Home > Chapter 14

"Did you receive the Holy Spirit?"

Boon Keng and Nicholas called on Uncle Loh at his home.

"We had a sermon on the baptism of the Holy Spirit," Boon Keng began. "The speaker testified of his own experience and strongly recommended that we should ask for it. He thinks that many Christians lead defeated lives because they resist Spirit-baptism. What is your view?"

Mrs Loh appearing with a tray was a welcome sight. As they sipped their drinks Uncle Loh said, "I have been told that I need Spirit-baptism and even had hands laid on me to induce tongues-speaking. No, neither I nor others spoke in tongues." He smiled in answer to Boon Keng’s unspoken query.

"Did you want the gift?" Nicholas pressed. "That is crucial."

"Should I want it?" he replied. After a pause he added. "Why this particular gift? If so many people want to speak in tongues, shouldn’t some ask for the ability to interpret?" (1 Corinthians 12:30)

When no one spoke he resumed. "It is well-known that those who claim Spirit-baptism emphasise they experience a deeper quality of spiritual life, a greater unity with others who share their baptism and a stronger zeal to witness. Catholic charismatics frequently claim a greater devotion to Mary and to the Roman Catholic Church as a result of their experience. Like your speaker they are basically saying, ‘You cannot deny my experience.’ This is a feeble argument to use in persuading anyone to do anything."

"Many prominent Christians have had emotional experiences," remarked Nicholas. "Was it not John Wesley who said that he felt his heart ‘strangely warmed’?"

"Very good, Nicholas. Do you recall why Wesley had that experience? He was listening to someone reading Martin Luther’s preface to the epistle to the Romans. That preacher described the change God works in the heart through faith in Christ. Wesley felt that he had to trust in Christ alone for salvation. He was assured that Christ had taken away his sins, and had saved him from the law of sin and death. Those truths when understood are enough to warm any sinner’s heart. Wesley did not seek a heart-warming experience to begin with. What comparison is there between Wesley at Aldersgate and a man being guided step by step for an emotional experience of tongues which is supposed to indicate Spirit-baptism?"

"We are emotional beings. God made us that way. If emotional experiences draw us nearer to God, I think it is alright to have those experiences," commented Nicholas.

"No one will say it is wrong to cry, laugh or exult when it is appropriate to do those things. But emotions cannot do what the mind is supposed to - think, understand, grasp spiritual truths. We don’t cry or laugh for no obvious reason. Now during an experience of tongues Paul tells us the mind ‘is unfruitful’. (1 Corinthians 14:14) If you are not thinking why do you feel that you are drawing nearer to God?"

Uncle Loh added "My experience, and that of all those I know, has invariably been that of being told to let the mind go blank in case the mind hinders the flow of the Spirit."

Uncle Loh pressed his next point.

"Suppose you have a non-Christian friend who tells you that he gets such deep peace and joy meditating in a temple. He says he feels closer to God. Are you willing to say that your experience is the same as his? If you say ‘Yes’, why? And if ‘No’, why not? Your answer has important implications for evangelism."

"I can’t answer that question right now," Nicholas replied thoughtfully, "but I would like to ask you whether you agree that this verse in Luke is sufficient basis for seeking Christian Spirit-baptism. ‘If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’ " (Luke 11:13)

Uncle Loh read the entire passage of Luke 11 carefully.

"Luke records Jesus as issuing an invitation in verse 9, ‘So I say, to you: ask… seek… knock.’ This passage in Luke is addressed primarily to non-Christians, unbelievers. When a man earnestly seeks, asks, knocks, God will save him and give him the Holy Spirit. The man who seeks may not know much of the theology of salvation. In coming to Christ he is in fact asking for the Spirit of Christ. (Romans 8:9) He is baptised in the Spirit and becomes a child of God."

"A man becomes a child of God when the Spirit indwells him. Baptism of the Spirit is a different matter. It can be asked for, as this verse in Luke tells us. I am not convinced this verse is for non-believers. I think it is for believers to ask and seek earnestly for Spirit-baptism," said Nicholas.

Uncle Loh replied, "If the gift of the Spirit is not given at conversion, how do you explain what Peter said to his audience on Pentecost?

‘When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"

Peter replied, "Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call." ‘
(Acts 2:37-39. See 1 Corinthians 12:12-13)

The baptism of the Spirit is referred to here as the gift of the Spirit. It is given on repentance, that is, at conversion. If you don’t mind my saying so, Nicholas, you may have read too much into the word ‘give’ in the passage in Luke 11:13, thinking that God only gives what we ask by name. If we ask for ‘Spirit-baptism’ he will give us one. However the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is already given to Christians.

‘And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.’ (Romans 5:5)

‘We know that we live in him and he is in us because he has given us of his Spirit.’ (1 John 4:13)

‘Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: we know it by the Spirit he gave us.’ " (1 John 3:24)

He returned the Bible to Nicholas. Boon Keng stretched his legs, folded his arms and mused, "Uncle Loh, I wonder if things would be easier for us to understand if Pentecost had not occurred the way it did."

Uncle Loh smiled and motioned him to go on.

"When the Holy Spirit fell upon the apostles and disciples at Pentecost they were already believers. This leads charismatic friends to believe that the Spirit is given sometime after conversion. Why did God not baptise them with the Spirit in the Gospels? That way there would be no doubt that Spirit-baptism and conversion are experienced together."

