Christian theology in a Sudanese context. God the Holy Spirit and our Christian experience.
Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost explicitly links the Joel 2 prophecy with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on that day (Acts 2:16). Although there was an immediate application to Joel’s own time, there was an ultimate application as well. In the life of Jesus Christ, the work of God would reach a crucial focal point. A Body of God’s people, not from one single nation but from every tribe under heaven, would be born. The life of that Body – the Church – would be the Holy Spirit. He would birth people into it (John 3:3-8). He would bring them towards the likeness of Jesus through the mind and will of God (Romans 8:26-30). “The extraordinary phenomenon of Spirit-filled believers declaring God’s wonders in foreign languages is the fulfilment of Joel’s prediction that God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh”. ‘The last days’ of Acts 2:17 have begun at Pentecost. The ‘afterward’ of Joel 2:28 has arrived. In between the first and second comings of Jesus Christ is the age of the overflowing ministry of the Holy Spirit. God gives generously, irreversibly, and universally. Like a deluge of heavy rain, the Holy Spirit cannot be gathered back again, and He affects everyone.
I have walked by the irrigation ditches on Tutti Island in the Blue Nile. As rain, channelled in the right way, can produce good crops, so the Holy Spirit will produce fruit to make Christians attractive (Galatians 5:22), gifts to make Christians useful (1 Corinthians 12:4-7); and He gives the unity which bonds Christians together (Ephesians 4:3-7).
It is also sadly true, that just as rain can be wasted, lost or left to become stagnant water breeding mosquitoes and disease, so Christians' wrong response to the Holy Spirit can grieve Him (Ephesians 4:30). The surrounding verses warn against bad talking and lack of self-control. Christians can also ‘put out the Spirit’s fire’
(1 Thessalonians 5:19). This change of picture from water to fire, does not hide the fact that how Christians live in relation to one another, and in relation to God, directly affects the flow of the Holy Spirit into and through our lives. Once again, check the surrounding verses to discover the meaning of the text.
The last prophet immediately before Jesus came was John the Baptist. His life was completely occupied by the Holy Spirit from birth. He prophesied that Jesus would ‘baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire’ (Luke 1:15; Luke 3:16). The word to ‘baptise’ means to ‘bury people out of sight’. The record of John’s life that we have in the Gospels, is an example of a person filled and overflowing with the Holy Spirit. He leapt in praise of Jesus (Luke 1:31). He preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3). He fulfilled Scripture (Luke 3:4-6). John pointed away from himself and pointed towardsJesus Christ (John 1:29-30; 1:35-36). He clearly gave witness that Jesus was the Son of God (John 1:34). John was arrested for his bold confrontation with sin in the lives of men (Luke 3:19,20). From prison he asked Jesus Himself to resolve His apparent doubts (Matthew 11:2,3). John died for his ministry (Matthew 14:10). But, think about this: Jesus said the people of His new Kingdom were all more remarkable and impressive than John! (Matthew 11:11-15). Why is this so? How can this be? The answer is amazing.
The Christian church has, not just one or two ‘John the Baptists’, but hundreds of thousands of them! God the Holy Spirit floods into and over people to make them Christians. Having been born by, with or in the Spirit into the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13), the emptier our lives are of sin, the more we can be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:17-18). The Old Testament age where the Holy Spirit only moved on a few people for specific tasks God called them to do, is now replaced. The age between the New Testament and the second coming of Christ, in which all born-again Christians know the baptism of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13) – and may experience the continuous filling of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), has arrived.
