The baptism in the Holy Spirit in perspective

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Prof WJ Hattingh gave the following presentation at Auckland Park Theological Seminary during the one-day seminar on the Holy Spirit on the 18th of October 2016.

Summary

This presentation will unfold as follows:

  • Secondly, I will give a Biblical alternative of the Holy Spirit and His work, with examples from the Old Testament.
  • I will discuss an important Hermeneutic key to guide our understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit.
  • We will especially give attention to Jesus’ visit to His disciples during the night after His resurrection and His command to them a few days before His ascension.
  • In conclusion, I will present three truths we cannot disregard.

1     Two serious misconceptions

As the church or as a Christian, in our thinking about the Holy Spirit, we have to consider that there are huge misconceptions that hinder our understanding of the baptism and the working of the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life.  Although we are not always aware of these misconceptions, they have a definite negative influence on our experience of the Holy Spirit and our walk with God.  These misconceptions consist mainly of two things: foreignness and reduction/lessening.

1.1  The first misconception that hinders our insight of the Holy Spirit and His work in a Christian’s life, is foreignness.

God, in a sense, is always foreign to us.  Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 1:17 and 6:16 that God is: “An invisible God and He lives in unapproachable light, no one has ever seen or can see God.”

In Theology, it has always been understood that God is not on the same level or in the same dimension as us.  He is the Creator, Creator of the total macrocosm and the Creator of all human beings.  Still, we fail to remember that we always need God to reveal Himself in order for us to know anything about Him.  Without God revealing himself to us, there is no way that we can fully understand anything true about Him.  We will always be on a journey to understand God, His character, His greatness, will and love.

1.1.1       There is however, a foreignness in our thinking about the Holy Spirit that is unusual and different.

The question is:  Why this foreignness?  Where does it come from?  Has this foreignness always been there seeing that the Holy Spirit is the Almighty God in action?   When an almighty, holy God works in our broken and sinful world it will always be very foreign to humans.  We may have thoughts about God, a theological thinking, a sort of abstract theoretical thinking which may consist of much of our own ideas and logic, but when God is really at work through the Holy Spirit, His coming to us may be in an unexpected and very strange way.  It may be part of the problem and this foreignness may have started very early in church history. We have to be aware of this.  We already find it in Acts 8 when the gospel spread to Samaria.  People accepted the Lord but were not baptised in the Holy Spirit and they had to send Peter and John to pray for people to receive the Holy Spirit.

It is easy to imagine that this foreignness could have been extended in the early 300 AD when Constantine accepted Christianity and later declared Christianity as the official religion of the State.  Church history tells a story of many unsaved people who flocked into the church without an experience with God through the Holy Spirit.

It was a turning point in the history of the church.  Changes occurred; for instance, the experience of the reality or presence of God in the church swung over a period of time from all members having an experience with God through the work of Holy Spirit to:

  • A hierarchy of authoritative church clergy and a counterpart of uninformed members with no experience with God.
  • At the same time the sacraments became important as means of conveying grace when it was administered,
  • and so did the priests who administered the sacraments, and
  • in the administering of the sacraments, the correct wording and the elements became important.
  • In the process to cover grace from birth up to the last oil seal at death, two sacraments increased to seven sacraments.

1.1.2       The doctrines of salvation, reconciliation, new birth and sanctification seemed to more easily survive this severe foreignness, but not without the danger of becoming the fruits, or results, of the sacraments, or simply dogmatic truths.   Nida described the effect of “entropy” (cooling off) which always follows on revival movements.  As time goes on, real faith experiences have a tendency to become theological truths, a dogma, a credo that can be verbally repeated.

Eichrodt wrote shocking facts about the reasons for the fall of Nabiism during the rise of the professional priesthood in the temple.

Dr Athony Jacobs did PhD research on a comparison between the early church of Acts 2, the Azusa Street Revival, and the early years of the AFM in Doornfontein.  His research showed that with the rise of authoritative church leadership, the dynamic working of the Holy Spirit was marginalised.

