Friday night Bible Study was both challenging and stimulating. Below are my “coles notes”:
It has become popular in the past century to teach that when someone says a “Sinner’s Prayer” that they “receive” Jesus and the “Spirit” comes and lives in them at that moment.
But this teaching provides, first, a false affirmation and second, it seems to go against the order of the born again experience as the New testament teaches.
First, it is becoming a more popular practice of holding off water baptism for many years after a person believes. If the whole born again experience is completed in a single act of belief and prayer, water baptism gets pushed to the periphery as an afterthought, and sometimes as if it were not even necessary at all.
Yet Jesus tells Nicodemus,
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water… he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” – John 3:5
Water, it seems, is a key element to the born again experience. According to Jesus one is not fully (or at least, not properly) born again until one gets into the water.
Secondly, the idea that one receives the Spirit the moment they believe is to be found no where in the Bible. In stead the scriptures affirm, rather, that the Spirit is given after water baptism in all places except one.
Jesus tells Nicodemus,
Truly, truly, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. – John 3:5
Being born of Spirit is as much a key as being born of water. In Jesus’ baptism experience the Spirit comes upon him only after he comes up from the water:
When Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him.” – Matthew 3:16
While it is fascinating that the scriptures never speak of the apostles being personally baptized, it is naturally assumed since baptism is considered a fundamental part of the faith (Hebrews 6:1-2), and they themselves do baptizing (John 4:1-2).
Yet while Jesus remained – before he was glorified – the Holy Spirit had not, and could not, come:
I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I do, I will send him to you. – John 16:7
The disciples were to wait in Jerusalem until the Father would send the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49). Between the time when they started on the Way (probably when they began to follow Jesus) until after he was glorified climaxing in the Acts 2 event – between these two events the Holy Spirit was with them, but not in them:
You know him (the Spirit), for he dwells with you and will be in you. – John 14:17
The point is that the disciples had not received the Spirit in them until after (1) they believed, (2) they repented and (3) they were water baptized.
This pattern is repeated again when Paul encounters twelve “disciples” (i.e. believers) and asks them if they had received the Holy Spirit. It is all too common today to think such a question ridiculous. If a person is a disciple, they must of received the Spirit of Christ. Paul does not make this assumption. These disciples had not even heard that the Spirit had been given. Evidently they had been baptized by John or one of John’s disciples before returning home to Ephesus.
When Paul heard this he re-baptized them, this time in the name of Jesus, and
when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them. – Acts 19:6
So again the pattern is repeated: they believe, repent, are baptized and then they received the Spirit of Christ.
There is only one exception to this pattern in scripture, and a close examination will show that God, in making this exception, knows exactly what he is doing.
It is the story of Peter and Cornelius. Peter has to be shown three times that what has been considered “unclean” has been made “clean” by and through Christ. To use Pauline terminology: there is no more “Jew” or “Gentile”, for the dividing wall has come down and the gospel message and salvation is open to the gentiles even without circumcision. The reason circumcision is no longer required is because a new seal has come, the seal of the Holy Spirit, and this seal has replaced the old seal of circumcision.
But Peter – stuck in his Jewish mindset – has to be convinced by God of this. (You will find the whole story of this in Acts 10.) So Peter, with a group of other Jewish believers, went to preach to a house of gentiles. While Peter was sharing the gospel with them (no alter call is in sight and no laying on of hands takes place) the scriptures record:
While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. – Acts 10:44
This fact seems to have scandalized the Jewish believers who came with Peter:
And all the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles – Acts 10:45
Notice the phrase, “even on the Gentiles”. How scandalous! Who would have thought that Jews and Gentiles could enter the same covenant with God without first being circumcised? And that is exactly the point: the Jewish believers never would have baptized Gentiles unless they first became Jews. But in light of the fact that the seal of the Spirit was given, Peter proclaims:
Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? – Acts 10:47
So only here is the order reversed. And God does it to make a point: the Gentiles can now become a covenant member of the family of God without having to go through the rite of circumcision.
The primary point is that one does not “receive the Spirit” by merit of a Sinner’s Prayer. It could be said that the one certainly has begun “on the Way” – I would not argue this, because at some point individuals must make a decision to follow Christ (notice the terminology), to drop their nets and change their direction. They are no less “Christian” at that point if this occurs sincerely. They have been conceived. They are on the Way. But they have not yet fully been born again.
***To Be Continued***
Any questions or further insight?
(From memory since I forgot a note pad and pen. Any errors in interpretation and use of biblical passages are my own and should not be confused with the actual study or the teacher)