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Rodman Williams: The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today: Purpose, Part 1

What is being said here is extraordinary indeed. God enables human beings by the power of the Holy Spirit to become channels for the radical transformation of human existence! There is no greater miracle on earth than the miracle of regeneration—the “second birth”—brought about through profound conviction of sin, sincere repentance, and God’s gracious forgiveness. Herein a person becomes new in Jesus Christ—”the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is all of God: for He alone can create and re-create. But the marvel that stands behind the re-creation is that, through the power of His Spirit, God makes the witness of human beings the means through which this transformation takes place.

There is always the danger that proclamation, even well intended, may go forth not in the power of the Holy Spirit. Peter, and the others of his company, knew the message before Pentecost, but they did not yet have the power that could make it bring about salvation. They could have spoken, and perhaps even attracted some to join their fellowship, but there would have been no re-creation of life. Some might have had feelings of remorse about the past, yet not really a conviction that cuts “to the heart”; some might have turned momentarily away from the old life, but not have fully repented (i.e., turned around totally); some might even have been baptized “for forgiveness” but without that genuine faith through which the cleansing of the old and the coming of the new occurs. It is possible for the proclaimer to be “fervent in spirit”9 but not necessarily in the Holy Spirit—and despite all efforts no power of God unto genuine salvation.

Let us move on to note that the record in Acts likewise makes clear that Saul of Tarsus was given the Holy Spirit for the purpose of witness. We have already observed how Ananias lays hands on Saul and prays for him that he might be “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:17). What we did not note is that the purpose for Ananias coming to Saul had already been spoken by the Lord in a vision: “The Lord said to him [Ananias], ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel …'” (Acts 9:15).10  Thus the gift of the Holy Spirit will be for the purpose of carrying forward this kind of far-reaching witness.

It is not so clear in the other incidents which specifically relate the giving of the Holy Spirit that the primary purpose is power for witness. Nothing is said directly in the instances of the Samaritans, Caesareans and Ephesians; however, this purpose is doubtless implied.11

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Category: Spirit, Winter 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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