Renewal Theology
featuring the works of theologian J. Rodman Williams

Renewal Theology


Published Online Books

A Theological Pilgrimage

The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today

Ten Teachings

The Pentecostal Reality

Published Online Writings

Prophecy by the Book

Scripture: God's Written Word

The Holy Spirit in the Early Church

Other Writings

The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today
Chapter Seven - Context

The matter before us next is that of the context in which the Holy Spirit is given. Already we have emphasized that the gift of the Holy Spirit comes to those who believe in Jesus Christ; thus faith is the only requirement. Hence we are not now speaking of additional requirements, but of the context or situation in which the gift is received. We have earlier seen that the gift of the Holy Spirit frequently occurs along the way of faith. Now we note the context, even atmosphere, wherein this takes place.

The primary thing that must be stressed is God's sovereign disposition. The divine context of God's will and intention is altogether basic. From within the pattern of God's purpose, whereby He works all things according to the counsel of His will, God gives His Holy Spirit. Thus whatever may be and must be said on the human side about the situation, context, and atmosphere is altogether secondary to God's sovereign action. In this sense, God gives when He wills, not according to the human condition but according to His overall design and purpose. Hence, there is a continuing mystery and, humanly speaking, unpredictability about the giving of the Holy Spirit.

This was surely true of the first Pentecost in Jerusalem. God had long purposed (and promised) the outpouring of His Spirit, and when the divinely planned time had arrived, the Holy Spirit was given. The opening words of Acts 2:1 suggest this: "When the day of Pentecost had come," or, better, "had been fulfilled."1 So when the day was fulfilled, the Holy Spirit was given. This was God's timetable-not man's. It had basically to do with God's overarching plan in salvation history. It was an event of "the last days" (Acts 2:17) according to the divine promise.

Likewise, it is important to emphasize that the movements of the Holy Spirit throughout history to the present day are grounded in the sovereign purpose of God.2 The fact that in our present times there has been a crescendo of the Spirit's outpouring, and that the movement has now become worldwide, points basically to the divine intention. God is doing it again-and with such a universality ("upon all flesh") that we may surmise that "the last days" are being fulfilled, and history is reaching its consummation. However that may be, the critical point to score is the divine sovereignty.

All of this needs first to be emphasized-the divine context-lest we too quickly come to the human situation. Primarily it is not a matter of our human concern but God's concern. Like the original disciples who participated in the coming of God's Spirit because it was God's time, so do we participate in our own day. We are privileged to be alive in what may be the climactic outpouring of the Spirit at the end of the age. Our concern is not unimportant, even our readiness to participate in what God is doing, but the basic matter again is God's sovereign purpose.3

Further, since it is a matter of the gift of the Holy Spirit, there is nothing man can do to earn it. By definition a gift is freely bestowed: it cannot be worked for or bought. It would be a serious mistake to think that while forgiveness is by grace, the gift of the Holy Spirit is by works. Here Paul's rhetorical questions are most apropos: "Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? . . . Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of law, or by hearing with faith?" (Gal. 3:2, 5). On the matter of being bought, the words of Peter to Simon the magician-who offered money for the power to confer the Holy Spirit-are vividly relevant: "Your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!" (Acts 8:20). The gift of the Holy Spirit cannot be earned no matter how great the effort, nor can it be purchased no matter how large the amount.

Having said these various things about the divine sovereignty and the Holy Spirit as a gift, we are ready to move on to consider further the human context or situation. As we have earlier noted on the human side, it is through faith that the Holy Spirit is received. Hence, however true it is that God sovereignly grants His Holy Spirit, it is to those believing in Jesus Christ-those upon the way of faith.4 Thus as we now move on to observe the context in which the Spirit is given, we continue to stand within the sphere of faith. We do not add one iota to faith-as if it were faith plus something else. Rather are we now dealing with various expressions within faith-constituents of faith, in a sense-so that the context is not extraneous to faith but its vital demonstration.

We may properly begin with the matter of obedience. The Holy Spirit is given within the context of obedience-to those who obey God's command. In this regard one verse in the book of Acts stands out: "And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him"5 (5:32). This is obedience occurring within the area of faith: the obedience which suffuses the atmosphere surrounding those who become recipients of the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is, indeed, the obedience of faith.6 God grants His Spirit to those who in faith obey His command.

The quotation above, from Acts 5:32, is taken from Peter's words before the Jewish council. He speaks for all the apostles (as the passage shows), and accordingly refers to their obedience wherein the Holy Spirit was given. This then leads us back to the situation prior to Pentecost, and to the important matter of the nature of their obedience. The book of Acts begins with the words: "In the first book, O Theophilus. I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment[s]7 through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen" (1:1-2). Thus as men of faith they are under obedience to Christ's commands as transmitted through the Holy Spirit.8 The apostles accordingly give them selves to obedience-as men under orders. Thereafter specifically comes the commandment: "He charged them not to depart from Jerusalem,9 but to wait for the promise of the Father [the gift of the Holy Spirit]" (1:4). Then what follows, over a period of ten days, is the obedient act of waiting for the fulfillment of the promise. As men under orders-and with others joining them until the number comes to be about 120 (1:15)-they await the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.

