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Obedience

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Paul asks, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit?"
Image Source: Sweet Publishing/Free Bible Images

In today’s Bible reading Paul asked some disciples in Ephesus if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed. (Acts 19:1-4)

Like Apollos in yesterday’s reading, they had only heard of — and received — John’s Baptism; they knew nothing of the Holy Spirit. When Paul told them the rest of the story, they were baptized in water and received the Holy Spirit, manifesting Him through tongues and prophesying. (Acts 19:6) This is the same manifestation we saw in Acts 2:4 when Jesus’ Disciples received the Holy Spirit and when the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit in Acts 10:46).

Although tongues and prophecy aren’t specifically mentioned when the Samaritans received the Spirit in Acts 8:17–18, Simon’s response seems to indicate something similar happened here as well.

Assuming that my inference is correct, there are only four places in the entire book of Acts where we’re told that the Holy Spirit manifested with tongues and prophecy. I find this significant in light of the over-emphasis seen in many churches and ministries in the past one hundred years. I say over-emphasis because so many insist that the Holy Spirit always manifests in these ways when people understand the whole Gospel.*

Application

* By the whole Gospel, I’m referring to 1) the proclamation that of Jesus’ resurrection and accepting of Jesus’ death on the cross to atone for the sins of those who repent, 2) water baptism to symbolize the Believer’s union with Jesus’ death and Resurrection, and 3) the proclamation that God’s Holy Spirit indwells believers to empower them to live a holy life. The book of Acts (and the Gospels) is unique in that it describes people believing in the progressive revelation of God as it was being revealed: John’s baptism of repentance, belief in Jesus’ resurrection and immediate water baptism, and the receiving/baptism of the Holy Spirit. Those who only receive John’s baptism of repentance aren’t told of the baptism of Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s enabling power. Later, when they hear of the Holy Spirit’s baptism, God manifests the Spirit in the same way (tongues and prophecy) to validate the person’s Holy Spirit baptism.

In other words, what Dr. Luke describes in Acts is not prescribed for the future church. In contrast to Acts, the Holy Spirit now takes up residence in the new Believer when they repent/believe/are saved and as he/she yields to His leading over time, the Spirit manifests in the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) In fact, Paul says that the baptism of the Holy Spirit actually makes us Christians, uniting new Believers to the Body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:13) Further, Paul urges Believers to be continually filled with the Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18)

In summary — and speaking generally, today, the operation of the Spiritual gifts of tongues and prophecy (for evangelism and equipping) is different today than it was in the book of Acts (for revelation and validation).

The Holy Spirit sovereignly gives Believers various spiritual gifts for the purpose of evangelizing the lost and equipping Believers to grow in their faith. No one gift is more — or less — valuable than any other. All spiritual gifts should be used for the service and glory of God rather than the Believer who has been given the gift(s) by God.

I know that some of what I have said here is up for debate among believers. These issues are not primary issues of faith; they are areas where Christians should be able to agree to disagree. My hope is that this brief devotional helps to shed some Biblical light on some questionable, commonly-held theology.

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And now, the rest of the story

Apollos was an eloquent preacher. He was well-versed in the Old Testament Scriptures. He knew his stuff. But he wasn’t “up to snuff”.

In today’s Bible reading, Dr. Luke tells us about an Alexandrian preacher named Apollos. Look at the positive words Dr. Luke uses to describe him: eloquent, competent in the Scriptures, instructed in the way of the Lord, fervent in spirit, speaking and teaching accurately about Jesus. (Acts 18:24-26)

But Luke adds that Apollos only knew of John’s baptism. So Aquilla and his wife Priscilla take him aside and teach him more accurately. What was lacking? What needed clarification?

If Apollos only knew of John’s baptism, he didn’t know about the Holy Spirit’s baptism and Jesus’ resurrection. Those are some very important things! The Holy Spirit’s baptism and Jesus’ resurrection are what make Christianity more than just another religion or a cult of Judaism. With those two realities, Believers are empowered to live the life that the Jewish Law prescribed. Radio commentator Paul Harvey would have said that the Holy Spirit’s baptism and Jesus’ resurrection are “the rest of the story”.

Application

Yes, Apollos preached about Jesus accurately. But he needed to know — and experience — more accurately. And by taking him aside and explaining the rest of the story, Aquilla and Priscilla changed his trajectory from being an eloquent preacher to being an empowered preacher. Being eloquent wasn’t enough for Apollos. And it isn’t enough for you or me. We also must be empowered by the Holy Spirit to live the obedient life to which we’ve been called.

It’s relatively easy for someone to go out and get an education and then teach the truths of the Bible. But being empowered by the Holy Spirit takes the education to “a-whole-nother” level. God doesn’t want us to simply transfer knowledge from one person’s head to another person’s head. God wants us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) as the Holy Spirit applies the truths to our hearts.

Are you being renewed? Are you seeking to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit? (Ephesians 5:18)

Don’t settle with mere head-knowledge.

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Billy Graham

Several places throughout our reading through the book of Acts, including today’s Bible reading, various Apostles will stay in a certain area for an extended period of time. Today, it’s Barnabas and Saul who stay in Antioch for a year. (Acts 11:26) Why? Wasn’t it important for the Apostles to get as many converts as possible? Wouldn’t staying in one place for a while limit their reach?

