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Rodman Williams: The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today: Effects, Part 2

It should be emphasized that what is at stake here is not the reality itself but the knowledge of that reality. It is not, for example, that by the gift of the Holy Spirit Christ abides in us, but that through this gift we know He abides in us—and we in Him. It is not by the gift of the Spirit that we have eternal life but we know we have it. The Spirit who is given brings assurance and certainty into all such spiritual matters.

This leads us into other Scriptures which speak of the gift of the Holy Spirit as an “earnest” or “guarantee.” Two passages in 2 Corinthians contain this: “He [God] has put his seal upon us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee”34 (2 Corinthians 1:22), and “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 5:5). “This very thing” refers to the life to come (“a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens”—verse 1). The earnest or pledge of that future life is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit within, the life to come is already in some sense present—the “first installment”—so that there is a gilt-edged guarantee of what is beyond. Another and similar passage about the gift of the Spirit as earnest or guarantee is that wherein Paul writes: “[You] were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14).35  By the reception of this gift the Ephesians have been sealed, and the result described is that the Spirit is the earnest of the future inheritance in heaven.36

Once again to return to the contemporary scene: one of the highlights of the widespread movement of the Holy Spirit is the strong eschatological sense. There is, first, the sense of the presence of the future. The gift of the Spirit brings about a knowledge that through faith in Christ one has already passed from death into life, and that while on earth there is already citizenship in heaven. This world seems less like a preparation for the next than an anticipation of what is to come. One of the common expressions is “Glory!”37—a word that conveys with extraordinary effectiveness the sense of the ineffable presence of the future consummation. There is, in the second place, a strong sense of expectation about the coming of the Lord. On almost every hand there is the renewed cry of “Maranatha”—”Our Lord, come” (1 Corinthians 16:22). This cry does not stem from a sense of His absence, or distance, but from a sense of His powerful presence. It is the Lord, vividly known through the Holy Spirit, hence in His spiritual reality, that His Spirit-filled people yearn to behold in His glorious body.38  It is the intense desire in the Spirit for the fulfillment of beholding Him face to face.39

Fourth, another effect of the gift of the Holy Spirit is boldness in speech and action. We have earlier noted that the purpose of the Spirit being given is for that enabling power whereby the witness to Jesus is carried forward in both word and deed. The gift of this power brings about extraordinary boldness and courage.

It is apparent in the book of Acts that an immediate effect of the gift of the Holy Spirit is decisiveness and confidence of speech, courage in the face of all opposition, and readiness to lay down one’s life for the sake of Christ. We may begin with Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, just after the disciples had been “filled with the Holy Spirit,” and can but be impressed with the confidence and directness of his words: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words” (Acts 2:14). So does Peter begin—and the note of confidence40 is apparent throughout. Nor in the climax does he mince words, proclaiming that “God had made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). A like confidence and boldness is demonstrated even more on a later day when Peter and John, after the healing of a cripple, are brought before the Jewish council—the same that had called for Jesus’ death—and are asked, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Thereupon “Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them &#8230, ‘be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified …this man is standing before you well'” (Acts 4:8-10). Then Peter adds that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The next verse begins: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John.” Here is boldness and courage indeed!

On another occasion, despite threats against them, the company of disciples pray: “And now, Lord, look upon their threats, and grant to thy servants to speak thy work with all boldness” (Acts 4:29). The result: “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).

The close connection between being “filled with the Holy Spirit” and boldness is evident in each of the three preceding accounts. The immediate effect was a boldness—confidence, courage—of extraordinary character.

We note next the example of Stephen. Stephen, like the other men chosen to serve tables, was “full of the Spirit” (Acts 6:3).41  He performed “great wonders and signs” and those who opposed him “could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke” (Acts 6:8, 10). However, through secret instigation and false witnesses, Stephen is brought before the Jewish council. When asked by the high priest to give answer, Stephen proceeds with total courage and boldness, not hesitating at the climax of his testimony to say to the council: “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit,” and “the Righteous One …you have now betrayed and murdered” (Acts 7:51-52). The result: members of the council are enraged, gnash their teeth against him; but he does not stop. Rather, Stephen “full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and …said, ‘Behold I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God'” (Acts 7:56). Such was the boldness of Stephen—to speak against the evil of his audience and to proclaim to them the glorified Lord—a boldness that held back nothing. Thereupon they stoned him to death, but he never flinched to the very end.

In this whole account of extraordinary and indomitable courage the fact of Stephen’s witness is set in the context of the fullness of the Spirit. Being so laden with the presence and power of God, Stephen spoke with total fearlessness—even to his martyrdom.

We turn now to the narrative about Saul of Tarsus—Paul the Apostle—and observe again the connection between the gift of the Spirit and boldness of speech and action. Saul is “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:17) and “in the synagogues immediately he proclaimed Jesus, saying, ‘He is the Son of God'” (Acts 9:20). The Jews in Damascus, amazed at first at Saul’s complete turnabout from persecutor of Christians to proclaimer of Christ, are soon seeking to kill him (Acts 9:23-24). Saul manages to escape their plots and goes to Jerusalem. There Barnabas, bringing him to the apostles, speaks of Saul’s conversion and how at Damascus he (Saul) had “preached boldly in the name of Jesus” (Acts 9:27). Soon thereafter Saul “went in and out among them at Jerusalem preaching boldly in the name of the Lord” (Acts 9:28). So zealous is Saul that his life is soon again at stake, and to save him, the brethren in Jerusalem take him down to Caesarea and ship him off to his home city of Tarsus.

Henceforward in all of Paul’s missionary travels the same boldness marks everything he did. For example, beginning his journeys with Barnabas, Paul encounters a magician at Cyprus who tries to block the Roman proconsul from hearing the gospel message. Thereupon “Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at [the magician] and said, ‘You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?” (Acts 13:9-10). Then Paul boldly calls for temporary blindness to come upon the magician—and it happens. The result of Paul’s bold word and action: “the proconsul believed” (Acts 13:12). Other examples of such boldness are shown upon a visit to Antioch of Pisidia where, despite much Jewish reviling and opposition, “Paul and Barnabas42  spoke out boldly saying [that] ‘Since you …judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold we turn to the Gentiles'” (Acts 13:46). And immediately thereafter, despite persecution and expulsion, Paul and Barnabas go on to Iconium where “they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord” (Acts 14:3). Other examples could be added, but these should suffice to demonstrate again the marked connection between being filled with the Holy Spirit and boldness of speech and action.

Once again, to leave the scriptural record and to turn to the contemporary scene, we find much the same thing being exemplified. People who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit often demonstrate extraordinary boldness in the Lord. Particularly is this true immediately after the experience of being filled with the Spirit when they show little hesitation in proclaiming the word about Jesus anywhere and everywhere—and despite all opposition.43  Sometimes this bold witness dies down a bit, but wherever there is earnest prayer for its renewal at whatever the cost, there is a fresh filling with the Spirit and a new speaking the word with boldness.44  And it is to be added that this contemporary boldness is often not only of word but also of deed, as people do not hesitate to minister healing, deliverance and other blessings in the name of the Lord.

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Category: Spirit, Summer 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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