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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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[He has] good posts, both the serious like this one, and the humorous like yesterday. [He is] the reason that I have restrained myself from making Canadian jokes in my posts.
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Thursday, August 18, 2011
“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
That was the question Paul asked the believers at Ephesus (c.f. Acts 19:1-7).

Paul wasn't asking them a theological question, that is, Paul wasn't asking them whether a believer receives the Holy Spirit when they come to saving faith, he was asking them about their own personal experience.

Paul's inescapable expectation, in asking such a question, is that if they had received the Holy Spirit, they would know that they had.

I was an adult when I received the Holy Spirit, and when it happened, it was not an intellectual experience - it was quite visceral. I have described it many times in various ways, but ultimately I felt like I was screen door set beneath Niagara falls, only it wasn't water that was passing through me, but the holiness of God.

I didn't know what was happening because I was utterly ignorant of the scriptures. I hadn't grown up in church, and I hadn't heard that people "receive" the Holy Spirit when they are saved. In fact until that moment I had never understood the gospel, or pretty much anything from God's word. But in the moment I surrendered my life to Christ, accepting the reconciliation to God that is found only in Him, I unexpectedly, and even alarmingly, received the Holy Spirit. If the joy of perfect and utter reconciliation with God could be bottled, that was the fragrance of the moment. The overwhelming sense of God's presence within me was tangible. I didn't speak in tongues, I didn't do any miracles, all I did was marvel at the sudden change within me.

If Paul were to ask me if I had received the Holy Spirit, I wouldn't hesitate in saying, "Yes, most definitely, I received Him the very moment my repentance was both sincere and utterly encompassing. I wouldn't be answering in the affirmative on account of my theological persuasion - that is, I know from scripture that everyone who repents and believes receives the Holy Spirit. I mean, one can believe that this is true and apply it to themselves even if they were never really saved. There will be people who cry, "Lord, Lord!" on that last day, people who are convinced that they were legitimate believers, who find out, to the gnashing of their own teeth, that they were deceived.

I have heard a lot of people say that some come to the Lord and have an experience, and others come to the Lord and do not. What Paul asks these believers at Ephesus is whether or not they have received the Holy Spirit, and he anticipates that if they have, they would know that they had.

Now, you have to remember that these were Gentile disciples who had been baptized into the teachings of John the Baptist. John's message was to repent, for the kingdom of heaven was at hand. It follows that these men had repented, and were seeking God, but not according to the New Covenant in Christ's blood. They were Gentiles who having been baptized into John's baptism, were in fact being baptized into Judaism and not into Christianity. They were being prepared for the coming reign of Christ, but had not entered into the New Covenant in Christ's blood because they were, as yet, ignorant of the new covenant.

It follows then, that these men were "saved" already, but having been saved under the old covenant economy. They were not yet partakers of the new covenant which is why they had not yet received the promised Holy Spirit. When Paul explained who Jesus was, they believed, and were baptized into the name of the Christ (Jesus), and Paul laid his hands upon these dozen men, and prayed, and they received the Holy Spirit - that is when they came under the promises of the New Covenant.

So one might argue that when Paul asks whether or not these twelve men had received the Holy Spirit, he was really asking them if they had had an experience similar to Pentecost. If this was Paul's true question, then one might follow with the thought that this was a one-off kind of thing. I mean each time in scripture, whenever a new people group was brought into the new covenant, we see Pentecostal phenomenon. At Pentecost, the Jews received the Holy Spirit in a phenomenal way. In Samaria, the Samaritans had their own "day of Pentecost", again, the gentiles in the house of Cornelius had their own mini Pentecost, and here, lastly, we see gentiles believers who were still under the old covenant squeaking into the new covenant, and having their own dozen strong Pentecost. But such experiences were limited to the initiation of a group, and so we should conclude, some would argue, that the experience Paul is asking them about is whether they have had a Pentecost of their own yet - which would make the question less about a personal salvation experience, and more about a people-group experience.

I tell you, that I am persuaded, and I don't doubt that my own experience plays into this, that Paul was not asking them whether they had had a pentecostal experience, rather I think he was simply asking them if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed - and this he asked as a diagnostic question to determine whether these disciples had yet come to Christ.

It seems to me that Paul's question depends upon him having an already settled opinion about receiving the Holy Spirit: that believers who have received the Holy Spirit are fully aware that it has happened. Not that they are convinced by their theology that this must happen, and so it must have happened to them even if they didn't experience anything - but rather that if it happened to you, you will know it happened because you were aware that it was happening.

So what do we do with those believers who have no salvation "experience" to speak of. What are we to make of those whose testimonies are one of an entrance into Christianity that was so entirely gradual they can't tell you when they became convinced of it, but only that are sure that today they presently are believers.

I tell you, I wonder about these. I know, I know. Bad me. I am supposed to take everyone's profession of faith as valid or I am a bad, bad, Christian. Oh sour-souled, judgmental me. But there it is. Yes, some of us are saved as children, and perhaps our memory of the moment is foggy, or even uncertain because it happened so long ago, I have no problem with that - rather it is for those people whose testimony cannot look back to a point when they surrendered their life to Christ, but instead looks back to a habit of gradual surrender, or of gradually increasing certainty, etc. How can something as decisive as turning away from self rule, and submitting oneself in utter surrender to the rule of God, how can one turn aside from rejecting God's rule, to accepting agains the role that reconciliation with God is supposed to restore, that is , how does one surrender themselves in utter obedience to God so gradually that they cannot say when they actually went from rebellion, to reconciliation?

I shudder to think that there are people who believe themselves to be saved simply because they have worked up an affection for God over the years.

Perhaps there is a way to enter the kingdom gradually - without every knowing when you actually did so. Perhaps the Holy Spirit makes His sudden presence felt and known only to some when they repent, but not to others, to those perhaps He slinks into their lives quieter than a mouse, so that these who receive Him thus have no experiential evidence to demonstrate that anything has changed.

I mean, perhaps the way to know that the Holy Spirit is within you is through a logical inference:
[a] all believers receive the Holy Spirit
[b] I believe
It follows that
[c] I have received the Holy Spirit.

I think that is how many evangelicals are trained to think.

But if that was what Paul was getting at, wouldn't Paul have addressed their faith directly, rather than through such an inference? Wouldn't Paul have asked instead, "Have you believed in Jesus?" or something like that? Yet his question expects that those who were answering it could point back to some experience they had personally had; above, beyond, and apart from any inference.

Have you ever noticed in the book of Acts that when it comes to the Holy Spirit, the language is experiential, and not inferential? Consider the seven ways that Luke (the author of Acts) describes the reception of the Holy Spirit: [1] He was given to people (as a gift), [2] He fell upon people, [3] He came upon people, [4] He was poured out on people, [5] people received Him, [6] people were baptized (immersed) into Him, and [7] people were being filled by Him. The language is not the language of inference, but of experience.

Can it be that the Holy Spirit is received without manifesting Himself in such a way that the one who receives Him is aware that something has changed?

I think the answer is no. I think that you may love Jesus, and you may work to obey His commands, and you may attend church, and have great and moving affections, taking joy in worship, and ministering the gospel, and becoming studied in the word, and active in prayer, and all without every having actually surrendered your life to God. If you can't point to the moment that you received the Holy Spirit in your life, how would you have answered Paul? What would Paul have answered you?

Consider these things - especially if they afflict your comfort, for perhaps in doing so the gospel may comfort your affliction.
posted by Daniel @ 7:42 AM  
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