It comes down to what is the purpose of a church. Is a church a place to make converts? Or is a church a place to make disciples? There is a huge difference between the two! Converts are people who come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. But Jesus didn’t charge His Disciples to make converts. He charged them to make Disciples. (Matthew 28:19) Nowhere in the Bible is anyone charged to make converts and immediately move on to the next place. And that’s why I have a problem with so many ministries that go into an area with an “evangelistic crusade” and quickly move on to the next city.

When I was a college student, Billy Graham visited our campus (UNC Chapel Hill) to deliver a series of lectures in Carmichael Auditorium. Carmichael is where the UNC Tarheels played basketball back in the day. His visit was billed as a lecture series, but it was essentially a Billy Graham Evangelistic Crusade. Being a college student with some well-connected Christian friends, I saw one of the keys to Graham’s success.

A year or so before Graham’s visit, students from several student ministries organized the event and worked behind the scenes to unite the ministries of Campus Crusade for Christ, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and the Navigators. At Graham’s insistence, every person who responded to his altar call was to be contacted with a one-on-one visit within twenty-four hours of his/her decision. Why? Because Graham saw that disciples were more important than decision-makers. He wanted every decision-maker to become a disciple, someone who learned and became more like Jesus. It wasn’t enough to have several hundred or even several thousand people to make decisions to follow Jesus. Graham wanted people to follow and become like Jesus. And that can only happen when people who make decisions are connected with people who are already following Jesus.

New converts need to be fed and nurtured in their new faith. And for that to happen, they have to be plugged into discipleship ministries with other Believers who are growing in their faith, becoming more like Jesus. While learning about Jesus is important, becoming like Him is the most important thing.

Application

What about you? Are you plugged into a discipleship ministry? Notice, I didn’t ask if you went to church. I didn’t ask if you went to Sunday School.

Going to church is a very important part of discipleship. So is Sunday School. So are small groups. But more important is being plugged in, getting to know — and being known by — other Believers on a deep level. And that can’t happen by just going to big worship services in a big church. It can’t happen by just going to small worship services in a small church. You have to connect.

Are you connected?

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Yesterday, I teased that I would explain today why we no longer need to cast lots to determine God’s will. Today’s Bible reading answers that question. On the Day of Pentecost, God fulfilled His promise to pour out His Spirit on all kinds of people, not just special people.

Way back in Joel 2:28-29, God promised that one day He would pour out His Spirit on ordinary people. No longer would only prophets, priests, and kings be able to speak for God. Ordinary men and women, young and old — even servants — would hear God speak. When Peter stood up on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, he said, this is what Joel told us about! (Acts 2:16-18) It’s happened!

No longer would ordinary people have to look to ordained people to hear God speak!

Application

Believer, regardless of your station in life, regardless of your theological training — or lack thereof — God’s Holy Spirit lives in you! You don’t have to go to a priest or a prophet to hear God’s voice. Because the Holy Spirit lives in you, you can learn to hear God speak to you!

Most times and most clearly, God’s Spirit will speak through the Bible. But He will also occasionally speak through other Believers, circumstances, and even a “still small voice”.

Spend some time today thanking God for the awesome gift of His Spirit. Know that it may take a while to tune your ear to His voice, but know that the God Who created you wants to talk with you. And He wants to talk through you to other Believers, as well as to lost friends and family members. Listen to Him. Say what He tells you to say. And do what He tells you to do.

Spend some time today reading God’s Word. Ask God to speak through the words on the page and for His indwelling Spirit to enlighten you to what He’s saying. Remember, He will never tell you anything that’s out of line with what He has already said in the Bible.

Know that hearing God’s voice is never just about you. It’s always about Him and what brings Him the most credit, honor, and glory. It’s also about using what you hear to encourage other Believers in their faith and telling lost people about the God Who saves!

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Image source: Sweet Publishing/FreeBibleimages.org

How do you respond when someone says, “I have good news and I have bad news”? Several times in today’s Bible reading, Jesus does just that.

He talks about the Last Days and His return. In the way He describes things, it would be very easy to be anxious. But that’s not why He tells His Disciples about the end times. Instead, He gives them this information so they would be encouraged. As they see things happen in the future, instead of being anxious, they should be encouraged, knowing that the end and Jesus’ return is coming soon.

Note: The “End Times” isn’t something that will happen sometime in the future only. When Bible teachers talk about “the End Times”, they’re talking about the time that began when Jesus arrived preaching His good news. In other words, we are in the “End Times” now. Yes, we are closer to the end than when the church was birthed in Acts 2, but we have been in the “End Times” for almost two thousand years. We are in an overlap of this Present Age and the Age to Come. A time of “already, but not yet”. Some of the things Jesus prophesied have already been fulfilled, such as the fall of Jerusalem that occurred in AD 70 and prophesied in today’s reading. (Mark 13:2) But Jesus hasn’t yet returned in all of His glory to take His bride — Believers — to her eternal home with Him. 26-27)

Application

Are you ready for Jesus’ return? What does it mean to be ready? It means to live with an expectancy that Jesus will come soon. It means to live an obedient life, telling other people how they, too can have an eternal hope.

Several times in the Gospels, Jesus tells His Disciples — and us — that we should always be ready because no one knows when He will return. Even He doesn’t know when His Father tells Him to bring His children home. If you’re one of His children, He will come for you, so you want to make sure that you’re always ready.

As we continue reading through the Gospels and Revelation during this year, it’s important to see Jesus’ warnings as both good news and bad news.

Spend some time today thanking God that He has a plan to bring His chidren home to live with Him for eternity.

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