1.1.3       The above foreignness resulted in what we call “streepteologie” which means that certain truths were only for Bible times, especially New Testament times.   Therefore, the perception was that the baptism in the Holy Spirit as described in Acts 2 and the working of the Holy Spirit as it happened in the early church were not meant for today.  The baptism in the Holy Spirit was only for the strange world of the early church and even God does not find it suitable for His church today.

This foreignness and “streepteologie” harms Christian thinking more than we realise.

1.2  The second misunderstanding is the reduction or lessening of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.

This “strange phenomenon”, practiced by certain so called funny or fanatic Pentecostals, was not intended by God for the church of today and was, therefore, very easily reduced to something like:

  • A happening that belongs to the Pentecostals, which is their creation and, therefore, the church is free to accept or reject it.
  • It is linked and narrowed to some phenomena of the baptism in the Holy Spirit as the speaking in tongues or some other human reactions on the experience of the Holy Spirit which are not part of the core values of Christianity.

This reduction was of such a nature that it was very easy for even a serious Christian to decide that he or she can do without it.  The baptism in the Holy Spirit became an optional or non-compulsory experience for many Christians. This experience should have been most important, and a normal and continued experience of the gospel of Jesus.

When I was in early high school, our family came face to face with this Pentecostal truth.  I remember one day, while sitting on the verandah near the window, I listened to a conversation between my parents and Mr Francois du Toit, the then Superintendent of the Africa Evangelical Bond.  He was instrumental in leading my parents to the Lord years before, so they were eager to learn from him about this new truth that has crossed their path.   This was the first day I met with the idea of “streepteologie” when he told my mom and dad that: “It was only applicable to Bible times.”

A pastor and a church, who are serious about people becoming baptised in the Holy Spirit, have to address the problem of foreignness and reduction, otherwise they will follow the same historical route.

2     A Biblical alternative

In contrast with this foreignness and reduction of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, the Bible gives us a totally different alternative.

It is important to know that the Holy Spirit is always at work as the Almighty God in action, in this world.

I will only focus on some truths of the Holy Spirit and some of the traces of the working of the Holy Spirit, to illustrate that the Holy Spirit, as God’s coming to us, is never strange in the Bible.

2.1  Although we do not find the word Triune in the Bible, right from start in the book of Genesis onwards, the Bible communicates a plurality in God.

The central truth of the Bible is that:

  1. God, the almighty Father, so loved the world that He sent His only Son to the world,
  2. Jesus, God’s holy Son, became human and died for all sinners, and
  3. The Holy Spirit was sent by the Father and Son, and He applies the salvation worked by Christ, in us, and fosters Jesus’ indwelling in us.

2.2  The Holy Spirit, as third person in the Trinity and according to the Bible, has been working from the very beginning of creation:  “And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters (the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep).  And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Gen 1:2,3).   Think of the working of the Holy Spirit that we have in this verse.

In the Bible, the Holy Spirit is linked to God’s act of creation.  The Holy Spirit must be understood as the Creator God, the Almighty God in action.  God created, and continues to create and sustain, the whole creation with its millions of galaxies through His Word and His Spirit, and it is the same Spirit that is working within us. The early church constantly cried out in their liturgy: “Veni Creator Spiritus” meaning “Come Creator Spirit come”.

The understanding of the working of the Holy Spirit as the Almighty God in action, is very clear in the following verse concerning Mary: “The angel replied, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God’” (Luke 1:35).  The Holy Spirit is the power of the Most High.

It was the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at the right hand of God the Father, above any ruler or authority or power or leader, or anything else not only in this world, but also in the world to come (Eph 1:20,21).

When we talk about the baptism and the working of the Holy Spirit, we have to think along these lines.

Let us look at some examples from the Old Testament.   The Holy Spirit sporadically came over leaders in the Old Testament.

I will refer to five episodes to demonstrate their experiences:

2.3.1       When Moses was very irritated with the Israelites and upset with God, he said to God: “Why are you treating me, your servant so harshly … The load is far too heavy!  If this is how you intend to treat me, just go ahead and kill me.  Do me a favour and spare me this ministry!” (Num 11:11,14,15).

Put yourself in this context and experience these emotions while we continue to talk about the working of the Holy Spirit.

