Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 5
The Essential Seal and Constitution of the Christian life
Read: Acts 18:24, 19:6
"Now a certain Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by race, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and being fervent in spirit, he spake and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, knowing only the baptism of John; and he began to speak boldly in this synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more accurately. And when he was minded to pass over into Achaia, the brethren encouraged him, and wrote to the disciples to receive him: and when he was come, he helped them much that had believed through grace; for he powerfully confuted the Jews, and that publicly, showing by the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.
And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper country came to Ephesus, and found certain disciples: and he said unto them, Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed? And they said unto him, Nay, we did not so much as hear whether the Holy Spirit was given. And he said, Into what then were ye baptized? And they said, Into John's baptism. And Paul said, John baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people that they should believe on Him that should come after him, that is, on Jesus. And when they heard this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spake with tongues and prophesied."
"Did ye Receive the Holy Spirit When Ye Believed?"
Let it be said at once that we are not here attempting to expound the person and work of the Holy Spirit, but are seeking to emphasize the importance of the Holy Spirit's personal presence within believers.
The Terms Explained
First let us examine the terms that we are employing in our sub-title, "The Essential Seal and Constitution of the Christian Life."
When we use the word "essential," we are thinking of such a statement as that made by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans: "If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His" (Romans 8:9). This clearly indicates that the possession of the Holy Spirit is essential and indispensable to the Christian life.
Then, when we go on to speak of the 'and,' we think of other words such as those used by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians. "Having ... believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise" (Eph. 1:13). Note that it was the Ephesians to whom was originally put the question: "Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed?" Upon their testimony of faith, they did receive the Holy Spirit, and, years afterward, the Apostle wrote to them the words that we have just quoted. The word 'sealed' implies putting the seal upon a transaction': something quite certain, quite precise, belonging to a moment; a definite act - "ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit."
And then when we go further and speak of the "constitution" of the Christian life as by the Holy Spirit, we think of such words as those used by the Lord Jesus Himself to Nicodemus: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh;and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6): indicating a definite, distinct, different kind of person, one with a different constitution, a person who is constituted in a different way. "That which is born of the Spirit" is different from " that which is born of the flesh." One is flesh, the other is spirit.
Many other Scriptures could be added to these to explain and define our sub-title.
Initial Reception of the Holy Spirit
Now when we come to the passage which we have read, and from which I have taken the question that is placed at the head of this chapter, we find an incident with several features of very great importance. I think we shall see, as we proceed, that this is something of great significance. But first we must translate it correctly. It may be that you have in your head the old Authorized (or King James Version). That is very good, but it is not always correct in the sense of being up-to-date. That version reads: "Have ye received the Holy Spirit since ye believed?" Now, the word here in the original text does not mean 'subsequent to your believing.' It does not mean: "Did you, at some subsequent time after you believed, receive the Holy Spirit?" The Revised Version corrects the translation and says: "Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed?" And that is correct, and true to the whole teaching and meaning of the New Testament. The point is that believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are supposed to receive the Holy Spirit at the time when they believe, when they definitely exercise saving faith in Him.
(a) What the Passage Records:
The Foundation of a Great Church And of Great Ministries
The importance of this incident is seen in two aspects. Firstly, you note that this is the beginning of a great church - the church at Ephesus. Little need be said, to those who are familiar with the New Testament, by way of emphasizing or proving the importance of the church at Ephesus. It was to that church, as to one of a circle, that the Apostle Paul wrote the greatest document in the history of the world. That is not exaggerating at all. The greatest document that has ever been written is Paul's letter 'to the Ephesians' so-called. It was probably a circular letter to a number of churches, of which Ephesus was one. But no greater letter or document exists. I invite you to investigate it and see if you can exhaust it. It will take you back into eternity past; it will take you through the outworking of the counsels of God through the ages; and it will take you right on into "the age of the ages," showing you God at work in heaven, in earth, and in hell, in the whole universe: a mighty, mighty document, written to the church that we see here in our passage coming into being.
Note, then, the place of the Holy Spirit in the foundations. How careful the Apostle was to make sure that the beginning was right, that the foundation was sound! It was going to have to carry an immense superstructure, and it must be trustworthy. Hence to the nucleus of that great church - perhaps only twelve disciples - he puts the question: "Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed?" Think of the ministry of the Apostle Paul subsequent to this question. For three years he tarried at Ephesus, and at his final interview with the elders or leaders of that church, during the course of his last journey before his imprisonment, he was able to say to them, in retrospect: "I shrank not from declaring unto you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). For three years, such a man as this was giving out all that he then could give of his knowledge of the Divine counsels.
(continued with # 6)