THE BELIEVER’S SPIRITUAL OBJECTIVE
The majority of believers are very much confused with regard to the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives and the exact extent to which they may expect His help in overcoming sin. This confusion has been brought about mainly by the unscriptural tradition that the present dispensation began with the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost. A further word in this connection will therefore be necessary.
Those who hold that Pentecost marks the beginning of the present dispensation should examine carefully those Scriptures which deal with the Holy Spirit and His work. A simple comparison, for example, of His operation at Pentecost with His operation today, as outlined in the Pauline epistles, can lead to but one conclusion: that the baptism with, or in, the Spirit at Pentecost has been superseded by another baptism altogether—that by which believers are baptized into one body—and that the Body of Christ did not exist (except in the mind of God) when the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost. If our Fundamentalist leaders will verify and accept this fact, they will have the answer to the “Pentecostal” fanaticism that is sweeping the country today.
THE SPIRIT’S OPERATION AT PENTECOST
Concerning the one hundred twenty believers gathered in the upper room at Pentecost, we read:
“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4, R.V.).
This, of course, is another way of saying that the Holy Spirit took complete possession of them.1 Those who have come to appreciate the meaning of the Bible word baptism, will see at once the connection with the Lord’s promise that His own should be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). Indeed, they were “filled” with the Spirit (Acts 2:4) in fulfillment of the promise that they should be “baptized” with the Spirit.
And the result of this baptism, this filling, with the Spirit, was not only that they possessed miraculous powers, but also that they lived the kind of lives which God’s people prior to that time had failed to live, and this is the particular matter with which we are here concerned.
Mark well: in Acts 2:4 we do not have an exhortation to be filled with the Spirit, as we have later in the Pauline epistles. Rather, we have a simple statement of fact: “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”
The one hundred twenty had, of course, been much like any other group of believers in history. They had not all been equally spiritual or devoted or faithful. Some had been more so than others, and where some had excelled in one virtue, others had excelled in another. Yet now they were all FILLED with the Spirit, from the least to the greatest of them.
The thoughtful student of Scripture will, of course, ask why all these believers were now filled with the Holy Spirit. Was it, perhaps, because they, as a group, had been more godly than those before them? The gospel records prove that this is not so. Peter boasted, Thomas doubted, James and John sought personal gain, and when our Lord was taken prisoner, “they all forsook Him and fled.” Was it then because they had prayed long enough or earnestly enough for the Spirit to come upon them and take control? No; they had been instructed to go to Jerusalem, not to pray for the Holy Spirit to come, as some suppose, but to “wait for the [fulfillment of the] promise” regarding the Spirit (Acts 1:4,5)—and right here is the answer to our question. The believers at Pentecost were filled with the Holy Spirit, not because they had prayed long or earnestly enough for the Spirit to come, but because the time had arrived for the fulfillment2 of the divine promise. The Old Testament prophets and the Lord Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit should some day come to take control of God’s people, and that day had come. They were filled with the Spirit because God, according to His promise, had baptized them with the Spirit.
THE SPIRIT’S OPERATION TODAY
The Apostle Paul never anywhere says that all the members of the Body of Christ are filled with the Holy Spirit. It is surely clear from the record that the Corinthians and the Galatians, for example, were not filled with the Spirit, for Paul’s letters to these churches contain much of rebuke and correction. And it is also evident that believers today are not—even the best of them—wholly filled with the Spirit. The filling with the Spirit is now a goal, an attainment, which the apostle, by inspiration, sets before us. We are not all filled with the Spirit as a matter of fact, as were the Pentecostal believers. While the Spirit does indeed dwell within us by God’s grace, we must daily appropriate His help and blessing by faith.
Hence the apostle now exhorts believers: “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18) just as he exhorts them and prays for them, that they may be “filled with the fruits of righteousness” (Phil. 1:11); “filled with the knowledge of His will” (Col. 1:9); “filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph. 3:19).
But why are not we automatically filled with the Spirit as the believers were at Pentecost? We will proceed to answer this question, but let the reader not fail to first recognize the fact that while the believers gathered in the upper room at Pentecost were all filled with the Spirit, the believers under Paul, since that time, have not all been filled with the Spirit. Moreover, while it is distinctly stated, again and again, that the Pentecostal believers were, or were to be, baptized with the Spirit, not once does Paul in his epistles teach that members of the Body of Christ are baptized with the Spirit.3 Instead he exhorts them to appropriate God’s grace by faith so that they may be filled with the Spirit.
THE HOLY SPIRIT AND HUMAN BEHAVIOR
The prophesied work of the Holy Spirit in connection with His people Israel should be clearly understood if we would understand His work today, in connection with the members of the Body of Christ. In Joel 2:28,29 God promised to supernaturally cause them to prophesy, etc., but in Ezekiel 36:26,27, He also promised to supernaturally cause them to do His will:
“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
“And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.”
