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The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts

 

Dove

by Dennis Pollock

Since my earliest days in Christ I have been fascinated by the Holy Spirit. In the many Bibles that I have read and worn out, I have marked with a red pen countless references to the Holy Spirit in both the Old and New Testaments. I have read numerous biographies of men and women who were mightily anointed with the Holy Spirit, and been particularly interested in teachings by those who seemed to have a special love for Him. I have weighed the various theological perspectives of the Holy Spirit and His role in the life of the believer, and given much thought to developing a reasonable and Biblical view of what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Years ago, back in the days when Christians used hard-bound concordances rather than computer programs to look up Scripture references, I once surveyed the books of the Bible that contained the most references to the Holy Spirit, and I discovered something pretty amazing – I learned that there are more references to the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts than all the other books of the Bible combined! This chronicle of the early church, written by a physician named Luke, gives special focus to the power and working of the Holy Spirit in a measure never equaled in any other book of the Bible. What this means is that, if you really want to learn about the Holy Spirit, you would do well to read and study the book of Acts. Take a pen and mark all the references you find related to Him, and you will have rich food for study and meditation. Interestingly, the second highest concentration of references to the Holy Spirit in the Bible is found in Luke’s Gospel. Luke apparently had a special revelation of and appreciation for the Holy Spirit, and became God’s instrument for giving the church an understanding of their divine Comforter and Helper.

Early and Often

When you begin to read the book of Acts you don’t have to wait long to find Him. In the second verse of the first chapter Luke declares that Jesus gave commandments to His apostles just before His ascension. But Luke doesn’t quite leave it at that: he says that “He (Jesus) was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen…” (Acts 1:2). Jesus didn’t just give commands; He through the Holy Spirit gave those commands. Luke wants us to understand that Jesus didn’t just heal and do miracles through the Holy Spirit – even in the issuing of instructions to the disciples our Lord was operating under the guidance and power of the Spirit.

Two verses later we find Jesus telling the disciples not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father – they would be shortly baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5). The disciples seem more interested in seeing Israel restored to her former glory and prominence, and ask Jesus if this is going to happen any time soon. Jesus tells them this is a mystery under the Father’s jurisdiction and reminds them to focus on the business at hand: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

The disciples, obedient to Jesus’ instructions waited in Jerusalem, holding a large prayer meeting attended by Jesus’ most ardent followers, including His mother and brothers. On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit fell upon this group of around 120 believers and according to the Scriptures: “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4).

Filled!

Day of PentecostJust in the first two chapters of this unique book we are given a number of important references to the Holy Spirit, references with which every Christian should be familiar. And it doesn’t stop there, by any means! Throughout the book we are constantly reading of the Holy Spirit. Luke seems determined to impress upon his readers the fullness of the Spirit that those early apostles and church leaders experienced and enjoyed:

  1. Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them … (Acts 4:8)
  2. And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.  (Acts 4:31)
  3. “Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business …  (Acts 6:3)
  4. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit… (Acts 6:5)


The idea of being filled with the Holy Spirit is unquestionably Biblical and cannot be denied. But Christians have debated just what this means for almost as long as the church has existed. Some suggest that when you are born again you receive the Holy Spirit, and therefore you have as much of the Holy Spirit as you are ever going to have. Seek nothing more – to do so would be to deny the gracious gift Jesus gave you at your new birth. Many Pentecostals say that unless you speak in tongues you are not Spirit-filled. Some more extreme Pentecostals declare that unless you speak in tongues you are not even saved. Other denominations encourage their members: “Ask Jesus to fill you, and then go about your business believing you are filled.”

God’s Creativity

To my mind, the process and experience of being filled (and re-filled) with the Holy Spirit can be as unique and varied as the experience of salvation. Salvation, of course, requires one common denominator: faith in Jesus Christ. But people are drawn to Jesus and experience Jesus in a myriad of different ways. I found Christ reading the New Testament. Some are saved through a sermon or having a friend witness to them. The apostle Paul had a vision of Jesus that transformed his life, Oral Roberts found Jesus while his dad was praying for him, that he might be healed of tuberculosis, C. S. Lewis gave his life to Jesus reluctantly, after his studies led him to the conclusion that the evidence for the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth was overwhelming. My dad surrendered to Jesus after being in a tent revival meeting held by three lady evangelists in a small town in Iowa in 1938. Our God is a creative God, and He finds innumerable ways and means to bestow His gracious gift of salvation through Jesus Christ to men and women.