A like obedience of faith is demonstrated in the case of Saul of Tarsus who, following his encounter with the risen Christ, is commanded by him: "Rise and enter the city [of Damascus], and you will be told what you are to do" (Acts 9:6). Saul obeys, and after three days is visited by Ananias, who likewise acts in obedience to a vision and a command of Christ (9:10-11), and Saul thereafter is filled with the Holy Spirit. The atmosphere, the context, for the gift of the Holy Spirit is obedience on both sides: Ananias who ministers and Saul who receives.

Quite similar is the story of the Roman centurion Cornelius at Caesarea who, along with his kinsmen and friends, receives the outpoured gift of the Holy Spirit. Cornelius is commanded by the Lord in a vision: "Send men to Joppa, and bring one Simon who is called Peter" (Acts 10:5). Peter, who likewise has a vision, is sent for by Cornelius; and Peter is told by the Spirit: "Rise and go down, and accompany them [the servants of Cornelius] without hesitation" (10:20). Thereafter, in an atmosphere of the obedience of faith,10 the Holy Spirit is received.

These three accounts illustrate acts of specific obedience that relate immediately to the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is important. Also there is the statement in Acts-as we noted-that the specific obedience to the command to wait in Jerusalem is preceded by other commandments that Jesus gave through the Holy Spirit. Hence, His disciples are called to a total obedience to whatever Jesus commanded: such is the larger context for the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is vividly set forth in the words of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor [the Holy Spirit], to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth" (John 14:15-17). The Holy Spirit-the "Counselor," the "Spirit of truth"-will be given to those who obey Jesus' commands.

All of this suggests that those who seek faithfully to walk in the way of Christ are living in an atmosphere conducive to the reception of the Holy Spirit. Such a walk in obedience, not done grudgingly or seeking a reward, is an expression of a heart right before God. There may-and will-be failures, but the essential intention and direction is that of obedience to the word of the Lord. Already in some sense walking in the way of holiness, such persons are in a position for a further implementation of the Holy Spirit (who is the Spirit of holiness). The way of obedience wherein God's word is gladly honored and heeded is context for the gift of the Holy Spirit.11

This means, on the other hand, that one of the barriers to the reception of the Holy Spirit may be that of disobedience. If a person is not walking in the way of faithful obedience to Christ's commandments, for example, the injunctions of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7); if he is harboring anger, lust, bitterness in his heart; if love has grown cold and holiness is aggrieved-such a one is hardly in a position to receive God's Holy Spirit.12 For obedience lies at the heart of faith-and it is by faith alone that the Holy Spirit is received.

So to conclude this section: obedience in general to the command of Christ-His word, His teaching, His direction-and specifically to "wait for the promise" are aspects of the context for receiving the Holy Spirit. There may be no waiting-as in the case of the centurion whose prior obedience13 is caught up into the obedience of faith and the Spirit is poured out at His commencement of faith. But in every instance the Holy Spirit is given in the atmosphere of obedient faith.14

We turn next to observe the importance of prayer as context for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is of course an essential element in the totality of Christian living-in its many aspects of praise, thanksgiving, confession, supplication and dedication-but in a special way it is the atmosphere in which the Holy Spirit is given.

This may be seen first in Jesus' own experience and teaching. We are told that following His baptism in water by John, the Holy Spirit came upon Him. In that sense Jesus is the precursor of those whose water baptism is followed by the gift of the Holy Spirit.15 It is quite relevant that the Gospel of Luke records the context of the Spirit's coming upon Jesus to be prayer: "Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove"16 (3:21-22). It is to be particularly noted here that, though the coming of the Spirit followed directly upon Jesus' baptism, the statement about prayer links the two events together. Though water baptism prepared the way17 for the gift of the Spirit, it occurred to one in an attitude of prayer.

The importance of prayer in connection with the gift of the Holy Spirit is further underscored in Luke's Gospel by the words of Jesus: "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (11:13).18 The asking is earlier set forth in the story of a man who, having no bread to share with a visitor, goes to a friend's house at midnight, and though the friend is in bed with his children, the man continues to call out and knocks again and again. Jesus adds: "Though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity19 he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you" (11:8-9). Hence importunate, persistent, unrelenting prayer is the context for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Now it would be pushing the story too far to suggest that God only grudgingly gives His Spirit; for the climax describes how God goes far beyond earthly fathers in His giving. The point, however, is that God is pleased to give to those who earnestly desire something-else the gift may mean very little. But where there is intense desire, the fulfillment of the prayer is all the more full of joy and thanks giving.20