Thus God would show that the only way in which even His own people can perfectly obey Him is when He takes possession of them and causes them to do His will. Indeed He is still demonstrating this. Though we today have all the advantages and blessings of the dispensation of Grace, and though we desire most earnestly to obey and serve God as we ought, we still continually fall short. This is because, contrary to popular opinion, none of us has been baptized with the Spirit.
THE CONDUCT OF THE BELIEVERS AT PENTECOST
At Pentecost the time had come, so far as prophecy was concerned, for the fulfillment of the promise concerning the Holy Spirit. “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come…they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:1,4).
We must be careful to notice the immediate change that took place in the behavior of these believers, now that the Holy Spirit had come to take possession of them. Not only did they speak with tongues and prophesy and work miracles, but they all began living for one another.
“And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
“And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need” (Acts 2:44,45).
“And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul; neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.”
“Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,
“And laid them down at the apostles’ feet; and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need” (Acts 4:32,34,35).
Never before had the disciples of Christ even approached such a spirit of utter selflessness and love for one another. In spite of the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount and our Lord’s repeated exhortations to sell and distribute their earthly goods and live for one another, they—even the twelve—had heretofore been fully as human and selfish as those who had gone before them.
One day James and John came to ask a special favor of Christ: that they might occupy the first places in the kingdom, sitting, the one at Christ’s right hand and the other at His left! (Mark 10:37). Modest fellows! And the other ten were really no different at heart, for we read: “When the ten heard it, they began to be much displeased with James and John” (Ver. 41). We can almost hear them exclaim to each other: “Who do James and John think they are!” Nor was this the first time the apostles had “disputed among themselves who should be the greatest” (Mark 9:34).
But now, suddenly, all this was changed! Now each one put self aside and placed others first. And, as Jeremiah had predicted, this came from the heart. Mark well, it was of a multitude numbering more than five thousand (Acts 4:4) that we read that they were all of one heart and of one soul, and sold their lands and houses and brought the proceeds to the apostles for distribution among the needy. Imagine the freedom and joy and blessedness that must have prevailed among the disciples under these conditions! These were indeed “the days of heaven upon earth”!
God’s children in this present dispensation—the so-called Pentecostalists included—have never lived together as the believers at Pentecost did. Imagine even suggesting having all things common among believers today! Those who cry “Back to Pentecost” would not, we fear, be the first to step up and hand over their hard-earned investments as Barnabas and all the believing property owners did at Pentecost. Indeed, it would be wrong if we did this today, for the Spirit’s instruction for this present evil age is:
“If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (I Tim. 5:8).
PENTECOST RELATED TO THE KINGDOM, NOT TO THE BODY
Pentecost was an earnest of the kingdom reign of Christ, when peace and prosperity will prevail on earth and men will not need to lay up store for the future. But as Israel stubbornly rejected the King and His kingdom and judgment seemed imminent, God graciously intervened and ushered in the dispensation of Grace, under which we now live.
During this present dispensation God is doing a thing never once mentioned in Old Testament prophecy: forming a body of believers composed of Jews and Gentiles, reconciled to Himself by the Cross (Eph. 2:16). This body is called “the body of Christ,” since its members are eternally and inseparably united to Christ by one divine baptism. This baptism, in turn, is something altogether separate and distinct from the baptism with the Spirit at Pentecost, and has superseded it. This is evident from the following facts:
At Pentecost the Lord Jesus Christ was the Baptizer, and He baptized the believers with, or in, the Holy Spirit.
Matt. 3:11: “He [Christ] shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost…” (cf. Luke 3:16).
John 15:26: “The Comforter…whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth…shall testify of me.”
John 16:7: “If I depart, I will send Him unto you.”
Today, under the dispensation of Grace, however, the Holy Spirit is the Baptizer, baptizing believers into Christ and His Body.
I Cor. 12:13: “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body….”
Gal. 3:27,28: “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
To those who would trace the Body of Christ back to Pentecost, we ask: Where in early Acts do we read of the Holy Spirit baptizing Jews and Gentiles into one joint body, the Body of Christ? Until Cornelius, the disciples preached the Word “to none but unto the Jews only” (Acts 11:19) and surely the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles to God in one body could not be preached until the Jews as well as the Gentiles had been alienated from God. This is why we read of “the casting away of them [Israel]” in connection with “the reconciling of the world” (Rom. 11:15).
“For God hath concluded them ALL in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:32).
Certainly God had not yet cast Israel away or concluded her in unbelief at Pentecost, for at Pentecost, and for some time thereafter, God still dealt with Israel as a nation, pleading with her to repent, so that her Messiah might return and bring the long-promised times of refreshing (Acts 3:19-21).
To those, on the other hand, who would bring Pentecost into the present dispensation, we ask: Where is the Scriptural warrant for the continuance of a Pentecostal experience in this dispensation? It is clear from Acts and from Paul’s epistles that the Pentecostal program has been suspended because of the rejection of Christ and His kingdom. Certainly the gifts of prophecy, tongues and (supernatural) knowledge have passed away (I Cor. 13:8). And so with the gifts of healing (Rom. 8:22,23; II Cor. 4:16-5:4; I Tim. 5:23; II Tim. 4:20, etc.). Paul himself, who had been saved during the Pentecostal era and had possessed miraculous powers at least as great as those of the twelve, writes concerning his own illness:
“For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
“And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness…” (II Cor. 12:8,9).
