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The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today (Chapter 7)

Of significance surely in creating expectation were the words of Peter to the multitude in Jerusalem: “and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you” (Acts 2:38-39). Earlier the crowd had participated in the extraordinary event of everyone hearing in his own language what the disciples were saying, and were told thereafter by Peter that this had happened through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Now he tells them that (following repentance and baptism in the name of Christ) they will also receive the same gift. Against the background of their own participation in an amazing event, and now Peter’s promise of their likewise receiving the gift, their expectation must have been very great.28 Thus the atmosphere wherein the gift was received was laden with intense expectation.

Now to carry the role of expectancy forward, even to the present day, it will be recalled that Peter said the promise of the gift of the Spirit was not only to his immediate audience, but also “… to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him” (2:39). “Far off”29 suggests distance in both space and time, thus people of all places and ages, and particularly Gentiles, since Peter had already included later Jewish generations in the expression “to your children.” Hence the promise of the Spirit continues to our day, and for those who truly hear it and desire it and believe it, expectancy is once again the atmosphere.

So it has been with countless thousands of people across the world in our time who in hearing about the gift of the Holy Spirit have demonstrated a growing expectancy, even excitement, about the promise being fulfilled on their behalf. Nor have they found this expectation to be a delusion, for God has generously poured out His Spirit.30 Contrariwise, when people have expected little and expressed satisfaction to remain where they are, they have received little if anything. But those who wait to receive everything God has to give, those who desire great things from God, those who stand on tiptoes of expecta­tion—it is they whom God delights to bless. Expect a miracle, and miracles begin to happen!

Finally, the context for the gift of the Holy Spirit is that of yielding. It is in an atmosphere of surrender to the lordship of Jesus Christ that the Holy Spirit is given. When persons are ready to give up everything for the sake of Christ and the gospel, and lay themselves completely at His disposal, God vouchsafes the abundance of His Spirit. Another way of putting this is to speak of emptiness before the Lord to which comes the answer of His divine fullness. When self is broken of all prideful claim, and there is looking only to Jesus, a new power is released—the power, the anointing, of God’s Holy Spirit.

In the New Testament accounts concerning the original disciples of Jesus, Pentecost stands forth as the climax of a movement toward the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ. Peter him­self is a vivid illustration of one who, earlier in response to the word of Jesus that the twelve would deny Him, had boastfully replied: “Even though they all fall away, I will not” (Mark 14:29). It is a quite different Peter who after Pentecost is shown no longer to look to himself but wholly to Christ, for example, saying to a cripple: “In the name of Jesus Christ walk” (Acts 3:6), and then to spectators astounded at what had hap­pened: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?” (3:12). Something had happened to Peter between the time of his self-affirmation—and ensuing denial of Jesus—and the time of his total Christ-affirmation. A transformation had occurred. It was prepared for by post-resurrection encoun­ters wherein Jesus ministers new faith, new life and a new commission,31 but actually occurred only after a period of waiting that lasted to Pentecost. This was the final time of preparation—and of transition from self-dependency to com­plete dependence on Christ. The ten days in the Upper Room were surely days of yielding more and more of self until the final barrier was breached, the self was emptied of all vain striving, and the Holy Spirit rushed in to fill the vacuum with the presence and power of God. Thereafter, for Peter and the other disciples, it was to be life lived in the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

Essentially the same thing must have happened with Saul of Tarsus over a three-day period. Though Saul had been set on a new course by the risen Jesus—180 degrees opposite from his former direction—and now believed in the one he formerly persecuted, doubtless there was much yet needed by way of yielding and surrender to his new Lord before he would be able to receive the commission from Ananias to preach Christ. Saul of Tarsus had been extremely self-reliant, proud and defiant,32 and though he had now received new life and direction, it would take these days of blindness, prayer and fasting for the full surrender to occur, so that all his strength henceforward would be from the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit. The words of Paul to the Romans at a later time are quite apropos: “Yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life” (Rom. 6:13). A new life, after death, and then a yielding of the total self to God!

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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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