But now let us move on to the book of Acts where, again, the atmosphere of prayer is shown in several instances to surround the gift of the Holy Spirit. First, this is especially apparent in the account of Acts 1 leading up to Pentecost. As we have seen, Jesus charged the apostles to stay in Jerusalem and to await the promised Holy Spirit. Obeying this command, the apostles returned to the city, and joined by various women who had been with Jesus, including Mary and His brothers, they gave them selves to prayer: "All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer"21 (Acts 1:14). Thus it was not simply an idle waiting, but a waiting in prayer; and not just prayer now and then but that to which they devoted themselves. Later, the number of those waiting grew to about 120 persons (1:15), and on one occasion there was the selection by the company of an apostle to succeed Judas (1:16-26), but the atmosphere continued to be one of prayer. For on the Day of Pentecost it was to a group of people in an attitude of prayer that the Holy Spirit was given.22

It should be pointed out that the disciples had no idea as to exactly when the Holy Spirit would be poured out. They were not told by Jesus to wait for a given number of days, nor did they set aside so many days for prayer after which they would turn to something else. No, they simply gave themselves to prayer unlimited-prayer doubtless in connection with the promised gift of the Holy Spirit-and God at the proper time23 sent forth His Spirit.

Thus if one brings together Luke 11 and Acts 1 (both written by the same author), it is apparent that much stress is laid on the need for prayer in the reception of the Holy Spirit. Even though the promise of the gift is clearly there in both cases, there is a call for continuing, persisting prayer. Just as truly as this was the case for the disciples prior to Pentecost in Jerusalem (Acts 1), so it is for other of God's children who know their need (Luke 11). God delights to give His Spirit to those who earnestly ask Him.24

The importance of prayer in the reception of the Holy Spirit is, second, to be found in the account of Saul's being filled with the Holy Spirit. After his encounter with the risen Lord, Saul was led by the hand into Damascus and "for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank" (Acts 9:9). That this time of fasting was also a time of praying seems evident from the fact that when Ananias was told in a vision to go and minister to Saul, the Lord said of Saul, ". . . behold he is praying" (9:11). This expression bespeaks a continuing in prayer, a waiting on the Lord during which time, as the Scripture records, Saul likewise had a vision, namely, of Ananias coming and laying hands upon him. There were visions on both sides, prayer, fasting, waiting-and in that context God gave the Holy Spirit.

Third, and similarly, much prayer was the environment and background for the corning of the Holy Spirit upon the Gentiles at Caesarea. Cornelius, at the outset, is described as "a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms liberally to the people, and prayed constantly to God" (10:2). In that atmosphere Cornelius had a vision wherein he was told that his prayers and alms had "ascended as a memorial before God" (10:4), and he was instructed to send for Simon Peter in the town of Joppa. Peter thereafter also in prayer-he "went up on the housetop to pray" (10:9)-likewise had a vision which resulted in his willingness to go to a Gentile home and proclaim the gospel. Then the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and his household. The whole situation, much like that at Damascus, was one of continuing prayer, vision and waiting on the Lord.

Finally, in the narratives concerning the Samaritans and Ephesians (unlike the previous instances) there is no mention of those receiving the Holy Spirit being in prayer. However, the Scripture does record that prior to the Samaritans' reception of the Holy Spirit, Peter and John prayed for them: they "came down [from Jerusalem] and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:15-17). After such intercession, the apostles laid their hands upon the Samaritans for the reception of the Spirit.25 While it may be surmised that the Samaritans were in an attitude of prayer also, the emphasis rests on the prayers of Peter and John. In any event, it was against the background and in the context of believing prayer that the Holy Spirit was received.

Now looking back at these several accounts, it is apparent that prayer lies close to the gift of the Holy Spirit. Such prayer was shown variously to be: earnest, asking, even importunate (Luke 11), a matter of steadfastness and devotion (Acts 2), of day by day continuation (Acts 9), of intercession (Acts 8) and of constancy (Acts 10). There is no suggestion of prayer as a condition for securing the Holy Spirit, but over and over prayer is shown to be the background, the context, the atmosphere wherein God delights to grant His Holy Spirit to those who believe.26

In the contemporary situation this proves to be the case wherever the spiritual renewal is occurring. The testimonies vary-some had been praying for some time, some only for a short period, some were prayed for by others, some had expressed little overt prayer-but it was in a prayerful atmos­phere of waiting before God that the Holy Spirit was poured out.27

This leads us next to a brief consideration of expectancy as context for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Though the word is not used in any of the Acts accounts, there is unquestionably an atmosphere of expectancy that can be sensed. People looking for something to happen are particularly candidates for the recep­tion of the Holy Spirit.

