediments and yield to Him.
Is receiving the Spirit different from receiving Christ?
In Paul’s writings these concepts run very close to each other, yet the element of the Spirit’s charismatic manifestation is not absent. In Galatians 3:1-5, he spoke of the Holy Spirit coming in power, complete with miracles. He asked, “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?… Does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?” The Galatians had experienced the power of the Spirit in miraculous manifestations, and Paul pointed to this as confirming the reality of the saving faith by which they received Christ. In Luke however, the focus is somewhat different. Receiving the Holy Spirit is the way that those who already believe in Christ are empowered to serve Him.
People receive the Holy Spirit, in Luke’s meaning of the term, in different ways. Some people receive the Spirit more or less spontaneously, while for others the response is quite conscious and deliberate; some experience dramatic manifestations of the Spirit, while with others the manifestations are more subdued. The way in which people receive the Spirit will be determined, to some extent, by the situation and by the person (his of her personality type, station in life, church environment). More important than the particular way that we receive the Spirit, however, is what we do after having received.
It’s like the difference between a big church wedding and a small family wedding. The kind of wedding you have doesn’t determine the kind of marriage you will have. What’s important is how you live out the reality of married life.
It’s important that we receive the power of the Spirit for living the Christian life. Luke’s message needs to come through loud and clear. But when it comes to the questions of how, it’s more important to focus on how one lives the Spirit-filled life than on a rigid formula for receiving it.
Receiving the Spirit in the gospel of Luke in sense is not a one-time event, but an ongoing way of life. We need Him everyday; some occasions may call for a special filling of the Spirit – Acts 4:31; 7:55. The effects of the Spirit’s filling may be dramatic, accompanied by supernatural signs; they may open up a new area of witness or ministry; they may issue in quite growth of the fruit of the Spirit. When the Spirit controls us, He moves us to accomplish God’s will in God’s way.
Luke’s emphasis on receiving the Spirit to empower us for ministry is a needed emphasis today, when one thinks of the enormous missionary challenge facing the church – several million people who haven’t heard the gospel. We need to move beyond past misunderstandings and get on with the task!
The ‘power’ believers receive from the Holy Spirit includes courage, boldness, confidence, insight, ability and authority. We need all these gifts to fulfill our mission. If we believe in Jesus Christ as our Saviour, we can experience the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
LORD GOD THE HOLY GHOST – MHB 298
1 Lord God, the Holy Ghost,
In this accepted hour,
As on the day of Pentecost,
Descend in all Thy power.
2 We meet with one accord
In our appointed place
And wait the promise of our Lord,
The Spirit of all grace.
3 Like mighty rushing wind
Upon the waves beneath,
Move with one impulse every mind;
One soul, one feeling breathe.
4 The young, the old inspire
With wisdom from above;
And give us hearts and tongues of fire,
To pray, and praise, and love.
James Montgomery (1771-1854)
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