Acts 19:2 [He] asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
This section of Acts 19 is something I heard discussed a great deal when I was first introduced to the Charismatic Movement back in the ’70s. However, the Japanese puts a different slant on this verse than the NIV does. Where the NIV says, “We have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit,” the Japanese says, “We have not heard that the/a Holy Spirit is given.” (Japanese doesn’t have articles, so the question of “the” or “a” remains.) Given the standard baptismal formula of “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” I would think there wouldn’t be any Christians today who haven’t heard that the Holy Spirit exists, but many seem to be ignorant of the Biblical reality that He is given to believers to abide with and infill them. That is tragic. It should be obvious to any earnest believer that we can’t live in full obedience to God in our own strength. That’s why Jesus so famously said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be My witnesses.” (Acts 1:8) We tend to focus on the gifts the Holy Spirit gives, as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 and elsewhere, but the fundamental purpose of the Holy Spirit being given to believers is to enable them to live as God’s children, rather than “merely human.” (John 1:12-13, 1 Corinthians 3:3) There are many people who essentially give up trying to obey the Bible because humanly speaking, we can’t do it. That’s why Peter said so forcefully, “Why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10) Jesus told us to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Anyone with half a grain of self-awareness knows they can’t do it! Even Paul famously acknowledged that reality. (Philippians 3:12-14) However, the Holy Spirit, as part of the Trinity, is indeed perfect, and the more we allow Him to fill and motivate us, the more we will be like Jesus, accurately expressing and doing the Father’s will.
My own experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit was delayed because I was distracted by all I had heard about the gifts, and specifically the gift of tongues. It was only when I let go of my preconceptions that I was able to receive. I have since then experienced all the gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12, but I have learned that being filled with the Holy Spirit is more fundamental than any gift. Just yesterday we were with a friend who, to her knowledge, has never spoken in tongues, yet who is radiantly filled with the presence of God. That’s what God is after. Spiritual gifts are useful tools, but they are no more than that, and are never ends in themselves. They are certainly not “merit badges!” I desire that all to whom I minister would be filled with the Holy Spirit, not just to “get happy,” though it is certainly a joyous thing, but so that they would be able to deal with all of the many frustrations of life, as radiant witnesses of the power of God.
Father, thank You for this clear reminder. Help me operate more and more in the flow of Your Spirit, and help me guide others to do likewise, so that in all things Your Name may be hallowed and Your kingdom come as Your will is done, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!