This was obviously true in the case of the disciples waiting before Pentecost. We have remarked on their obedience and their steadfastness in prayer; now we are noting the further important matter that they were all expecting something to happen. They had not only received a command to wait; they had also received a promise that the Spirit would be given. Thus their praying was expectant praying, looking toward the coming outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The atmosphere of expectancy may be sensed in other ac­counts. Peter and John prayed for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit and doubtless built up expectation before the laying on of hands occurred; Ananias as he was laying hands on Saul spoke about his being filled with the Holy Spirit and thus cre­ated anticipation; and Paul's question to the Ephesians, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" may well have brought about an expectation for what later was to happen.

Of significance surely in creating expectation were the words of Peter to the multitude in Jerusalem: "and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you" (Acts 2:38-39). Earlier the crowd had participated in the extraordinary event of everyone hearing in his own language what the disciples were saying, and were told thereafter by Peter that this had happened through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Now he tells them that (following repentance and baptism in the name of Christ) they will also receive the same gift. Against the background of their own participation in an amazing event, and now Peter's promise of their likewise receiving the gift, their expectation must have been very great.28 Thus the atmosphere wherein the gift was received was laden with intense expectation.

Now to carry the role of expectancy forward, even to the present day, it will be recalled that Peter said the promise of the gift of the Spirit was not only to his immediate audience, but also ". . . to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him" (2:39). "Far off"29 suggests distance in both space and time, thus people of all places and ages, and particularly Gentiles, since Peter had already included later Jewish generations in the expression "to your children." Hence the promise of the Spirit continues to our day, and for those who truly hear it and desire it and believe it, expectancy is once again the atmosphere.

So it has been with countless thousands of people across the world in our time who in hearing about the gift of the Holy Spirit have demonstrated a growing expectancy, even excitement, about the promise being fulfilled on their behalf. Nor have they found this expectation to be a delusion, for God has generously poured out His Spirit.30 Contrariwise, when people have expected little and expressed satisfaction to remain where they are, they have received little if anything. But those who wait to receive everything God has to give, those who desire great things from God, those who stand on tiptoes of expecta­tion-it is they whom God delights to bless. Expect a miracle, and miracles begin to happen!

Finally, the context for the gift of the Holy Spirit is that of yielding. It is in an atmosphere of surrender to the lordship of Jesus Christ that the Holy Spirit is given. When persons are ready to give up everything for the sake of Christ and the gospel, and lay themselves completely at His disposal, God vouchsafes the abundance of His Spirit. Another way of putting this is to speak of emptiness before the Lord to which comes the answer of His divine fullness. When self is broken of all prideful claim, and there is looking only to Jesus, a new power is released-the power, the anointing, of God's Holy Spirit.

In the New Testament accounts concerning the original disciples of Jesus, Pentecost stands forth as the climax of a movement toward the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ. Peter him­self is a vivid illustration of one who, earlier in response to the word of Jesus that the twelve would deny Him, had boastfully replied: "Even though they all fall away, I will not" (Mark 14:29). It is a quite different Peter who after Pentecost is shown no longer to look to himself but wholly to Christ, for example, saying to a cripple: "In the name of Jesus Christ walk" (Acts 3:6), and then to spectators astounded at what had hap­pened: "Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?" (3:12). Something had happened to Peter between the time of his self-affirmation-and ensuing denial of Jesus-and the time of his total Christ-affirmation. A transformation had occurred. It was prepared for by post-resurrection encoun­ters wherein Jesus ministers new faith, new life and a new commission,31 but actually occurred only after a period of waiting that lasted to Pentecost. This was the final time of preparation-and of transition from self-dependency to com­plete dependence on Christ. The ten days in the Upper Room were surely days of yielding more and more of self until the final barrier was breached, the self was emptied of all vain striving, and the Holy Spirit rushed in to fill the vacuum with the presence and power of God. Thereafter, for Peter and the other disciples, it was to be life lived in the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

Essentially the same thing must have happened with Saul of Tarsus over a three-day period. Though Saul had been set on a new course by the risen Jesus-180 degrees opposite from his former direction-and now believed in the one he formerly persecuted, doubtless there was much yet needed by way of yielding and surrender to his new Lord before he would be able to receive the commission from Ananias to preach Christ. Saul of Tarsus had been extremely self-reliant, proud and defiant,32 and though he had now received new life and direction, it would take these days of blindness, prayer and fasting for the full surrender to occur, so that all his strength henceforward would be from the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit. The words of Paul to the Romans at a later time are quite apropos: "Yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life" (Rom. 6:13). A new life, after death, and then a yielding of the total self to God!

Yielding makes for total availability-one thereby becoming an instrument wholly devoted to the Master's service. It is not only to know Jesus as Savior but also as Lord; it is to be "sold out" to Him. Yielding is not sanctification but servanthood33 wherein the whole of life is placed at the disposal of Christ. Thereby the Spirit of the Lord possesses a person in totality-body, mind, spirit-and all of life becomes a "living sacrifice"34 to God.

