Why such a problem among Adventists? We could point to a number of possible reasons, such as our historical focus on the Sabbath and other doctrines, our slowness to learn that the Holy Spirit is indeed a Person, or just plain human weakness and preoccupation with the mundane.
Each of these reasons may have validity, but I suggest that we actually have a theological barrier. Our ideas about the Spirit have caused us to place His work in the past or future, not in the here-and-now.
For example, we often speak of the “latter rain” as a future outpouring of the Spirit on the church. We rightly say it will be a second Pentecost, like the first one in the book of Acts, and this will prepare us for the Second Coming. So we look forward . . . and back. But the resulting impression is that special blessings of spiritual power are not for today; instead, they were only for the privileged few who were fortunate enough to be present for the event recorded in Acts 2, or reserved for that holy number who will live just before Christ returns.[iii]
A more subtle form of this idea is found in the popular concept that the Holy Spirit is given automatically at baptism; but this too is in the past for all baptized church members. We like to quote Peter’s words in Acts 2:38 to prove this point: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”[iv] At first glance it appears that Peter equates baptism with reception of the gift of the Spirit, but a closer look shows this to be a wrong interpretation. Peter said repentance comes first. This is indeed a work of the Spirit, but it is not the same as the gift of the Spirit; that gift—according to Peter—comes after faith and baptism. This heavenly endowment is a subsequent divine operation on the soul, an addition, to a believer. It happens after conversion. Yet we have taught people to believe that they received the Spirit at baptism or before, on the basis of a text that does not even say this.
This fact of the subsequent blessing of the Spirit is proved twice over in the account of Paul’s meeting with the Ephesian brethren in Acts 19. Troubled by their small number, Paul asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They replied that they had “not heard whether there is a Spirit” (v. 2). This answer was probably their way of saying that they did not know this was the time of the Spirit. Ancient Jews believed the Spirit had been withdrawn by God during the 400 years of darkness after the last Old Testament prophetic messages and that only in the distant future would the Spirit return. Obviously, this group of baptized disciples had not heard about the day of Pentecost. So Paul instructed them about salvation through Christ and His promise of the Spirit (v. 5). Then they were baptized a second time. After this, Paul laid hands on them and “the Holy Spirit came upon them” (v. 6). The spiritual empowerment was not considered automatic, but it followed their second baptism. Several other passages in Acts show this distinction between water and Spirit baptism.[v]
Some object to this view because they don’t find Paul teaching this step-by-step sequence in his epistles. Only in Acts is this order described, they say, and this is not the norm. It was exceptional because it happened when the church was inaugurated. Then they ask questions like this: Can you find anywhere in Corinthians where Paul exhorts them to be baptized with the Spirit?
The answer is simple. The Corinthians were not urged to be baptized in the Spirit because they were already thus baptized![vi] Chapters 12-14 were given to correct excesses that had developed as a result of their previous reception of the second blessing of the Spirit.
We need what the Corinthians had, without their mistaken extras; but we will never ask for what we think belongs only to others. Nor will we ask for something we think we already have by virtue of a long-since-passed baptismal tank ritual. God wants to give us this rich gift, but if we are blind to that we will never receive in fullness.
Our greatest mistake concerning this blessing, however, is not about timing. It is about purpose. Because the Spirit is an agent of change in our lives, we have concentrated on this to the neglect of the greatest reason given by our Lord. The gift of the Spirit is not about us at all. It is about Jesus. And telling the world of Him. Acts 1:8 says, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (emphasis supplied). The second blessing of the Spirit implants within us a great desire to tell others about Christ. It is a doorway into this new realm of experience. It is a magnifying glass that helps us see more clearly the wonderful truths about God—truths we may have known before but did not appreciate fully; and, most importantly, it is an empowerment to witness these truths to others. Nearly every passage that describes the outpouring of the Spirit connects it to verbal witness.[vii]
A Spiritless Christian is weak, defeated, and has no message for the world. Such a person is like a sailboat without sails. Imagine the beautiful Mayflower, about to set out for
We have an even greater journey. We seek a better land and bring news of a greater King. As we make this trip, let’s throw out the sails of faith and hope and prayer. The Spirit of God, filling our sails, will provide the energizing force. Joy, freedom, and power will charge through us as never before. And the world will know that God is with us.
[i] R.A. Torrey, “Ought Christians to Keep the Sabbath?” (NewYork: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1899), p. 39.
[ii] Notice, for example, the following statements. 1890: “As a people, we have preached the law until we are as dry as the hills of Gilboa that had neither dew nor rain.” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, March 11, 1890. 1896: “Have you not been afraid of the Holy Spirit?” Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1943), 363. 1902: “Two nights ago, I awoke at ten o’clock, heavily burdened in regard to the lack of the Holy Spirit’s work among our people.” Selected Messages, vol. 3 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1980), pp. 201-202. 1904: “The promise of the Spirit is a matter little thought of; and the result is only what might be expected,—spiritual drought, spiritual darkness, spiritual declension and death. Minor matters occupy the attention, and the divine power which is necessary for the growth and prosperity of the church, and which would bring all other blessings in its train, is lacking, though offered in infinite plenitude.” Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8 (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1948), 21.
[iii] See Idem., Evangelism (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1970), 701: “The descent of the Holy Spirit is looked forward to as in the future; but it is privilege of the church to have it now. Seek for it, believe for it, pray for it. We must have it, and heaven is waiting to bestow it.”
[iv] All texts are from the New King James Version.
[v] Acts 8:14-17; 9:17, 18; such passages as Acts 10:44-48 show that some received the Spirit before baptism, but again this shows that water baptism and Spirit baptism are distinct and separate events.
[vi] See 1 Cor 1:7, “You come short in no gift,” and 1 Cor 12:13, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jew or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.”
[vii] See, for example, 1 Sam 10:6, “Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.” 1 Sam 10:10, “Then the Spirit came upon him, and he prophesied among them.” Joel 2:28: “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.” Acts 4:31, “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.” Other texts that connect Spirit baptism with witness include Acts 1:8; 4:8; 10:44-46; 19:6.