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The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today (Chapter 7)

Having said these various things about the divine sovereignty and the Holy Spirit as a gift, we are ready to move on to consider further the human context or situation. As we have earlier noted on the human side, it is through faith that the Holy Spirit is received. Hence, however true it is that God sovereignly grants His Holy Spirit, it is to those believing in Jesus Christ—those upon the way of faith.4 Thus as we now move on to observe the context in which the Spirit is given, we continue to stand within the sphere of faith. We do not add one iota to faith—as if it were faith plus something else. Rather are we now dealing with various expressions within faith—constituents of faith, in a sense—so that the context is not extraneous to faith but its vital demonstration.

We may properly begin with the matter of obedience. The Holy Spirit is given within the context of obedience—to those who obey God’s command. In this regard one verse in the book of Acts stands out: “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him”5 (5:32). This is obedience occurring within the area of faith: the obedience which suffuses the atmosphere surrounding those who become recipients of the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is, indeed, the obedience of faith.6 God grants His Spirit to those who in faith obey His command.

The quotation above, from Acts 5:32, is taken from Peter’s words before the Jewish council. He speaks for all the apostles (as the passage shows), and accordingly refers to their obedience wherein the Holy Spirit was given. This then leads us back to the situation prior to Pentecost, and to the important matter of the nature of their obedience. The book of Acts begins with the words: “In the first book, O Theophilus. I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment[s]7 through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen” (1:1-2). Thus as men of faith they are under obedience to Christ’s commands as transmitted through the Holy Spirit.8 The apostles accordingly give them selves to obedience—as men under orders. Thereafter specifically comes the commandment: “He charged them not to depart from Jerusalem,9 but to wait for the promise of the Father [the gift of the Holy Spirit]” (1:4). Then what follows, over a period of ten days, is the obedient act of waiting for the fulfillment of the promise. As men under orders—and with others joining them until the number comes to be about 120 (1:15)—they await the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.

A like obedience of faith is demonstrated in the case of Saul of Tarsus who, following his encounter with the risen Christ, is commanded by him: “Rise and enter the city [of Damascus], and you will be told what you are to do” (Acts 9:6). Saul obeys, and after three days is visited by Ananias, who likewise acts in obedience to a vision and a command of Christ (9:10-11), and Saul thereafter is filled with the Holy Spirit. The atmosphere, the context, for the gift of the Holy Spirit is obedience on both sides: Ananias who ministers and Saul who receives.

Quite similar is the story of the Roman centurion Cornelius at Caesarea who, along with his kinsmen and friends, receives the outpoured gift of the Holy Spirit. Cornelius is commanded by the Lord in a vision: “Send men to Joppa, and bring one Simon who is called Peter” (Acts 10:5). Peter, who likewise has a vision, is sent for by Cornelius; and Peter is told by the Spirit: “Rise and go down, and accompany them [the servants of Cornelius] without hesitation” (10:20). Thereafter, in an atmosphere of the obedience of faith,10 the Holy Spirit is received.

These three accounts illustrate acts of specific obedience that relate immediately to the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is important. Also there is the statement in Acts—as we noted—that the specific obedience to the command to wait in Jerusalem is preceded by other commandments that Jesus gave through the Holy Spirit. Hence, His disciples are called to a total obedience to whatever Jesus commanded: such is the larger context for the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is vividly set forth in the words of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor [the Holy Spirit], to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth” (John 14:15-17). The Holy Spirit—the “Counselor,” the “Spirit of truth”—will be given to those who obey Jesus’ commands.

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Category: Pneuma Review, Spirit, Winter 2004

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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