The great Inigo Montoya famously said, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
That line is apropos for many occasions, but it especially fits how we often understand spiritual gifts. Instead of recognizing spiritual gifts as tools God gives to help us get His work done, we often consider them to be mystical links between God and us—evidences or proofs, if you will, that He is really working. I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised, after all we are in good company (recall Israel’s episode with the golden calf—their faith was pretty weak at the time too). But still, like Montoya says, we use the words without really understanding how He uses the words. Consequently, we make them into something they aren’t. In the series of articles to follow we take a look at ten common myths regarding spiritual gifts. Here is the first one:
Myth #1: We need a second work of grace in order to get a spiritual gift
The Bible is notably silent about receiving the Holy Spirit as a step separate from salvation—except in the book of Acts (more on that book in a moment). Romans 8:9, for example, says, “But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” We either have the Spirit or we don’t. We are either in Christ or we aren’t. Paul leaves no middle ground. In fact, Ephesians 1:13 tells us how and when we receive the Holy Spirit: “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.” Paul adds that the Spirit is “given as a pledge [or downpayment] of our inheritance [eternal life], with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:14). At the moment of belief, the Holy Spirit is given to believers.
John also observes that, “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us because He has given us of His Spirit” (1 John 4:13). In other words, one of the ways we can be assured of our position in Him is that He has given us His Spirit. I wonder if we realize that when we assert people don’t have His Spirit because they haven’t undergone some ritual, we are denying their means of assurance of salvation. The Holy Spirit is Himself a gift, and He is that for all those who have believed in Christ.
But what about baptism of the Holy Spirit? John announced that Jesus would baptize people with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11). Jesus later told His disciples to make more disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). Later still, Paul says, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews of Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). Paul is describing the process where every believer becomes a part of the body of Christ. If one has not been baptized by the Holy Spirit, he or she is not a part of the body of Christ, and is not a member of the church. If we misunderstand the baptism of the Spirit, we can kick a lot of people out of the church (in a manner of speaking) without realizing it. In short, Spirit baptism is a positional thing God does for every one of us. It is not a ritual we need to perform. Water baptism is different.
The word baptism (βαπτίζω) is the Greek word for immerse. In water baptism, the person is immersed as a symbol of participation with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. In Spirit baptism, the believer is immersed in the Holy Spirit, making that person a member of the body of Christ. By the way, Peter reminds us that water baptism doesn’t save but the spiritual work of baptism God accomplishes in us does (1 Pet. 3:21).
But what about the book of Acts? Each of the epistles I have quoted were written between 54-68 AD. But the church was born in about 33 AD. The book of Acts covers the history of the young church from 33-63 AD, but most of the book (chapters 1-19) take place before 54 AD. There was a period of overlap between people who already had believed in the Messiah even before His death and resurrection, and before the specifics of the Holy Spirit were taught, and people who had a more complete message of who the Holy Spirit was and what He did in the lives of believers.
For example, Apollos was a tremendous believer, mighty in the Scriptures. He knew Jesus and was teaching accurately about Him, but wasn’t familiar with much beyond the baptism of John (Acts 18:24-25). At Ephesus Paul found some people in the same situation—they hadn’t even “heard whether there is a Holy Spirit” (Acts 19:2). Paul laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit (19:6). When considering episodes like these in the book of Acts, it is important to remember that Acts is descriptive rather than prescriptive. It provides a historical account of what happened, not a theological description of what we should do. Of course, we can draw secondary applications from Acts, but we should be very careful not to place ourselves back into the context of the times of the book of Acts.
Acts is transitional, and if we fail to see that, we will have a very mixed up understanding of what God is doing with the church. We live now, not then. Apollos and the other believers like him probably had believed in the Messiah before His death and resurrection. But as the church age began, they needed to be brought into that body. In their case, Paul facilitated that. Believers in the present age have no such need, because they have believed during the church age. According to Paul, John, and Peter, in this age, those in Christ have the Spirit, and are already part of the body of Christ. In short, there is no such thing, Biblically speaking, as a second work of grace. Nor is there any need (or possibility) for us to do what God has already done for us. The Holy Spirit is in every believer, and He gives to us what we need for His service.