You know God’s answer.  God ordered Moses to gather seventy elders and leaders of Israel, and to take them to the Tabernacle.  God promised to put his Spirit on them, so that they could carry the burden with Moses.  We read: “Then He gave the seventy elders the same Spirit that was upon Moses.  And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied.  But this never happened again.” (Num 11:25).

Two men did not leave the Tabernacle however, and the Spirit stayed on them and they continued prophesying.  Joshua approached Moses and asked: “Moses, my master, make them stop!  But Moses replied: ‘Are you jealous for my sake?  I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them all.’” (Num 11:29,30).  A lot would have to come to pass before Moses’ wish would become true.

2.3.2       In Numbers 14 God spoke to Moses about Caleb, the brave spy who had stood against all of the others, who was not afraid to face the walled cities and the giants:  “But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him and had followed me fully, …”.

2.3.3       In Judges 6, the story of Gideon is recorded.  It is the story of the threats against God’s people by the Midianites over a long period of time.  It is a story of Gideon’s doubt concerning God and God’s involvement in Israel’s history; his serious feelings of disadvantage of his clan and himself.  Nonetheless, God said to him: “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you! … I will be with you …”  Now listen to what follows: “Then the Spirit of the Lord took possession of Gideon.  He blew a ram’s horn as a call to arms, and the men of the clan of Abiezer came to him.”

By the Spirit of God, a scared man with severe feelings of inadequacy, was changed to play a role in the rescuing of a nation, the coming of God’s kingdom to this world, and the fulfillment of God’s plan.

2.3.4       In 1 Samuel chapters 10 and 11, we find king Saul and the Spirit of God working in him.  Samuel said to him:

“At that time the Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them.  You will be changed into a different person.”  The result:  “As Saul turned and started to leave, God gave him a new heart, …” (10:6-9).

And when Saul heard the sad story of Jabesh, we read the reaction: “Then the Spirit of God came upon Saul and he became angry.” (11:6) Later on, he rescued God’s people.

Unfortunately, we do not find that God’s Spirit was powerfully working in him, during his reign later on when he had to face the great challenges.   He, therefore, pitifully failed God’s purpose for him.  He feared people and the enemy instead of fearing God.

2.3.5       When Samuel anointed David we read: “And the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David from that day on.” (1 Sam 16:13).  This is evident in the remarkable story of David’s battle against Goliath in the following chapter.

In these five examples we read about God’s Spirit sporadically coming on some Old Testament leaders and their reactions:

Sometimes they prophesied, the Spirit empowered them, worked powerfully in them, changed their thinking, changed their hearts, made them brave and inspired them to rescue God’s people.  They became champions in God’s journey with His people to accomplish His will in this world.  

Luke tells us of one of the last figures from the Old Testament times, namely the old man Simeon: “The Holy Spirit was upon him and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. That day the Spirit led him in the temple.” (Lk 2:26,27)  A marvelous story of God’s Spirit on an old man.

3     The magnificent promise

In the book of Joel we find an amazing promise that changed everything. I cannot overemphasize this promise.

When reading this promise in Joel 2 verses 28 and 29, and keeping in mind the Old Testament episodes of the Lord’s Spirit sporadically coming on leaders and the impact it had on their lives, some details of the promise are impressive:

The promise of the Spirit of God, the Almighty Creator, the Triune God in action, encompassing all people, constantly working in us, the old and the young, in the leaders, and even in the slaves.

The promise of Joel 2 first came into fulfillment through the death and resurrection of Jesus and His ascending to the throne of His Father.

4     Hermeneutic key

A Hermeneutic key that is important in our understanding of the working of the Holy Spirit is the re-experiencing of Biblical truths.  This is as an important truth to ATS in our understanding and the interpretation of the Bible.

Hermeneutics is concerned with the understanding, interpreting and applying of God’s Word.  We have already discussed the idea of “streepteologie”: the misconception that certain biblical truths were only applicable in Bible times.  This mistaken belief is still very much alive in many people’s approach to the Bible.  They believe that what happened in Bible times, and what is happening in our world today, are two different worlds.  The thinking is: surely Moses, Abraham, Peter and Paul were people of another class.  There is a kind of halo around them. God’s relationship and dealings with them were on a much more direct level – a supernatural experience.