Such yielding means no longer one's own will but the will of God-"not my will, but thine be done." It is to have "the mind of Christ," which means to humble oneself and become obedient unto death.35 It means to surrender the tongue, which is "an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body . . . set on fire by hell. . . . With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men,"36 so it may become attuned only to the praise of God!

Yielding may also signify not only submission to God but also submission to other persons. In four of the Acts accounts relat­ing to the gift of the Holy Spirit it is apparent that persons receiving this gift did so through the ministry of others. It was through the ministry of Peter and John that the Samaritans received, through the ministry of Ananias that Saul of Tarsus was filled with the Spirit, through the ministry of Peter that the Caesareans were blessed, through the ministry of Paul that the Ephesians received the gift. In three of these instances the Holy Spirit was given through the imposition of hands of a fellow Christian. The very willingness to have hands laid on one's head signified an act of submission, a readiness to receive from other brethren what God had to give. This submitting to the ministry of others, it should be added, is frequently the best antidote to a kind of religious pride that desires to deal only with God directly (as in private prayer). However, the Lord often makes use of human-and sometimes quite humble-vessels for His blessing. It is not always easy for a prominent Saul to submit to an unknown Ananias, but such may be the Lord's way of working.

One of the things that has been learned in the contemporary movement of the Holy Spirit is the importance of this ministry of fellow Christians. Though in many cases God sovereignly pours out His Spirit without human mediation, most often people receive God's gift through the laying on of hands. And the hands may be those of a cleric or layman (as in the book of Acts), whomever God chooses. This calls for submission, and a kind of yielding that may not hitherto have been experienced.37

It would be difficult to overemphasize this whole matter of yielding. It is at the heart of receiving the gift of God's Holy Spirit. For it is only when a person lays himself totally at the disposal of God, holding back nothing, that the Spirit moves in to take full possession. There are no shortcuts, no simplistic formulas, no outward manifestations that can bring this about. The Spirit is given only to those who let everything go, who are empty before the Lord, who thereby may be filled with His fullness. This yielding may mean the willingness to give up earthly reputation, security and ambition-that God may be glorified. It is absolute and irrevocable surrender.38

Yielding is an act of faith. It is not something beyond faith but is faith in its profoundest expression. Whether such yielding occurs at the inception of faith, or somewhere along the way of faith, it represents that total surrender wherein the Spirit of the living God comes to have complete sway.


1 The verb is sumplērousthai-"to be fulfilled." According to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament this means (in Acts 2:1) "fulfilled according to God's plan . . . the verb itself points to the fulfillment of God's saving will in the event which takes place" (Vol. VI, p. 308). The KJV is closer than RSV (and many other versions) in translating sumplērousthai as "was fully come."

2 I have sought to delineate some of these movements in my book, The Pentecostal Reality, chapter 3, "A New Era in History."

3 In a booklet entitled Theological and Pastoral Orientations an the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (Notre Dame: Word of Life, 1974) prepared at Malines, Belgium, by an international team of Catholic theologians and lay leaders, there is a section entitled "The Spirit is Sovereign and Free." It includes these words: "Alongside the declaration that subjective dispositions affect what one gives and receives [the section before had dealt with such 'dispositions'] is a companion declaration that in no ultimate sense is the Spirit of God radically dependent on the subjective dispositions of communities or individuals. . . . The Spirit is sovereign and free. He blows when, where, and how he wills. . . . The Spirit has and retains the initiative at every moment of the community's life" (p. 19). Ralph Martin, one of the lay leaders at Malines, powerfully set forth God's action in his book, Fire on the Earth (Ann Arbor, MI: Word of Life, 1975), subtitled "What God is Doing in the World Today." He writes: "God is moving now, today, to rekindle that fire and fan it to the mighty blaze he desires to see. He is acting now, across the world, to turn the hearts of people back to him, to heal the wounds of division, to baptize with the Spirit and with fire. He intends to restore the full vitality of his people and resurrect the full power of the body of Christ. He is casting down his fire anew" (pp. 5-6).

4 Refer back to Chapter 5 for our earlier elaboration of this matter.

5 Literally, "the Holy Spirit whom God gave to the ones obeying him" (to pneuma to hagion ho edōken ho theos tois peitharchousin autō). F.D. Bruner errs in saying that "the obedience spoken of in Acts 5:32 rather than being a condition is the result of the gift of the Holy Spirit" (op. cit., p. 172). There is no suggestion here of obedience as a result; it is rather that God gives to those obeying. E. Schweizer is correct in writing that "obedience must . . . precede the reception of the Spirit according to [Acts] 5:32" (article on πνευμα, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. VI, p. 412). Also see John Rea, The Layman's Commentary on the Holy Spirit (Plainfield, NJ: Logos, rev. ed., 1974), pp. 74-78, entitled "Acts 5:32-Obedience and the Gift of the Holy Spirit."

