The Holy Spirit Gives Us Jesus
May 31, 2020
Pentecost is the day we remember the Holy Spirit being given to the Church as tongues of fire rested on the disciples’ heads and they preached the Gospel in languages they had never learned. This was a mighty miracle of God! Yet, what was a much greater miracle was what they preached. They preached how Jesus suffered and died for the sins of the people and how God raised him from the dead. Their preaching was so powerful that Scripture tells us that about three thousand souls were added to the Church that day. For this reason, Christians prize the Holy Spirit. Where the Holy Spirit is, there is salvation! Where the Holy Spirit is, there the Church grows!
So, we must ask the question: How do you receive the Holy Spirit? Many obsess over this question. In fact, some call themselves Pentecostals, because of how much they emphasize the gifts of the Holy Spirit, who was given on Pentecost. And to be sure, how you receive the Holy Spirit is just about the most important question you can ask! It is akin to asking, “How am I saved.”
Yet, there are a lot of wrong ideas about how you receive the Holy Spirit. And all of the wrong ideas center on you and what you do. I actually googled the question, “How do you receive the Holy Spirit?” and I came upon two answers from two very different branches of Christianity that were pretty much the same. One person from a Pentecostal background quoted Acts 2:38, where St. Peter says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The man then concluded that you must first repent in order for God to give you his Holy Spirit. But until you repent, God will not give you his Holy Spirit. So, whether God gives you his Holy Spirit or not is up to you. “The decision is yours.”
Yet, there is a serious problem here. Unless you have already received the Holy Spirit, you cannot repent. St. Paul tells us that we are naturally dead in our sins. (Ephesians 2) In 1 Corinthians chapter 2 he writes, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (vss. 12-14)
What St. Peter means by “repent” here in Acts 2 is not simply to turn from sin, but to turn to Christ Jesus in faith! This can only be accomplished by the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit was already working in these people and in their hearts to cause them to repent, that is, to turn them from unbelief to faith in Jesus Christ. This is what Jesus says in our Gospel lesson, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit teaches by bringing to remembrance the words of Jesus. It is the Holy Spirit, who creates faith in your heart through Jesus’ word as Scripture also says, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)
In another video I found a Roman Catholic priest explain how we receive the Holy Spirit. He cited Acts 5:32, where St. Peter writes, “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” So, the priest concluded that in order to receive the Holy Spirit, we must be obedient to God and live according to his word. Now, we certainly should be obedient to God and live according to his word, but we cannot do this unless we first have received the Holy Spirit! We do not live according to God’s word in order to receive the Holy Spirit, but rather, we receive the Holy Spirit so that we can live according to God’s Word. Again, this priest said that we receive the Holy Spirit by our own works. Yet, what does Scripture say?
St. Paul writes in Galatians 3, “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’?”
St. Paul makes clear that we receive the Holy Spirit through hearing with faith, that is, by hearing and believing the Gospel. And he makes clear that it is the Holy Spirit who both begins and finishes this work in you. What St. Peter means by obedience in Acts 5:32 is the obedience to the Gospel, that is, being convinced of the reliability of God’s promise. And only the Holy Spirit can convince you.
So, how do you receive the Holy Spirit? Through hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit works through the preaching of Christ to enliven your heart to believe in the forgiveness of sins won by Christ, so that you may be saved! It is the Holy Spirit who brings you to true repentance. It is the Holy Spirit who makes your heart obedient to the Gospel by convincing you of God’s grace. You do not receive the Holy Spirit by your own preparation. And the Holy Spirit does not come to you apart from proclamation of the Gospel.
This is also why Baptism gives you the Holy Spirit. Baptism is a proclamation of the Gospel. It is not just plain water, but it is water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word. Many think that Baptism is our work that we do in obedience to God as a condition to receive the Holy Spirit. But this is wrong. Baptism is God’s work, not ours, as St. Paul says in Titus 3, “He saved us, not by works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.” Baptism is Gospel, because its power is in the word and promise of Christ and its benefits are received through faith.
How do you know whether you have the Holy Spirit? Again, there are many wrong answers to this that all focus on you instead of Jesus Christ. Those who say that you receive the Holy Spirit by being obedient teach that you know you have the Holy Spirit by whether or not you are obedient. Well, do you think you have been obedient enough to keep the Holy Spirit within you? Are you confident that you have the Holy Spirit based on how you have conducted yourself as a Christian? Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Comforter. Is it comforting to know that the Holy Spirit will remain with you just so long as you maintain your obedience to God’s law?
Others say that you know that you have the Holy Spirit if you display gifts of the Spirit like speaking in tongues, prophesying, or healing. In fact, some teach that you do not have the Holy Spirit unless you speak in tongues! And this leads many to babble incoherent sounds while lying to their hearts that they are speaking some unknown language. And it causes others to despair that the Holy Spirit has not come upon them.
Yet, this too is a misunderstanding of Scripture. Jesus did indeed promise that his disciples would speak in tongues and do many other mighty works, but he did not promise that these things would continue forever. Rather, St. Paul explicitly says in 1 Corinthians 13, “As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease...” And Jesus never said that all Christians would display these gifts of the Spirit, but rather that they would be performed as signs confirming the work of apostles, as St. Paul writes, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.” (2 Corinthians 12:12) Yet Scripture does list fruits of the Spirit that will be produced by all Christians forever, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
Yet, it is important to note that these are fruits of the Spirit. You must be a good tree before you can bear good fruit. You do not try to produce these fruits in order to have the Holy Spirit, but rather, if you have the Holy Spirit you will produce these fruits. We love, because he first loved us. We cannot finish with the flesh what the Holy Spirit has begun. Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my word.” (John 14:23-24)
So, how do you know whether you have the Holy Spirit? By whether you believe the Gospel! St. John writes, “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the World. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.” (1 John 4:13-16)
You know you have the Holy Spirit through faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you focus on yourself and what you do, you will always doubt whether God’s Spirit abides in you. But if you focus on Christ and his Gospel which the Holy Spirit teaches you, you have confidence that the Holy Spirit dwells in you by grace as a gift.
Finally, what is the greatest treasure the Holy Spirit gives you? The peace, which the world cannot give. Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27) The Holy Spirit delivers this peace to us through the preaching of the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake. When Jesus rose from the dead, he said to his disciples, “Peace be with you. Receive the Holy Spirit.” and he then gave his church the authority to forgive sins. Scripture says in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Holy Spirit gives us peace with God, which Jesus Christ won for us by dying for our sins and taking God’s wrath away. The Holy Spirit continues to give us this peace by convincing us through the proclamation of this Gospel that God is at peace with us for Christ’s sake. Pentecost is not about your works or your preparation. It is not even about speaking in tongues or doing miracles. Pentecost is about the Holy Spirit convincing you that God is at peace with you for Christ’s sake. Pentecost is about the Holy Spirit giving Jesus to you. Amen.