The first disciples knew the baptism with the Holy Spirit when he came on them to fill them at Pentecost (Acts 1:5; 1:8; Acts 2:4). This outpouring of the Holy Spirit was a gift from God for more than just themselves (Acts 2:17; 2:38-39). In the next chapters of Acts history, these same disciples and others, were filled over and over again with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gave them the ability to speak (Acts4:8); He gave them boldness(4:31); He gave discernment (Acts 5:3; 5:9); He gave an evident godliness (Acts 6:5); He gave apologetic authority (6:10); He gave an inspirational vision (Acts 7:55), He gave confirmation of acceptance with God (Acts 8:17); He gave a prompting toward service (8:29); He gave the supernatural ability to travel (8:39); He gave equipment for service (Acts 9:17); He gave encouragement (9:31); He gave understanding of spiritual principles (Acts 10:19); and He gave them confirmation regarding a new development (Acts 10:44-48). In Acts 11:1-18 there is an interesting parallel account of the Cornelius events (Acts 10) and the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Just try listing, on a piece of paper, the four different ways Peter describes the experiences of the Holy Spirit at Jerusalem’s Pentecost, and at Cornelius’ home in Caesarea. Then compare them with Luke’s descriptions of the same events from Acts. Continuing reading Acts with the theme of the Holy Spirit filling the believers again and again, we read how the Holy Spirit gave evident leadership ability (Acts 11:24); He gave a future prediction of famine (Acts 11:28); He gave a specific call to the local church (Acts 13:2-4); He gave brave discernment (Acts 13:9); He gave joyful satisfaction (Acts13:52); He gave resolution of conflict, and good communication (Acts 15:28); He gave guidance over where to move and where not to move (Acts 16:6-9); He gave correction over mistaken belief (Acts 19:1-7); He gave an overwhelming desire to keep going (Acts 20:22); He gave warning of coming difficulties (Acts 20:23); He gave the appointments to church leadership (Acts 20:28); He gave tests over doing God’s will (Acts 21:4); He gave predictions of future imprisonment (Acts 21:11); He gave a conviction of the authority of Scripture (Acts 28:25). It should be evident from all of those happenings that it is impossible to be a Christian church without the Holy Spirit being involved at the heart of things.
It is noteworthy that some things are not attributed to the Holy Spirit – including specific preaching (for example Acts 17 in Thessalonica, Berea and Athens); raising the dead man (Acts20:7-12); testifying before government officials (Acts chapters 24-26). I do not believe this means the Holy Spirit was not involved! Nor do I believe that all the times the Holy Spirit is mentioned, Jesus is not involved. There is no division in the Godhead. All the three Persons in the Holy Trinity are One God. I read Acts understanding that the Holy Spirit is mediating the life of Jesus Christ into the church and all of the events in which they are involved. This is true whether it is specifically mentioned or not. A mediator brings together. The Holy Spirit brings God into the church. He makes Jesus obvious and foremost.
This could be summarised by saying the Holy Spirit has four main functions in the life of a believer, and of believers together in the church:
1. The Holy Spirit is the teacher. John 14:26 (Greek – didaskalos). 2. The Holy Spirit is the witness. John 15:26 (Greek – martus). 3. The Holy Spirit is the guide. John 16:13 (Greek – hodegeo). 4. The Holy Spirit brings the ability. Acts 1:8 (Greek – dunamis). All four of these promises are sayings of Jesus Himself. And all four can be seen to have become true, reading through the book of Acts. The distinguishing mark and the driving force of the New Testament church was the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God. There is a notable similarity between Acts 9:31; Acts 13:52 and Romans 15:13. Paul’s prayer in the latter reference is that the dramatic movement of God among the early disciples will continue, even affecting those whom he has never met at Rome, who live at the heart of the dominant world power. It is of great encouragement to Christians today to realise that God’s Kingdom is not to be related to any plot of ground on this earth. It is a Kingdom of people who chose voluntarily to live under the daily influence of King Jesus! When He is present among His people, it really shows! Churches do not need any land of their own in order to exist. A church is the people who gather, it is not the place where they meet. (See chapter 48). The New Testament witness to the Holy Spirit of Pentecost is Christ-centred (Matthew 28:18-20; 1 John 3:23-24). He draws people to know Jesus Christ. He explains and applies the teachings of Jesus. He makes people more and more like Jesus. He calls and equips people to serve Jesus. The Holy Spirit is a gift of the Father to come permanently alongside us, like Jesus was alongside His disciples whileHe lived on earth. We must learn to be at home with the Holy Spirit and we must live to ensure He is at home in our lives. The Holy Spirit may be said to be “the unseen Presence of God” in the world or in the church. But although Himself unseen, His presence should be visible, tangible in the type of people we are and in the things that we do and don’t do.
Thinking it through.
(a). What different thoughts can you list that water, in some way, illustrates the activity of
the Holy Spirit today?
(b). How many different ways is the same ‘Pentecost’ experience referred to in Acts?
(Acts 1:4-5; Acts 2:1-4; Acts 2:16-21; Acts 2:33; Acts 10:44-48; and Acts 11:1-18).
(c) What lesson should we learn from the several experiences that Peter had with the
Holy Spirit? (John 20:21-23; Acts 1:1-4; Acts 4:8; Acts 4:31; Acts 5:3; Acts 9:31).
(d). How does ‘the Holy Spirit mediate the life of Jesus into the church’?