The hermeneutic understanding of the re-experiencing of Biblical truths is:

Today, we have the same God, the same challenges, same task or calling and, therefore, the same encounter with God.  We are on the same journey with God. 

Moreover, the Bible teaches us that the promise which is documented in Joel 2, has been fulfilled in Jesus and that our experience with God goes far beyond the Old Testament experiences.  Hear Paul’s remark about the ministry of the Spirit: “For what was glorious, has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory.”  (2 Cor 3: 10).

5     The working of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus.

The fact that Jesus is the second person in the Trinity, may easily create the misconception that what Jesus did, He did without the Holy Spirit.  The Bible communicates something different, especially in the gospel according to Luke.

Jesus received the Holy Spirit without measure when he was baptised:   Luke described Jesus’ coming back from the Jordan: “Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River.  He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days.” (4:1).

After Jesus’ wilderness experience, Luke again made the remarkable comment about Him: “Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power.  Reports about Him spread quickly through the whole region.” (4:14).  Josuttus wrote, regarding these “reports about Him”, that the truth about Jesus was spread by rumours; stories told by people after they had an encounter with Jesus.  Jesus’ anointing by the Holy Spirit resulted in rumours and stories that were spread by people throughout the entire country, to the extent that it became a problem to handle the crowds of people.

The influence of the Holy Spirit on Jesus and His ministry was noticeable to the disciples, therefore, Luke’s remarks.

This truth was confirmed by Jesus when He read from Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor …”   After He handed back the scroll to the attendant He sat down and said: “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:18,19).  This portion of Scripture is one of the most comprehensive and marvelous prophetic descriptions of what Jesus accomplished in this world; it puts in words God’s spectacular aim or dream for this broken world.

Jesus’ disciples confirmed more than once the truth of the anointing of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ ministry.  Peter preached to Cornelius: “And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.  Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil for God was with Him.” (Acts 10;38).

When Jesus died, it was the Holy Spirit who raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at the right hand of the Father in heaven, above all powers and authority. (Eph 1:19-22).

Jesus made very clear promises to His people concerning the baptism in the Holy Spirit which I will not address now.

According to John, Jesus taught His disciples extensively about the Holy Spirit on the night He was betrayed.  This portion of Scripture in John 14 and 16 contains significant truths about the Holy Spirit.

6     Jesus’ appearances after His resurrection

After Jesus’ resurrection, He appeared, over a period of forty days, to His people:  “He showed himself to his people and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.” (Acts 1:3).  It was important that He convinced His people that He was alive but He also taught them essential things about the Holy Spirit.

Keep in mind what I said about Jesus’ ministry and the anointing of the Holy Spirit in His ministry when we discuss the following:

6.1  On the evening of Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples were together behind locked doors for fear of the Jews, when Jesus came and stood among them and said: “Peace be with you!”  He again said: “Peace be with you!  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:19-21).  Luke wrote that the disciples: “… were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.” (Luke 24:37).  Jesus showed them His hands and side to prove Himself.

It is easy to notice Jesus’ enthusiasm when He twice shouted “Peace be with you!”  It came from the Old Testament belief that when the Messiah comes, God’s “shalom”, His peace and reign, will fill and change all the world.   Jesus died and was raised, conquered all darkness, evil, and sin – therefore, His excitement with the good news.

He followed immediately: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21).  This truth of Jesus’ victory and the dawn of the peace of God’s kingdom may not stay in the little room with the locked doors.  No, it has to go to the ends of the earth, and it must be done by nobody less than the disciples who, at that stage, were hiding behind locked doors. 

We then read: “And with that He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.”

The truth of our hermeneutic principle of understanding and applying the Bible, is that there is no “streepteologie”, meaning, that we re-experience the same encounter, the same anointing, the same challenges and same task, as in Bible times, and it is also applicable in this verse.  In this case: “As the Father sent me, I am sending you.”  We have to give careful attention to Jesus’ ministry through the Holy Spirit.

