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Doctrine of the Holy Spirit: The Work of the Spirit in the Remainder of Acts Print E-mail
Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

I.  Introduction:

Building upon what we started last week, we want to pick up tonight and look at the rest of the book of Acts. Once again, I remind us that we have to continue to ask the important interpretive question: is this passage normative or descriptive? I want to break up the passages into two categories and examine them in that way.

II. Passages:

A. Passages that speak of the Spirit leading, filling, comforting, etc.

1. Acts 4:8 The Spirit fills Peter as he speaks to the ruling council.

2. Acts 6:10, 7:55 The Spirit works powerfully in the life of Stephen.

3. Acts 8:29, 39 The Spirit’s work in Philip’s life.

4. Acts 9:31 The Spirit comforts the Church.

5. Acts 13:2, 4 The Spirit leads the Church in Antioch.

6. Acts 16:6-7 The Spirit forbids them from going to Asia and Bithynia.

7. Acts 20:28 The Ephesian elders were made overseers by the Spirit.

8. Summary: In all of this we see the power of the Spirit in the lives of the followers of Christ. He is filling them and moving them and guiding them and leading them and more. He is actively involved in their lives and ministries as they seek to take the gospel to any and all.

B. Passages that speak of other ‘pentecosts’:

1. Acts 8:4-17 Due to the persecution in Jerusalem, Philip begins to preach the gospel in Samaria. Many begin to turn to Christ and believe in the gospel and Philip baptizes them. When Jerusalem gets word of this, they send Peter and John to check it out. When they get there, they pray for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Yet, weren’t they already believers? Why did it happen this way? Some argue that they were not actually believers, but this does not seem to fit with Luke’s description of them. Some see this as a second-blessing of the Spirit, which does not seem to fit well with what Luke says either since he emphasizes that the Spirit had not yet fallen on any of them. Others (myself included) see this as part of the spreading out of the gospel which is so central in the book of Acts. Jesus told the disciples: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Thus, they will start in Jerusalem and expand outwards even to the end of the earth. What we have in Acts 8 then is the Spirit coming to the Samaritans. The event seemingly happens in the way that it does to assure the Jewish followers of Christ that indeed Samaritans (who were half-Jewish and had a long history of animosity with the Jews) were part of Christ’s fold. Carson summarizes this view of the book of Acts: “In each case (Acts 2, 8, 10-11, and 19) Luke is introducing a new group, until as the gospel expands throughout the empire there are no new groups left.” This approach is how I will view the other ‘pentecost’ passages as well.

2. Acts 10:44-48, 11:15-18 This is the account of Peter’s preaching the gospel at the house of Cornelius, a Gentile from Caesarea. Luke tells us of Peter’s vision concerning clean and unclean things. After this vision, Peter goes to Cornelius’ house and preaches the gospel. While he is preaching, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. Peter and the others, who Luke mentions were circumcised, or Jewish, are amazed because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. In chapter 11 Peter is reporting these events in Jerusalem to the circumcision party. He connects what happened at Cornelius’ house among the Gentiles to what happened to them, the Jews, at Jerusalem. He sees this as further fulfillment of John the Baptist’s prophecy concerning Christ. He concludes: If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way? Thus, the Spirit was given to the Jews (Acts 2), the Samaritans (Acts 8), and now even the Gentiles (Acts 10). Yet, what about Acts 19?

3. Acts 19:1-7 Obviously, this passage seems to fly in the face of the interpretation that I have offered above. What is going on with these disciples of John? Why do they receive the Spirit in this way? Many will point to these questions and build a two-stage receiving of the Spirit on this passage. Yet, is that the only way? Let me be honest and confess that this passage is difficult for me. Carson argues that these disciples of John were still living under the former stage of redemptive history and were not aware that the Spirit had been given. They had been baptized by John but not by the One that he prophesied about. After hearing this, Paul baptized them in the name of Jesus and they received the Spirit, which is a clear fulfillment of all that John said about Jesus’ baptism. Thus, the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus have now come full circle. The disciples of John were seemingly the final ‘new group’ to be brought into the baptism of the Spirit, for we have no more instances like this in Acts. Although this may not be as ‘neat’ as some would like, it does seem to fit with the rest of Acts and the New Testament. In my opinion, it fits far better than trying to develop a two-stage stage receiving of the Spirit based on this passage.

III. Implications:

A. The other ‘pentecosts’ in the book of Acts show the Spirit’s work of spreading out to different peoples through the preaching of the gospel. Luke seems to carry the theme of Jesus’ command to His disciples in 1:8 throughout the book of Acts. By the end of the book, we know that the Spirit will indeed be given to any and all who repent of their sins and place their faith in Christ (see Acts 2:38-39). The old age has come to an end and the new age remains until Christ returns for His people. In this age, the Spirit will be freely given to all of God’s people, just as the prophets of old foretold.

B. The Spirit continues to fill the believer throughout his/her life. We also see in the book of Acts that the Spirit’s work is not done on a person at conversion. He continues to fill, lead, comfort, empower, etc. At times, it seems that His work is more tangible or manifest in a person’s life, often producing periods of heightened sanctification. Yet, this does not mean that He is not working on us even in the more ‘normal’ times. If the charismatic movement has taught us anything, it has showed us our need to continually long for the move of the Spirit in our lives. Paul tells us to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) and we ignore such a command at our own expense.

IV. Conclusion:

I am not convinced at the more charismatic interpretations of the book of Acts. I see some errors in their approach to the text. Yet, I do not want to communicate in anyway that I think the gifts have ceased or that the work of the Spirit is done with a person at conversion. My desire to want to avoid that error is what led to my further study of the work of the Spirit. I don’t think I can say it better than Carson: “Although I find no biblical support for a second-blessing theology (what I have called ‘two-stage receiving of the Spirit’), I do find support for a second-, third-, fourth-, or fifth-blessing theology…Although I think it extremely dangerous to pursue a second blessing attested by tongues, I think it no less dangerous not to pant after God at all, and to be satisfied with a merely creedal Christianity that is kosher but complacent, orthodox but ossified, sound but soundly asleep.” Brothers and sisters, let’s not be satisfied with anything less than all the Spirit has to offer according to His inspired Word. I want us to be sound, but I loathe the idea of us being found asleep. Let’s pray that the Lord will continue to guide us in our understanding of the work of the Spirit. Amen.

Last Updated ( Sunday, 29 March 2009 )

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