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The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today (Chapter 7)

All of this suggests that those who seek faithfully to walk in the way of Christ are living in an atmosphere conducive to the reception of the Holy Spirit. Such a walk in obedience, not done grudgingly or seeking a reward, is an expression of a heart right before God. There may—and will—be failures, but the essential intention and direction is that of obedience to the word of the Lord. Already in some sense walking in the way of holiness, such persons are in a position for a further implementation of the Holy Spirit (who is the Spirit of holiness). The way of obedience wherein God’s word is gladly honored and heeded is context for the gift of the Holy Spirit.11

This means, on the other hand, that one of the barriers to the reception of the Holy Spirit may be that of disobedience. If a person is not walking in the way of faithful obedience to Christ’s commandments, for example, the injunctions of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7); if he is harboring anger, lust, bitterness in his heart; if love has grown cold and holiness is aggrieved—such a one is hardly in a position to receive God’s Holy Spirit.12 For obedience lies at the heart of faith—and it is by faith alone that the Holy Spirit is received.

So to conclude this section: obedience in general to the command of Christ—His word, His teaching, His direction—and specifically to “wait for the promise” are aspects of the context for receiving the Holy Spirit. There may be no waiting—as in the case of the centurion whose prior obedience13 is caught up into the obedience of faith and the Spirit is poured out at His commencement of faith. But in every instance the Holy Spirit is given in the atmosphere of obedient faith.14

We turn next to observe the importance of prayer as context for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is of course an essential element in the totality of Christian living—in its many aspects of praise, thanksgiving, confession, supplication and dedication—but in a special way it is the atmosphere in which the Holy Spirit is given.

This may be seen first in Jesus’ own experience and teaching. We are told that following His baptism in water by John, the Holy Spirit came upon Him. In that sense Jesus is the precursor of those whose water baptism is followed by the gift of the Holy Spirit.15 It is quite relevant that the Gospel of Luke records the context of the Spirit’s coming upon Jesus to be prayer: “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove”16 (3:21-22). It is to be particularly noted here that, though the coming of the Spirit followed directly upon Jesus’ baptism, the statement about prayer links the two events together. Though water baptism prepared the way17 for the gift of the Spirit, it occurred to one in an attitude of prayer.

The importance of prayer in connection with the gift of the Holy Spirit is further underscored in Luke’s Gospel by the words of Jesus: “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!” (11:13).18 The asking is earlier set forth in the story of a man who, having no bread to share with a visitor, goes to a friend’s house at midnight, and though the friend is in bed with his children, the man continues to call out and knocks again and again. Jesus adds: “Though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity19 he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (11:8-9). Hence importunate, persistent, unrelenting prayer is the context for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Now it would be pushing the story too far to suggest that God only grudgingly gives His Spirit; for the climax describes how God goes far beyond earthly fathers in His giving. The point, however, is that God is pleased to give to those who earnestly desire something—else the gift may mean very little. But where there is intense desire, the fulfillment of the prayer is all the more full of joy and thanks giving.20

But now let us move on to the book of Acts where, again, the atmosphere of prayer is shown in several instances to surround the gift of the Holy Spirit. First, this is especially apparent in the account of Acts 1 leading up to Pentecost. As we have seen, Jesus charged the apostles to stay in Jerusalem and to await the promised Holy Spirit. Obeying this command, the apostles returned to the city, and joined by various women who had been with Jesus, including Mary and His brothers, they gave them selves to prayer: “All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer”21 (Acts 1:14). Thus it was not simply an idle waiting, but a waiting in prayer; and not just prayer now and then but that to which they devoted themselves. Later, the number of those waiting grew to about 120 persons (1:15), and on one occasion there was the selection by the company of an apostle to succeed Judas (1:16-26), but the atmosphere continued to be one of prayer. For on the Day of Pentecost it was to a group of people in an attitude of prayer that the Holy Spirit was given.22

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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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