I think one of the great victories of Satan over the church has been to mire the Church in controversies about the Holy Spirit distracting us and at times preventing us from seeking the Holy Spirit to come in all His fullness to our lives and churches.

I was brought up Pentecostal and it was all pretty clear to us. You went to the front of the Church and got saved and then sometime later you went to the front again people laid hands on you and prayed for you and you received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. (this might happen in a special meeting called a “tarry meeting” )  This was being “baptised in the Spirit.” If you didn’t speak in tongues you hadn’t received the Holy Spirit and we kinda looked down on the people who didn’t speak in tongues.

Later on, I went to a pretty Reformed Presbyterian Church and basically heard that everything I had been taught at the Pentecostal Church was wrong. Here I heard that you received the Holy Spirit when you were converted and there was no need to pursue further “experiences.” We were warned a faith built on experience would be very shaky and all that Charismatic stuff was decidedly dodgy. The underlying message was we should be a bit sceptical and suspicious of those Pentecostal and Charismatic people.

Then I became part of the Holiness Movement when we got married and started attending the Church of the Nazarene. When it came to the Holy Spirit it was back to a two-stage thing. You got saved and then subsequently went forward for a “second blessing” which was also called “being sanctified.” (some cynics used to say that you were justified, sanctified and then solidified) By the late 20th century Holiness people in the UK were reluctant to call this “second blessing”  being baptised in the Spirit in case people connected it to speaking in tongues. In the Holiness Movement being “baptised in the Spirit” definitely wasn’t about speaking in tongues. The sign of being filled with the Spirit was purity and love expressing itself in ethics rather than power and speaking in tongues expressing itself through experiences.

Then I went to Theological College and found out about a controversy around whether “being baptised in the Spirit” was meant to refer to what happened when you became a Christian or described a subsequent and necessarily separated receiving of the Holy Spirit.

Later as a pastor in England I went to some Charismatic Baptist gatherings and heard about “receiving the anointing” and the need to be filled with the Spirit and that this usually expressed in speaking in tongues but not always.

Confused? I was

I think part of the problem is that people have tried to wring a theology of the Holy Spirit and a timetable for His work in our lives from the book of Acts. The problem with that is that Acts is more descriptive than proscriptive. It describes what happens in the unique opening phases of the church rather than proscribes what has to happen in every church and every believer’s life.

Frankly I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to get a consistent pattern from the book of Acts about what happens when the Holy Spirit touches people’s lives and what happens to them

Just look at this short but not exhaustive snapshot of the Holy Spirit and his relationship to believers in Acts.

  • Acts 2: Jesus original followers on the Day of Pentecost, received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues, no laying on of hands or water baptism
  • Acts 4 Peter and the early Church who received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost are filled with the Spirit again
  • Acts 7: Stephen who had been present at Pentecost said to be filled with the Spirit again when he faced the Sanhedrin
  • Acts 8: The Samaritans were baptized with water, hands laid on them, received the Spirit but no record of speaking in tongues.
  • Acts 9: Paul meets Jesus on the Damascus Rd. In Damascus Ananias lays hands on him so he can be filled with the Spirit and then he is baptised
  • Acts 10: Gentiles received the Holy Spirit, spoke with tongues, then baptized with water.
  • Acts 19: Disciples of John baptized with water, hands laid on them, received the Spirit, spoke with tongues

Good luck with trying to figure out some consistent prescriptive recipe for when and how the Holy Spirit comes into people’s lives from that

Timothy Tennent the president of Asbury Seminary summarises it like this.

“The Spirit of God comes in John 20, but again in Acts 2, and then in Acts 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, and 19. Are you seeing a pattern here?  Once we go through all of these texts, and further subsequent texts in the Epistles, we find that there are eight different expressions used for the Holy Spirit coming into our lives. We love to choose one and want everybody to use that same language. But the New Testament doesn’t do that. We have already seen that “clothed with power” is used in Luke 24. But other expressions are also used. The phrase, “baptized with the Holy Spirit” occurs twice. “Receiving the Holy Spirit” appears eight times. The Holy Spirit “coming upon” or “falling upon” appears four times. Three times we are told that the Holy Spirit was “poured out.” The most common expression is the phrase, “being filled with the Holy Spirit,” which appears eight times. Finally, four times we are told that the Spirit has been “given to us.” It doesn’t really matter what you call it, just make sure that you get it! God still wants to keep on pouring out his Spirit upon us. Keep getting filled with the Spirit. “ Timothy Tennent, The Spirit-Filled Life .

The evidence from Acts seems to reinforce Jesus words in John 3;8 “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

For reasons that I can’t go into here, but maybe we could look at in depth in a bible study in the future, from my study of the whole of the New Testament, I think.

  1. Baptism of the Holy Spirit is best understood as being connected to becoming a Christian
  2. All Christians receive the Holy Spirit when they come to Christ. You can’t be a Christian without the indwelling of the Spirit (John 3:3–8; 1 Corinthians 12:13).
  3. You can have a diminished or deficient experience of the Spirit presence and power, otherwise the command to be “filled with the Spirit” to the Ephesians doesn’t make sense
  4. Being “filled with the Spirit” seems to best describe a fresh empowering experiencing of the presence of the Holy Spirit

I like how one theologian, Wayne Grumden describes the filling of the Spirit like this as:

an event subsequent to conversion in which a believer experiences a fresh infilling with the Holy Spirit that may result in a variety of consequences, including greater love for God, greater victory over sin, greater power for ministry, and sometimes the receiving of new spiritual gifts”

Now as we have already seen different people in different traditions might call, this “baptism in the Spirit,” “the anointing,” “being sanctified” “receiving the fulness of the Spirit,” “being filled with the Spirit,” or “a fresh anointing of the Spirit” or one popular with older Christians in Scotland “Getting a  touch from the Lord.”

Here is where I am with all this.  I know what conclusions I have come to, and I am not particularly bothered what other believers call this experience and I am not really interested in being involved in debates about it.

I don’t really care what you call it.

 I just know I need it.

 I feel like with everything that has been going on recently, in my life, our church and the world, I need a fresh touch of the Spirit.

What about you?

Are you feeling a bit dry spiritually or discouraged?

 Are you weary?

 Does your worship feel a bit shallow and superficial?

 Have you noticed a lack of gratitude to God in your heart?

Do you deeply desire more fruit, both the inward fruit of the Holy Spirit and the external fruit of effective ministry?

Are you frustrated at your inability to get victory over a particular sin or break a persistent habit?

I think these feelings and frustrations are not bad in and of themselves. The are like invitations from God to desire him more deeply and to be filled afresh with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

What will you do with that invitation?

I wished I could tell you just to do X, Y and Z and being filled with the Spirit would automatically happen. But as we saw above, the Holy Spirit doesn’t seem to want to conform to the boxes we want to confine him in. He blows as He pleases not as we plan or predict it seems to me.

All I know is when it comes to the Holy Spirit

  • You have to be open to Him and not put limits on what you will and won’t let Him do
  • You need to deeply desire Him not just desire His power or an experience
  • You need to stop doing anything that hinders His work and presence (1 Thess 5:19)
  • You need to do whatever promotes His work and presence (2 Tim 1:6)
  • You need to have faith and pray
  • You need to leave it up to the Lord how and when He fills you afresh

If you feel like me, that whatever we call it, you need a fresh touch of the Spirit then perhaps this would be a good prayer to use

Whatever it takes and however it happens, Lord, fill me afresh with the Holy Spirit and may He make your presence more tangible to me and  touch my life with your power and purity in the areas where I need it

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