Likewise I am convinced that people experience the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit in countless ways and situations. Whether you tell me that tongues were involved, or prophesying, or laughter, or simply a quiet request to Jesus and belief in His promise, I will not argue with you. None of us have ever been made judges, to determine who is and who is not filled with the Holy Spirit (thank the Lord!). In the Book of Acts, a common means was through the laying on of hands.

In the eighth chapter we read of a great revival in Samaria, in which God used Philip to bring the good news of Jesus to these people that were so despised by the Jews. Luke tells us:

Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. And there was great joy in that city. (Acts 8:5-8)

People were getting saved! Luke writes: “But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized” (Acts 8:12). People were believing in Jesus and being baptized. And what did Jesus say: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). So these people were surely saved, but something was missing. Luke describes the one thing lacking:

Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. (Acts 8:14-16)

They were baptized. They called themselves Christians. They loved Jesus. But as yet the Spirit of the Lord had not fallen upon them. They were still “un-filled.” Luke tells us: “Then they (Peter and John) laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” Now the apostles were satisfied. These Samaritan believers were not just saved and on their way to heaven; they were filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered to do Christ’s work on the earth!

After reading this we might be tempted to wish Peter and John were around today to lay hands on us. Of course they are not, but Jesus is the same and the Holy Spirit is still present and active among the people of God – especially where there is faith. And not just any faith. The faith required for a life full of the Holy Spirit is a faith in Jesus to do what He has promised and a faith in the Holy Spirit to be everything to us that Jesus said He would be.

A Missionary Named Goforth

Jonathan GoforthAnd this requires study and meditation on the Person of the Holy Spirit. One of the things I have noticed is that people who give much thought to the Holy Spirit, and are eager to share Jesus with others are the ones most likely to experience the fullness of the Spirit in their lives. Jonathan Goforth is a good example of this. Goforth was a missionary to China in the early 1900’s, a very devout Christian with a heart for souls. In spite of his exemplary character and his passion for sharing Jesus with others he had relatively little fruit in his life. It was not for lack of effort, but somehow he went through the early part of his life and ministry disappointed with himself and feeling that there must be something missing.

After reading of some of the great revivals that occurred under Charles Finney and seeing the emphasis that Finney placed on the fullness of the Spirit, Goforth was determined that he would learn more about this mysterious Spirit. He began to get up early in the morning and read through his Bible, jotting down every reference he found regarding the Holy Spirit. The more he read, the more excited he became. He got up still earlier and spent more and more of his mornings reading about and meditating on the Spirit, to such an extent that his wife became seriously worried about him, thinking him to have gone off the deep end. He told her that he had found a treasure of infinite worth, his face glowing with joy and excitement. Sometime later, at a small gathering in China, the breakthrough came. The Holy Spirit fell and nearly all the Chinese present, who until then had been so cold and unemotional, began to weep and surrendered their lives to Jesus. From that point on Goforth was a changed man and revival and great harvests of souls seemed to follow him wherever he went.

Faith Requires Knowledge

You cannot trust Someone you do not know. When Christians ignore the Holy Spirit, when pastors can go for years without ever preaching on the Holy Spirit, when believers never bother to ask themselves, “Am I filled with the Holy Spirit?” there is little chance of divine power and that mysterious anointing that adds weight to our words and holy presence to our gatherings.

Here is the value of the Book of Acts. As we read it again and again, noting the preponderance of references to the powerful and amazing Third Person of the Trinity, faith shall begin to grow. Desire for something more than nominal Christianity, nominal church services, and nominal ministry efforts will be stirred in our hearts until it transforms from a flickering flame to a raging fire.

Jesus declared, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” So it is with the Holy Spirit. Blessed are those who are intensely dissatisfied with dry, powerless, barren Christianity and who look in desperation and faith to Jesus, our Fountain of Living Waters. They shall be gloriously and marvelously filled.


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