And as to Pentecostal conduct in this dispensation: where, even among the “Pentecostalists,” do we find it? The early chapters of Acts record neither sin nor blunder in the lives of the believers at Pentecost,4 but there is plenty of both, not only among the “Pentecostalists” as a group, but in each individual “Pentecostalist.” And as to selling all and living for one another, many of their leaders are rich and increased in goods while those under them suffer need, both rich and poor bearing witness that the Pentecostal program has broken down and passed away. Indeed, it passed away during Paul’s lifetime, for whereas in Acts 4:34 we read: “Neither was there any among them that lacked,” we later find Paul taking up collections for “the poor saints at Jerusalem” (Rom. 15:26). This is because the King and His kingdom were refused, but “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom. 5:20) and today we enjoy even greater blessings, the blessings of “the dispensation of the grace of God” (Eph. 3:2). The Pentecostal believers lived pleasing to God because the Spirit took control of them. For us there are moral and spiritual victories to be gained, as we appropriate by faith what God provides by grace.
THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE BELIEVER TODAY
Grace and faith are the characteristic features of the present dispensation. Not only is salvation now declared to be by grace, through faith, but the Spirit also operates in the believer by grace, through faith. He does not take possession of us and cause us to do what is right, but dwells within each believer (I Cor. 6:19) to provide needed guidance and the strength to withstand temptation, and we may avail ourselves of this provision by faith.
We have already seen how the Spirit, who first imparted life to us will also impart strength to withstand temptation and overcome sin. In our inability to even pray as we ought, “the Spirit…helpeth our infirmities” and “maketh intercession for us” (Rom. 8:26). In our weakness we are “strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man” (Eph. 3:16) and God even stoops to “quicken [our] mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in us” (Rom. 8:11).
“Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh” (Rom. 8:12).
The implication from the above passage is that though sorely tempted we are debtors to the Spirit who dwells within and provides overcoming power.
The question, in times of temptation, is generally whether we truly desire to overcome, for we may overcome in any given case by grace, through faith. In the present dispensation it is not true that it is not possible for the believer to sin, but it is blessedly true that in any situation it is possible for him not to sin, for the Spirit is always there to help.
If we go to the Scriptures and claim, by faith, the Spirit’s help in overcoming our sins, we enter into the enjoyment of the fulness of spiritual life and blessing. If we fail to do so, we wither and die—as far as our spiritual experience is concerned. We can never lose our salvation, of course, for “everlasting life” was obtained by faith in Christ, not by walking in the Spirit. This is confirmed by the fact that the same apostle who pleads: “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God,” hastens to add: “whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30).
But failure to appropriate God’s gracious provision for victory over sin does result in death as far as our Christian experience is concerned. This is what the apostle means, when he says, by the Spirit:
“For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6).
“For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify [put to death] the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Rom. 8:13).
To the careless Corinthians, the Apostle Paul exclaimed:
“What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
“For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (I Cor. 6:19,20).
This passage perhaps describes our relationship to the Holy Spirit better than any other. God, by His Spirit, dwells within us, and our bodies are meant to be shrines, temples, where He is worshipped. In the measure that He is given His rightful place and is truly worshipped within—in the measure that our bodies are given over to His glory—in that measure sin will be overcome, God exalted, and we blessed. True, the world, the flesh and the devil all clamor for a place too, but we should thank God for the testings that arise from this. We praise God for the privilege of toiling, suffering and sacrificing for Him now, since that privilege will forever be gone when we are caught up to be with Him. Let us then also praise Him for the temptations that daily beset us, for each temptation overcome will gain for us a rich reward.
God does not—He cannot—say of us: “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit,” but He does set before us the glorious objective: “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). And as we seek, by faith, to realize this objective, rich, deep blessings are already ours, to say nothing of the rewards to come. What a challenge to faith!
It was no particular victory for the Pentecostal believers to be filled with the Spirit, for the Spirit simply took possession of them according to His own sovereign will and promise. But great spiritual victories are ours as we, through the Spirit, mortify the deeds of the flesh in order that our bodies may be the temples of God indeed. May God grant us many such victories as we take Him at His Word!
“Grieve not the Holy Spirit” (Eph. 4:30).
“Walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16).
“Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18).
1. Much as whatever takes possession of the mind is said to fill it.
2. Some look upon Pentecost merely as a foreshadowing of the promised Millennial blessing. We believe it was the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise, but that the complete fulfillment was interrupted by the dispensation of Grace. Note: “This is that…” (Acts 2:16).
3. Not even in I Corinthians 12:13.
4. Ananias and Sapphira tried to join the company by deceit, but were stricken dead.