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.*
* 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.
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”.
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.
Well, things finally come to a head in today’s Bible reading. The Judaizers have raised such a ruckus that the church has its first council, the Jerusalem Council, to codify how the church should handle their first major problem. The problem: Does a new convert to Christianity have to be a good Jew to be a good Christian.
It seems like everywhere the Apostles go, an unfriendly crowd of Jewish religionists follow and cause problems. One of the major problems they create is to raise doubts as to whether submitting to the Jewish Law is necessary for a new Christian convert. (Acts 15:1) At first, there really wasn’t an issue since all of the new converts were all Jewish.
As the Gospel message spreads, Gentiles are converted to Christianity. Some Christians with Jewish heritage look down on the Gentile converts and tell them that if they really want to be good Christ-Followers, they have to submit to the Jewish Law, including the rite of circumcision. It’s just a cut of a little bit of skin. That’s all. Right?
The problem isn’t the cutting of skin. The problem isn’t the ritual. The problem comes down to asking the question, “Is Jesus enough to make fallen people right with God? Or is there anything else we should add to give us a better standing before God on Judgment Day? That really is the question!
The reason the question is so crucial is that if there’s anything that can give a person a right standing before God — in addition to Jesus — was Jesus’ atoning sacrifice really enough? And the reason this question is so important is that if something can be added to make us right before God, did Jesus really have to die in the first place? Is there something we could have done apart from Jesus that would cause God to look favorably on us.
See, the reason these questions are so important is because it forces us to answer the question of how badly were we affected by the Fall to begin with.
Scripture seems to indicate that we were so deeply affected by the Fall that we have nothing to contribute to salvation at all. (Jeremiah 17:9, Isaiah 64:6, Psalm 14:3) Theologians call our Fallen Condition, Radical Corruption since our corruption goes to the root of who we are. In fact, one theologian rightly noted that “You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.” (Jonathan Edwards)
The question answered by the Jerusalem Council is still applicable today. Is Jesus enough to give lost, Fallen people a right standing before God? Or do people have something they can contribute, something that can make them look better when they stand before God on Judgment Day. And if there is, did Jesus waste His life … and death?
The basic questions come down to the heart of the Gospel message. If people can do anything to earn God’s favor, then words like grace and mercy are meaningless. They’re meaningless because if people can earn God’s favor, then God’s favor is wages paid to deserving people. Therefore, God is obligated to pay salvation to those who earn it.
On the other hand, the Bible consistently teaches — from beginning to end — that each human being who has ever lived has failed to live up to God’s standard of righteousness. (Romans 3:23) And each human being who has ever lived is an enemy of God (Romans 5:10) and deserving of death and eternal separation from Him. (Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:1-9)
Yeah, I’ll take free grace over earned wages any day! How about you?
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.
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?
Preachers are always concerned about how their sermons will be received. We agonize over the Biblical text, wanting so much to be true to what God says. We want our hearers to receive the Word as good soil. (Matthew 13:23)
In today’s Bible reading, Stephen (one of the Seven who were chosen to serve tables) recounts the history of the people of Israel, the physical children of Abraham. He begins with God’s call to Abraham to leave everything familiar to him to go to a land he didn’t know about. The trip would take a couple of months, traveling up to twenty miles a day with his family, his servants, and his livestock. Stephen continues through Moses’ call to lead the Hebrew people out of their slavery in Egypt. So far, so good. Finally, he quotes Isaiah 66:1-2 and then makes his application:
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” (Acts 7:51–53 ESV)
Now, if a preacher was trying to attract new convert with a “seeker-sensitive” sermon, he definitely wouldn’t have concluded his message with those three verses!
But Stephen was true to God’s Word. He applied it to his hearers in such a way that they stoned him to death. They understood his message. They rejected his message. So Stephen became the first Christian martyr.
The Greek word for martyr means “witness”. Stephen was a witness and shared the Good News with these religious leaders. But before you can get to the Good News, must understand the implications of the Bad News. And that makes the Good News all the more attractive. Unfortunately, much of modern preaching and evangelism overlooks the Bad News and its implications. Instead, it offers an incomplete Good News message and cheap grace without the mention of sin and our need of repentance.
We (all of us, not just the ordained, but also the ordinary) need to follow Stephen’s example and be willing to be the witness/martyr that he was. Stephen was unfazed as his audience picked up stones to kill him. He continued to bear witness to the glories of heaven.
Being a witness for Jesus may cost your life. But isn’t that what we’re called to do? A call to salvation is a call to come and die. (Luke 9:23)