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Rodman Williams: The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today: Reception

Before going further, we may turn again to the record in the book of Acts. For herein is delineated in vivid manner the gift of the Holy Spirit in relation to faith.

Let us first reflect upon the narrative about the early disciples of Jesus. The gift of the Spirit to them on the Day of Pentecost was not at the commencement of their faith in Jesus. Some hundred and twenty of them are described as “brethren” (note the language of Acts 1:15-16)—brethren of one another through a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is they who await the promised gift of the Spirit. Of the hundred and twenty, many had been with Jesus since the beginning of His ministry, the apostles as well as others, and had passed through a variety of experiences. There was the original call to discipleship, months and years of fellowship with Jesus, then a forsaking of Him at the time of His crucifixion and death, and thereafter a turning again (“conversion”)8 to Jesus in His risen presence. At that time, according to the Fourth Gospel, the Holy Spirit was breathed into them (John 20:22), and some fifty days later, according to the account of Luke in Acts, the Holy Spirit was poured out.9 Thus there was a period of some three or more years from the initial encounter to the day of the gift of the Spirit.

How long had the first disciples been believers? This is not an easy question to answer. In one sense they had been believers for some time: they had long before given up everything to follow Jesus, had done mighty works in His name, including healing and casting out of demons, and seventy of them were told by Jesus not to rejoice in the latter “but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). The statement of Jesus would suggest that their faith already was of eternal significance. According to the Fourth Gospel, Jesus told His disciples shortly before His death, “You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). This would suggest also that Jesus’ presence and word had awakened such a response in the disciples that they had truly been made clean. Yet when it was a matter of Jesus’ words about His coming resurrection, there seemed to be little faith, and it was only His risen presence that made their faith return. Their believing had taken on a deeper and more enduring quality—and this kind of believing began with the Resurrection.

Thus we may say that when the Pentecostal event occurred, it was to many who had long known Jesus, and, despite numerous ups and downs, their faith had continued to grow. However we may evaluate the quality of their faith, it is an obvious fact that the gift of the Spirit occurred to those on the way of faith, to those believing. Indeed, a later question of Peter to the apostles and brethren in Jerusalem concerning the recent gift of the Holy Spirit to the people at Caesarea clearly implies this: “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us [believing]10 in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11:17). On the way of faith, believing, they received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

It is to be added that the experience of the first disciples points in the direction of what is happening among many people in our time. The gift of the Spirit to those who for some time have been walking the way of faith is being repeated frequently today. Many who have long known Jesus and come to faith in Him are now receiving the Holy Spirit in fullness.11 Thus in striking manner the original Christian experience is recurring.12 As we move on through various other narratives that contain reference to the reception of the Spirit, it is apparent that there are other parallels to the experience of receiving the Holy Spirit along the way of faith.

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Category: Spirit, Summer 2003

About the Author: J. Rodman Williams (1918-2008), Ph.D., is considered to be the father of renewal theology. He served as a chaplain in the Second World War, he was a church pastor, college professor, and key figure in the charismatic movement of the 1960s. Beginning in 1982, he taught theology at Regent University School of Divinity in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and became Professor of Renewal Theology Emeritus there in 2002. Author of numerous books, he is perhaps best known for his three volume Renewal Theology (Zondervan, 1996).

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