A very strange verse follows which we do not understand: “If you forgive anybody his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (verse 21).  Forgiveness of sins only comes from God and this is possible on the grounds of what Jesus did.  When a sinner confesses his sin and believes in Jesus, forgiveness is granted to him as a deed of grace.  Forgiveness of sin and no forgiveness, are not randomly in the hands of anybody.

This out of the ordinary verse may suggest something of the new covenant brought by Jesus and which Paul calls, the “Ministry of the Spirit” (2 Cor 2:12 – 3:18). “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To the one, we are the smell of death, to the other, the fragrance of life.” (2 Cor 2:15,16).  This verse may demonstrate the changing effect and authority invested in our task:  “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you. … Receive the Holy Spirit.”

This portion of Scripture emphasizes what Jesus did, the calling of believers and the importance of the Holy Spirit in the fulfilling of our calling.

6.2  In Acts 1 we find Jesus a few days before His ascension, making pronouncements concerning the Holy Spirit.

Jesus gave instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles and commanded them: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you heard me speak about.  For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4,5).

Jesus commanded the apostles to wait, not to move or to do anything – just to sit and wait.  They will be baptised with the Holy Spirit within in a few days.  The “few days” refers to fifty days after Passover when the feast of the harvest was celebrated – the day of Pentecost.

God’s planning was very specific: Jesus died on the feast of the Passover and the Holy Spirit was poured out on the feast of the harvest.

Jesus added to the above command: “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).

6.3  There is a significant link between three portions of Scripture:

  • Luke 4 : 18,19 where Jesus, in His home town, confirmed that the Spirit of the Lord is upon Him and that He was anointed to bring deliverance and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and
  • His declaration: “Peace be with you”, God’s shalom, His reign, has come.  “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. … Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:21,22), and
  • Jesus said to the disciples just before He was taken up into heaven: “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).

In conclusion, you cannot disregard the following truths:

  • God’s kingdom, His reign, deliverance, peace, and victory to the ends of the world.
  • Jesus’ anointing and empowerment by the Holy Spirit, who brought all this to come about.
  • Christians, filled with the Holy Spirit, were sent out as Jesus was sent out to the ends of the earth.

When you say “Baptism in the Holy Spirit”, then you also say “calling”, the power of God in a dark world, the truth of Jesus, and the coming of God’s kingdom.

The Baptism in the Holy Spirit and our constant living by the Spirit is not optional.  It is as serious as the Almighty God Himself, the death and resurrection of His holy Son and the coming of His kingdom.

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3 Comments

  1. Nelita Mutanhaurwa

    February 23, 2017 at 9:18 am

    This is a powerful truth in this world today where there seems to be confusion in some churches today with the belief that the Truine is no longer at work as explained above and in the Bible. He is John 14:12 confirms that whoever BELIEVES in Jesus is not limited to doing works as Lord Jesus has done. We can do even greater works than Jesus has done if we only feed on the word, seek his face diligently, listen to the Holy Spirit in us. The problem that has hold bound some servants of God is comfort, smart ways of doing things. If we only come out of our Comfort zones, with much prayer and fasting for change to meet Him and to be used by Him. Surely, we won’t remain the same, our services will be of great difference with Him in our midst( Matt 18: 18- 20).

  2. Wayne Victor McCulloch

    February 27, 2017 at 11:33 am

    My reflection while reading:
    I think with the rise of scholasticism people tend to forget the fact that the Spirit of God is beyond rational thinking. They tend to have place for the supernatural in theology, yet in practice they deny the reality thereof.
    It is as if many Pentecostals have traded the workings and operation of the Holy Spirit with intellectualism. Trying to place the Spirit of God in a box of rational thinking. Seeker-sensitive services which is there to promote Christianity.
    The question I have. Do you want to be seeker sensitive that a believer could be unproductive in the kingdom? Does a seeker seek a comfortable church or the living God? Shouldn’t we as theologians and pastors hunger after the supernatural God? Seeking Him for breakthrough in the church as well as in this nation.
    We as a church are in dying need of the baptism with the Holy Ghost. We need to cut of the tree of knowledge and start to eat from the tree of life. Knowledge is good, yet your knowledge should never limit God. I must say this article blessed me a lot.
    Thank You

  3. I want to know more about the bible

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