Our passage from Acts sure opens up a can of worms doesn't it? Maybe I should leave that alone. Nah, let's have some fun. So, John's was a baptism of repentance but not of the holy spirit. Well, what does John say in the gospels? Well, if we look at Mark 1:8, we read, “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” So John the Baptist agrees: his was a baptism of repentance.
So, here we are: 2012. Which baptism are we in? John's or Jesus'? We each must ask this question of ourselves, and I've blown off the question for myself, too. I've told people in the past things that are easy, and can be glossed over, things that delay the question or bury it. These are things like, “if you are asking the question, then you DO have the Holy Spirit, because someone who does not have the spirit does not ask the question.” Another thing I've said in the past is that we may have the spirit, but we can QUENCH it. As Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:19, “Quench not the spirit.” God is a gentleman, and he loves us, so if we decide to turn our backs on him, he allows our free wills to do so. He backs off. So, we can quench the spirit, if we choose. I do think these statements are true, to a degree, but I also think it helps with our discipleship and our relationship with God if we seriously ask ourselves this question: do we have the Holy Spirit?
Do we? Well, there's one decisive sign that we have it. I'll ask two other questions first. How do we know if we have a poetic spirit? Do we write 400-page novels? Nope. We write poetry. We are drawn to write poetry. We feel poetry from our deepest soul, and we have to write it. How do we know if we have a heroic spirit? I know! We hide in a hole in the ground! No. It's the opposite of cowardice. We thirst for adventure, we are willing to plunge into danger without fear. So, how do we know if we have the Holy Spirit? Love of holiness. Not whether we are good at theological debate or whether we can defend the faith. It's not an irreproachable character either. No, it is the desire for a sanctified life, the burning prayer to be sanctified, the offering our lives on God's altar.
In other words, someone who has the Holy Spirit is not someone who has “just enough” Christianity in their lives. One with the Holy Spirit yearns to “be perfect as our father in heaven is perfect, to be holy as God is holy.” We want to shroud the Holy Spirit in mystery all the time, but the simple fact is that someone with the Holy Spirit is someone who has a spirit of holiness.
The Holy Spirit is our direct access to God. It's like Christ installed an Ethernet cable or a telephone wire direct to our hearts. We have direct access to God through prayer. Before Christ, the average person did not have direct access to God. Even the holiest of people like Moses or David had to go up on mountains or talk to God through prophets. Now, we can access the creator of the universe whenever we want by just thinking about him and talking. Because we each have direct access to God, the Holy Spirit becomes the great equalizer. The rules of our world do not have special privileges with God. The poorest and lowliest—the slave—has just as much access to God. In fact the poor have more access, because the powerful are to busy feasting on the world's pleasures to be praying.
The Holy Spirit is the spirit of wisdom. This means that a child with the spirit is wiser than his own teachers who do not have the spirit. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of discipleship. I met a guy who says that every church has to be run like a business if it is to succeed, if it is to grow. Well, the Church may be an exception to that rule. A big church without the spirit may as well be a secular business. A small church that grows slowly and yet is spirit filled is the goal, not a failure. In fact, to the wise, everything in the world—all that the world says is good and true—is dross in comparison to the knowledge of God.
The Holy Spirit is a transforming spirit. It is not merely enlightening or comforting. The spirit changes us into the image of God. We thirst to be like him and to cast off sin. When we get the Holy Spirit, our destructive lifestyles are cast away. Our sin cannot be in the same room with the spirit—it cannot be in the same body. The weaker one is burned away, and the Holy Spirit is not weak.
The Holy Spirit influences belief. In our passage, the Ephesians believed. They held truths about God and Jesus in their minds, but they held them COLDLY. Do you know someone like that, who knows everything there is to know about the Bible and Christianity, but their heart is not in it. They don't drop to their knees in passionate prayer. They cannot bring themselves to submit to God and worship. They end up falling away. The Ephesians had no life or spirit to their faith. With this second baptism, where Paul baptized them into Jesus, they acquired new belief. Now they REALLY believe.
It's like someone told us a joke and we didn't get it, and we thought really hard and long and we suddenly believe that we get it. We have logically reasoned our way into understanding the joke. Ah, ok, it wasn't very funny, but we get it. It was a good joke after all. Yes, we nod. We may even give a polite chuckle. Years may go by, and then someone tells the joke to us, and we laugh and we say, I know that one. It's funny because of X, Y & Z. The guy says, no and explains the joke to us. Oh, NOW we get it. We had never gotten it before. Now we finally get it.
We get it when we suddenly know how near God is to us. Most Christians in this country are effectively deists, thinking that God is not very interested in their lives until we are really in pain and hurting, and if we pray to God NOW and promise that we will be good from now on—we will never do another dumb thing as long as we live—maybe God will lower himself and help us, take the pain away. We get it when we suddenly know that God has always been close to us. We were the ones who were too busy. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to this fact.
We get it when we suddenly know how true the truth is. We get it when we suddenly know how deep Christ is. When someone has really received the Holy Spirit, he is aware of the intense and intimate reality of Christ. Jesus becomes the dearest person in the universe. He does everything for Jesus. We know we have the Holy Spirit, because we respond in gratitude: we respond to what Jesus did for us on the cross. He emptied himself and took the form of a servant—he came to serve us—and he took our place on the cross, so that we could live forever in eternal life with Jesus, face to face with our maker. When we know this is true with all of our heart, he know the Holy Spirit lives within us. AMEN.