6 The expression, "the obedience of faith," is used by Paul in Romans 1:5-"through whom [Christ] we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith [eishupakoēn pisteōs] for the sake of his name among all the nations." Also see Romans 16:26 for the same expression. In Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (under hupakoē) the translation of eis hupakoēn pisteōs is suggested as "with a view to (promoting) obedience which springs from faith." Obedience which springs from faith is an excellent way of describing the obedience which is the context for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

7 The RSV has "commandment," in the singular; however, the Greek word enteilamenos is plural.

8 Though the Holy Spirit Himself has not yet been given, He is already present as the medium for Jesus' words. This prior presence of the Holy Spirit illustrates a point earlier made, namely, that the gift of the Holy Spirit by no means rules out the previous presence and activity of the Holy Spirit among people of faith.

9 According to the Gospel of Luke (the "first book" referred to in Acts 1:1). the words are "to stay [kathisate-also "to sit"; in KJV "to tarry"] in the city" (chapter 24:49).

10 At the moment of the Lord's command to the centurion, Cornelius is not yet a believer. However, he does become a believer, at which moment the Holy Spirit is poured out (10:43-44). Hence his obedience is caught up in faith. To such a one the Spirit is given.

11 Here I should like to make reference to a nineteenth-century book by Andrew Murray, The Spirit of Christ (New York: Randolph & Co., 1888), the section subtitled, "The Spirit Given to the Obedient," pp. 69-77. Murray writes: "The obedient must and may look for the fulness of the Spirit" (italics: Murray). He speaks of this as "the promise of the conscious, active indwelling of the Spirit," and adds: "A living obedience is indispensable to the full experience of the indwelling. . . . Let each of us even now say to our Lord that we do love Him and keep His commandments. In however much feebleness and failure it be, still let us speak it out to Him." Murray, a Dutch Reformed pastor in South Africa, is one of the predecessors of the present spiritual renewal. On the contemporary scene John Rea puts it well in saying: "Christian obedience is a product of the inner heart, not of outward duty. It springs from gratitude for grace already received (Rom. 12:1-8) not from desire to gain merit" (Layman's Commentary on the Holy Spirit, p. 77). It is this obedience-which is not a work-that is context for the gift of the Spirit to be received.

12 This does not mean that one must be without sin to receive the Holy Spirit. If such were the case, no one would be a recipient: for all continue to sin. Hence, views of certain "Holiness' churches that call for "complete sanctification" or total "heart purification" as necessary for the reception of the Holy Spirit are asking for the impossible. What is important is not the attainment of perfection, but ever seeking-regardless of many a failure-to walk in the way of obedience.

13 It was not mentioned before that the centurion is described as a God-fearing man: "a devout man who feared God with all his household" (Acts 10:2) and a man who "does what is right" (Acts 10:35). Thus, against a broad background of devoutness of life and righteous concerns, Cornelius's obedience to the command of the Lord stands forth vividly.

14 This has been noted in three cases: the original disciples in Jerusalem, Saul of Tarsus and the Caesareans. As far as the Samaritans are concerned, the situation is less clear. However, it may be that one of the reasons for the delay of several days in the gift of the Holy Spirit to them was the need for more time after the beginning of faith for obedience to develop. The Samaritans had long been caught up in idolatrous adulation of Simon the magician-"they all gave heed to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, 'This man is that power of God which is called Great'" (Acts 8:10)-and were "amazed" by his magical practices (8:11). Hence, though the Samaritans had entered the way of faith, they may have needed more time for commitment-and obedience-to Christ to replace their deep-seated idolatry of Simon.

In the case of the Ephesians, we read nothing directly about obedience. However, the atmosphere is that of readiness to do what John the Baptist had commanded, and thereafter to follow Paul's injunctions. (See Acts 19:4-6.)

15 See again Acts 2:38; 8:12-17; 19:5-6.

16 That this was Jesus' own baptism in the Spirit is apparent in many ways: (1) Although the imagery of the dove differs, e.g., from the wind and fire of Pentecost, the picture is clearly of a coming from without of the Spirit; (2) Jesus is said immediately thereafter to be "full of the Holy Spirit" (Luke 4:1)-thus a parallel to the disciples being "filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:4); (3) the Holy Spirit came at the Jordan to inaugurate Jesus' ministry even as at Pentecost to initiate the disciples'; (4) the Spirit that came is the Spirit of power: Jesus is said thereafter to move "in the power [dunamis] of the Spirit" (Luke 4:14); likewise the disciples were promised to receive power (dunamis) (Acts 1:8) when the Holy Spirit should come upon them; (5) in the parallel passage in John's Gospel the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus is tied in with Jesus' baptism of others in the Holy Spirit- "I myself [John the Baptist] did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit'" (John 1:33).