"Good point, Boon Keng. The answer, as usual, is given in the Bible. John says clearly, ‘Up to that time (the time of the Gospels) the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified’. (John 7:39) What was given at Pentecost was therefore a gift deferred until Christ had suffered, died, risen and ascended to heaven."

"I never thought of it that way," confessed Nicholas.

"One more thing," said Uncle Loh, "the events connected with Pentecost were historically unique. People forget that. It was an inaugural event, the birthday of the Church. Not everything that happened on that day can be taken as a pattern for subsequent Christian experience.

For instance, the fact that the disciples received the gift of the Spirit some time after they had trusted in the Lord was not a model to be copied. Peter immediately made it clear in his sermon. ‘Repent… be baptised… and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ (Acts 2:37-39) This is the pattern for the Church. Think of Cornelius and those with him. They received the Spirit straightaway ‘while Peter was still speaking’. (Acts 10:44) The little group of John’s disciples at Ephesus heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Spirit came upon them immediately." (Acts 19:1-7)

"Ah, but what about the Samaritan Christians? (Acts 8:14-17) They received Spirit-baptism only when the apostles Peter and John came down from Jerusalem and placed their hands on them," observed Boon Keng, rather pleased with himself.

"That’s true. Tell me how long after Pentecost do you think it was when Peter and John personally went down to Samaria to lay their apostolic hands on those Samaritan believers?" asked Uncle Loh.

"Several months I would imagine," Boon Keng ventured.

"About a year," Nicholas declared hesitantly.

"More like five years at least," said Uncle Loh deliberately. "We tend to read Acts as if everything that is described happened quickly one after the other. In fact it was eleven years after Pentecost when Peter preached to the Gentile Cornelius! It was twenty-five years after Pentecost when Paul met John’s disciples at Ephesus on his third missionary journey!"

"As long as that?" murmured Boon Keng incredulously, letting out a low whistle.

"Yes, if you keep in mind these long intervals you will understand two things. First, God so planned it that the apostles formed the authoritative link over the many years of carrying out the Great Commission. It was the apostles who ‘officially’ led Jews (Acts 2), Samaritans (Acts 8) and Gentiles (Acts 10) into the kingdom of God. Peter was given the keys of the kingdom by Jesus. (Matthew 16:18-19) He opened the door for the Jews, the Samaritans and the Gentiles.

Second, even apostles need to be reminded that all receive equal treatment. There are no second class citizens in God’s kingdom. That is why in Jerusalem, Samaria and in Cornelius’ house tongues were given at the same time the Spirit baptised the believers. The tongues were given to show that all believers were equal whether they became Christians at Pentecost or 25 years later. Please also note that tongues were given without being asked for in every one of these cases. The apostle Peter got the tongues-plus-Spirit message loud and clear. Appearing before the Council in Jerusalem he recalled:

‘ "As I began to speak (to Cornelius and those with him) the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning… So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God."

When they (the Council members) heard this, they had no further objections and praised God saying, "So then God has even granted the Gentiles repentance unto life".’
(Acts 11:15-21)

That ended the matter.

Today, two fundamental mistakes are made. Firstly, Spirit-baptism is sought for as an experience, apart from conversion. Even unbelievers become involved. This is confusion. Secondly, in the apostles’ time Spirit-baptism was given with languages for the reason I have explained. Today, mystical tongues, not languages, are required as a sign of Spirit-baptism. This adds a second confusion to the earlier one. You can understand why the church is disturbed."

The evening sun cast a lovely glow on that porch where they sat. Conversation lapsed as all eyes turned to admire the garden. The plants and flowers were on fire with magnificent hues that were a blend of their natural colours and gold. Mrs Loh slipped in quietly to join them.

Nicholas’ voice sounded far away when he spoke. "I want so much to be useful to the Lord. I guess I twisted quite a bit of Scripture to convince myself that there is a dramatic thing called Spirit-baptism to give me power to serve the Lord. I now see that I already have the Holy Spirit. My need is to be filled with Him." (Ephesians 5:15-21)

Uncle Loh leaned over and put his hand on Nicholas’ shoulder.

"The source of your earlier confusion was the unscriptural teaching of a second ‘Spirit-baptism’ in addition to the new birth. I grant you that ‘Spirit-baptism’ has a fashionable and socially acceptable ring to it. ‘Filling’ by the Spirit, which is the Scriptural teaching, is less dramatic and less acceptable to the ‘old man’ in all of us.

Nicholas, there are Christians like John Wesley and Charles Finney who speak of their spiritual experiences openly. Others like Charles Wesley, Moody, Lloyd-Jones or John Sung and a large number of ordinary Christian folk to whom the Spirit’s filling is no less real prefer a quieter form of sharing. They know what the Bible says about the Spirit’s filling and they preach it. It is just that they consider the Spirit’s dealings with themselves as something of a private matter.

The function of the Holy Spirit is to make us holy. True holiness, like agape love, does not constantly draw attention to itself. May the good Lord answer your prayer, Nicholas, to give you power to serve Him. Remember His words. ‘Blessed are those that hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled’." (Matthew 5:6)


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