Today we reach the fourth in a series of questions asked by a reader:
What of those who are not baptized by the Spirit? Is it just God’s sovereign choice? Will they just be doomed to life without the full power of the Spirit?
The Bible is clear that the Spirit can be quenched. Sadly, there are many things that conspire today to quench the work of the Spirit in our lives. This can include, as Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explained, wrong teaching that we have received:
I strongly believe that God stands ready to send the Spirit to all who ask him. Now, we cannot dictate the timing of such an experience, nor its intensity. But we can rightly seek for Spirit-filling, and seek for it with faith.
One of the fundamental errors, in my view, in approaching this whole subject is in reading some of the promises of God concerning the Spirit and thinking they are automatically fulfilled. Thus, we see in Acts 2, when Peter is asked how to be saved, he urges his hearers to repent, be baptized, and then offers them the promise that they will receive the Holy Spirit. Incidentally, the language here is surely one of the clearest indications that repentance/faith and reviving the Spirit are two distinct events, that together with baptism and being “added” to the Church, make up the “normal Christian birth.” (See “The Simple Gospel Explained.”)
When God makes a promise, often there are certain conditions attached. When it comes to receiving the Spirit, the Acts passage tells us that we should repent and be baptized, but it doesn’t mention one more condition which, on reflection on other Scriptures, seems obvious. That condition is simply that we have to WANT the Holy Spirit, ask for him, and then deliberately and consciously receive him.
As Jesus says in Luke:
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)
To someone who feels they have not received the Holy Spirit, I would simply challenge them, “Have you asked God to give him to you? Have you asked repeatedly, earnestly, eagerly?” I do not believe God shows favoritism. I do believe that we are not meant to be merely passive on this point, waiting for the Spirit to act in his own timing. No, instead we should pursue God for him to bless us with everything within us. The blockage, I am convinced, is not with God, but with us.
I received the following question in an e-mail: “Can you explain more explicitly how Acts 2:38 is one of the clearest indications of the events being two separate ones . . . I understand, I think, why you say that, but I’d also like to know the argument for why other interpretations of this verse would be wrong. If I told a biblically literate cessationist that 2:38 is one of the clearest indications, what argument against that would they be likely to bring?”
I will leave my cessationist readers to explain their interpretation of this verse, except to say that I suppose they would see receiving the Spirit as an automatic event. To me, because Peter commands faith and repentance and, contingent on that, speaks of people being able to receive the Holy Spirit, we have to be talking about a different event to conversion. If the way you know that you have received the Spirit is that you have faith, then this sentence makes no sense. Also, Peter is clearly, to me, making a promise to the hearers and as many as God shall call that they will be able to seek for and actively receive the Holy Spirit.