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Building up believers and the New Testament church

The Gospel of Jesus Christ: From With to In


What, then, is the valid scriptural evidence that we have actually received the Holy Spirit? How do we know He has come to abide? How do we know that God has answered our prayer? Is it possible to know for sure? Let us come before God again in this matter, and ask Him to make the answer clear.

A great deal of the New Testament addresses the issue of our growth in God. I think we would all agree that there is no end to that. In the same way, the majority of ministry in the church is to encourage this growth in the life of God. It is a ministry of God's grace through every member, that we all may be encouraged and that we all may grow. But for us to benefit properly from much of the teaching in the New Testament and the ministry in the church, I believe one crucial question needs to be answered first: Have we begun in a proper union with God? In other words, we need to know that we have had our "Pentecost." Growth is essential, but first we need to know that we have begun in a real union with God.

First, I think we need to know that we are ready to obey God no matter what He reveals. "If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority" (John 7:17). Many times men say they do not know what teaching is correct, but often the reason they do not know is because they have not "willed to do His will"--trying to hide their stubbornness or unbelief behind a mask of supposed confusion. There may be times of honest confusion, but let us be convinced that God is light and that He always wants to bring us into the light where we can walk in confidence before Him.

I think the book of I John is an excellent place to go for our question about evidence. John tells us he wrote his letter that we may know. Read carefully what he says in light of our subject and let the Holy Spirit make it real to us: "This is He who came by water and blood--Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son. He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God" (I John 5:6-13).

This instruction from John is rich with meaning. We cannot expound on it all here, but only briefly comment on some significant things. First, notice that John does not separate Jesus and the Spirit. They are one because God is one. I believe the truth laid out in many scriptures is that believing in Jesus results in the indwelling Spirit who brings us into God's life, and that when the Spirit comes He brings Jesus with Him (see John 14:23). His presence cannot be hidden and will be evident in power. It seems that so many have separated Jesus and the Spirit in a wrong way by teaching that men "have the Son" by an intellectual believing in Jesus that does not bring the Spirit into lives. But Jesus said that rivers of living water (the Spirit) would flow from the heart of the one who believes in Him.

Secondly, note that it is the Spirit who connects heaven and earth. He is the person of the Godhead who brings us into the fellowship of God. He has been "poured out" and is active in every part of our salvation: wooing us, convicting of sin, revealing Christ, leading us into all truth, indwelling the believer, and taking everything of Jesus and making it ours. Without the fullness of the Spirit we do not experience the union with God that He has provided for us.

Finally, note that John makes no place for us to separate this great salvation into compartments. He says that "the Spirit and the water and the blood" agree as one. What does this mean to us? The blood of Jesus paid the price for our sin. On the day of Pentecost, Peter said "Repent, be baptized, and you shall receive the Spirit." He did not separate the water and the Spirit. We know that participation in an outward symbol does not bring spiritual reality of itself, but a true encounter with God and response to Him brings spiritual reality and gives significance to outward symbols such as baptism.

In his letter John mentions many things that are included in this "river of living water" but in the end there is only one who can assure us that He has indeed taken up residence in the temple we have offered Him, and that is God Himself. No man can take that place, yet we must always be open for God to communicate to us through man. For example, notice this very bold statement that John makes. "We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error" (I John 4:6). Only the anointing from God can provide what we need. "But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him" (I John 2:27). This "anointing" that comes with the presence of the Holy Spirit is our teacher in all things, and it is the assurance (the knowing) that God gives.

The reality of God's presence can indeed be seen. Faith that brings us into the flow of God's life also brings an observable expression of that life. There are two areas of expression mentioned in Scripture that are specifically related to the Spirit, namely 1) the fruit of the Spirit, and 2) the gifts of the Spirit. Both originate from God as evidences of His presence and both are expressed as we move in faith before God. Our purpose in mentioning these here is not to do an in-depth study of spiritual fruit and gifts, but to try to see how these may relate to the initial indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

I think we can agree that the presence of God will produce in the believer a response of worship and praise to God. We see this on the day of Pentecost as the believers were simply caught up with God. How are praise and worship expressed? Are they not primarily expressed through the tongue? When God does something for us, is not our first response to thank God and then tell others what He has done for us?

Following this thought through, note the accounts of believers in the book of Acts who spoke in tongues and magnified God when the Holy Spirit came. Were they not just overcome with the presence of God and speaking out what was coming to them with the ability that God was giving? Is this not what Peter observed? "While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, 'Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?'" (Acts 10:44-47) Peter was simply observing the presence of God. It was not that they "had to speak in tongues" to show they had the Holy Spirit, but rather that they were so caught up with God, they just had to speak and glorify God. The gift of tongues is a way that God has given to express our hearts to God, and the gift of prophecy is a way that God has provided to express Himself to man (I Cor. 14:2-3). Both require an exercise of faith before God.

What about other things such as love, joy, peace and so on? Were these present? We are not told, but I think we can confidently assume they were there in some measure. Why did Peter not say, "For we saw them filled with love and joy"? My own answer is what I said above: that the first thing we want to do when we sense the presence of God is thank God, and then speak to men what God is revealing to us. That is the most obvious thing for others to directly observe. All the other things pertaining to the nature of God and His presence will be there in some form, and they will increase as believers move in faith. We are told that the Spirit will work His  gifts through each vessel as He wills. These differ from the fruit of the Spirit in that they are more spontaneous in order to meet an immediate need, while the fruit of the Spirit is more long-lasting inner qualities which may take longer to be evident. I believe we can say that spiritual gifts are not necessarily a mark of spirituality, but rather of the presence of God who gives the gifts.

Perhaps the reason tongues becomes the focus is because it is something unusual and beyond the normal ability of man to produce--an indication of the divine presence of God. I think we can also say that tongues and prophecy stood out to the early disciples as part of the fulfillment of the words of Jesus in Mark 16:16-18, and a fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel quoted by Peter in Acts 2:17-18. They, like we, were looking for confirmation from God regarding their experience (see Heb. 2:4), and these were singled out as significant evidence of divine presence. Today it seems that many have dismissed these signs, some even to the point of forbidding to speak in tongues (I Cor. 14:39), whereas others have made them the ultimate verification of spirituality. I do not believe that an honest heart desirous of truth can accept either of these positions. So in our pursuit of God, let us neither diminish nor exalt God's provision in the gifts of the Spirit through our natural reasoning. God is perfect, His plan is perfect, and He has a reason for everything He does, whether we understand it or not. We cannot lay aside any element of His provision without suffering loss.

Next: We Can Know