17 The water baptism in Jesus' case, unlike that of others, was not "for the forgiveness of sins" (cf. Acts 2:38). According to the Gospel of Matthew, when John the Baptist is described as remonstrating against baptizing Jesus ("I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?") Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness" (3:14-15). Though Jesus was not a sinner needing baptism and forgiveness, baptism did represent identification with God's righteous purpose signified therein. Thus-and of relevance to our concerns-Jesus' water baptism, which fulfilled God's righteousness before the Spirit was given, illustrates for persons thereafter that faith-righteousness which precedes the gift of the Holy Spirit.

18 In the parallel Matthean account (7:11) instead of "the Holy Spirit" the expression is "good things" (agatha). Of all "good things" the gift of the Holy Spirit cannot be excelled. So the Expositor's Greek Testament (New York: George H. Doran Co., n.d.). Vol. One: "The Holy Spirit is mentioned here [in Luke's Gospel] as the summum bonum, and the supreme object of desire for all true disciples" (Commentary on Luke 11:13). E.G.T. notes also: "In some forms of the Lord's Prayer (Marcion, Greg. Nys.) a petition for the gift of the Holy Spirit took the place of the first or second petition." Since Luke 11 begins with the Lord's Prayer, and is the background for all that follows about prayer, climaxing with prayer for the gift of the Spirit, it is at least conceivable that the whole passage (11:1-13) is an elaboration of the petition for the Holy Spirit and what is involved therein.

19 The Greek word is anaideian, literally "shamelessness," hence a persistence or importunity that is almost indecent!

20 Here the writer would like to testify personally how true this is. After some three days of continuing prayer specifically for the gift of the Holy Spirit, God marvelously granted the request. It seemed many times that God (like the man in bed at midnight) would never answer, but, because of the deep desire, importunate praying continued, and at last when the answer came, it was all the more a thing of wonder and praise.

21 Or, "were continuing steadfastly in prayer" (ēsan proskarterountes tē proseuchē). This more literal Greek reading points to the fact of their continuous devotion.

22 The account in Acts 2:1-4 of the coming of the Spirit does not directly say that the disciples were praying when this happened. However, it would seem clearly implied both from the words of Acts 1:14 (suggesting a continuing devotion to prayer) and the setting of Acts 2:1-4 where they were "all together in one place" (2:1) (suggesting a unity in prayer) and were "sitting" (suggesting an attitude of prayerful waiting) when the Holy Spirit came.

23 We have already spoken of God's sovereign purpose-His own timetable-being fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost. However, again this is not to be understood as making irrelevant the human context of prayer. God fulfills His purpose through those who prayerfully await His action.

24 The point is sometimes made that the account of the disciples waiting and praying prior to Pentecost cannot afford an example for others thereafter, since the Holy Spirit had not yet been given-in the words of John, "the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified" (7:39). Hence, there could be no reception of the Spirit prior to Jesus' glorification. However-to that point-Jesus had been glorified (i.e., returned to the Father's presence, as Acts 1:9-11 records it) before Pentecost, and yet they waited some ten days. When this fact is realized, and such a Scripture as Luke 11:1-13-which seems clearly applicable to God's children at any time-is also considered, it is apparent that earnest prayer continues to be the context for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

25 In chapter 6, "Means," supra [Editor's note: see the Fall 2003 (Vol. 6, No. 4) issue of the Pneuma Review for Chapter 6: "Means" of The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today], it was pointed out that there was no automatic reception of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands by Peter and John. Though hands were the medium, the gift came only to those who believed in Jesus. Now we are noting a further point, namely, that it was not simply a matter of laying hands (apostolic or otherwise) upon believers. Rather, prior to hands, and still more basic (as an expression of faith in operation), was prayer.

26 One of the questions in the Heidelberg Catechism (Q. 116) is: "Why is prayer necessary for Christians?" Then follows the striking answer: "Because it is the chief part of the gratitude which God requires of us, and because God will give his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who sincerely beseech him in prayer without ceasing, and who thank him for these gifts" (italics mine). See The Heidelberg Catechism, tr. by A.O. Miller and M.E. Osterhaven (United Church Press, 1962).

27 Prayer as background for the outpouring of the Spirit has been evidenced since the early twentieth century. The usual dating for the beginning of the Pentecostal/charis­matic renewal is New Year's Day, 1901, in Topeka, Kansas. There, at Rev. Chares Parham's Bible School, a devout prayer service had been held on New Year's Eve, and all New Year's Day God's presence was felt "stilling hearts to wait upon greater things to come" (Klaude Kendrick. The Promise Fulfilled, p. 52). About 11:00 P.M. Miss Agnes Ozman, one of the students, was prayed for to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit "fell" (see Chapter 2: "Dimensions" supra. fn. 9 [Editor's note: see the Summer 2002 (Vol. 5, No. 3) issue of the Pneuma Review for Chapter 2: "Dimensions" of The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today]). The second outburst occurred in Los Angeles on April 9,1906. among a group of people, whites and blacks, who had prayed and fasted for ten days, asking for God to send His Spirit. On the tenth day, a young black man spoke in tongues, followed shortly by six others. Such early twentieth-century beginnings are repeated variously in our time, For example, it was at a prayer meeting that Dennis Bennett had his experience, and in prayer that the gift of the Spirit came. A friend prayed over him, and then Bennett "prayed out loud for about twenty minutes" before he began "to speak in a new language" (Nine O'Clock in the Morning, p. 20). Examples can be multiplied.

28 In the words of Peter: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." The multitude were promised two things: forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit. Thus one could speak of there being a twofold expectation. It is important to emphasize again, however, that the latter is based on the former, for without the forgiveness of sins expectation of the gift of the Spirit is in vain.

29 eis makran.

30 "The presupposition of the charismatic renewal today . . . is an expectant faith, a faith that expects God to do what he said." So writes Steve Clark, a coordinator of the Word of God community in Ann Arbor, in an article "Charismatic Renewal in the Church" (found in As the Spirit Leads Us, p. 22). Jim Cavnar, also active in the Ann Arbor community, in speaking about his own experience says: "I knew that the baptism in the Spirit was received in faith by asking the Father for the outpouring of the Spirit promised by his Son. I felt that the most important thing was to ask in faith, with confidence in God and full of expectation" (Catholic Pentecostals, p.63). This note of expectant faith is found throughout the contemporary renewal.

31 In the Gospel of John the resurrected Jesus appears to the disciples in a closed room saying, "'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.' And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'" (20:21-22). Further evidence of this ministration of new life and new commission is found later in the Gospel of John where Jesus feeds several of the disciples bread and fish and then three times commissions Peter to feed His sheep and lambs (21:15-17). Likewise in the Gospel of Luke there is the ministry of faith and life through His unmistakable resurrection presence (Luke 24:36-43) and the declaration of a new commission (24:46-48). Such is prior to Pentecost, as Luke specifies in the book of Acts, and thus points to a further period of instruction, waiting, and yielding to the Lord.

32 A Roman citizen, tribe of Benjamin, graduate of Tarsus, Pharisee of the Pharisees, master of legal righteousness, fierce against the church (see e.g., Phil. 3:4-7): this was the Saul encountered by Jesus on the road to Damascus.

33 According to Paul, in Romans 6, the "fruit" of such yielding is "unto holiness," but the yielding itself is that whereby one becomes a servant, or slave, of God. "But now being made free from sin, and become servants [or 'slaves'] of God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life" (v. 22-KJV).

34 The language of Romans 12:1, where again Paul calls for a life of total commitment. All of life is to be poured out on the altar of complete self-giving.

35 See Philippians 2:5-8.

36 See James 3:6-10. The importance of surrender of the tongue-the "unrighteous world among our members"-can scarcely be exaggerated. It desperately needs control and direction by the Holy Spirit. As we have earlier noted, when the disciples at Pentecost-and many others later-were filled with the Holy Spirit they "began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance." In their total yielding, which included the tongue, the Spirit gave them this new utterance which was to the praise and magnifying of God. So it continues to be in the contemporary movement of the Holy Spirit where speaking in tongues, among other things, is a sign of complete yielding to God. The tongue no longer "set on fire by hell" is aflame with the glory of God!

37 In the writer's own case it was not easy to be prayed for by an ordained minister from another denomination. It seemed a bit humiliating to one also ordained (and a theologian at that!), but God blessed this act of submission, and the gift of the Spirit was received.

38 John Rea writes about yielding thus: "The individual seeking to be baptized and filled with the Spirit must be willing to yield control of every part of his being to the Holy Spirit . . . you should yield yourself completely unto Jesus, as one who is alive from the dead, and also every member and faculty of your body as an instrument of righteous­ness. . . . Yield your will so that your motives are pure. . . . Yield your members, especially your tongue as the organ of expression of the Holy Spirit through you" (Layman's Commentary on the Holy Spirit, p. 65). Donald Gelpi speaks of praying for "full docility to the Spirit of Christ." He adds: "[this] is in effect to express one's willingness to do whatever God may be calling one to do, no matter what the personal sacrifice or suffering that call might entail. The person who cannot pray such a prayer and mean it is not yet ready for 'Spirit-baptism'" (Pentecostalism: A Theological Viewpoint, p. 183). Yielding, "full docility"-indeed total surrender-is essential for the reception of the fullness of God's Spirit. What Rea and Gelpi speak about is illustrated countless times in the contemporary renewal.

Rodman Williams, Ph.D., was a Professor of Renewal Theology Emeritus at Regent University School of Divinity. Author of numerous books, he is perhaps best known for his three volume Renewal Theology (Zondervan, 1996).

Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptural quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today by J. Rodman Williams, was published in 1980 by Logos International.

Content Copyright ©1996 by J. Rodman Williams, Ph.D.

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