Who Receives The Holy Spirit?

This blog post is, like my last posts, inspired by something I heard while keeping the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) this year. In this case, though, it was something I disagreed with. During a Bible study, the study leader said that ordained ministers receive an “extra measure” of the Holy Spirit. That teaching is an old one, but is it correct? I wasn’t sure. Another thing that didn’t sit right with me was several speakers calling groups other than those like ours “nominal Christianity.”

I talked these two points over with several friends at our Feast site, and was relieved to find I wasn’t the only one bothered by them or suspicious that they didn’t have a solid scriptural basis. So the question is, who does God give His Spirit to, and how much do they get? and does it vary depending on the individual’s role in the church, or what church they attend?

Who Receives The Holy Spirit? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

(For a quick over-view of my beliefs about what the Holy Spirit is, click here)

Those Who Believe

God has been giving His Spirit to believers apparently from the very beginning. David prayed, “do not take Your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11), and Peter said “the Spirit of Christ” was in the Old Testament prophets (1Pet. 1:10-11). The Spirit wasn’t readily available, though, until after Christ’s sacrifice and ascension — “the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39).

The disciples received the Holy Spirit dramatically at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. As part of his sermon that day, Peter told others what they had to do in order to receive the Holy Spirit.

Then Peter said to them, “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. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)

This simple formula gives the Holy Spirit after baptism and repentance in the name of Jesus Christ to everyone who God decides to call. There were exceptions to this order — namely the gentiles who were given the Spirit before baptism in Acts 10 — but the Holy Spirit is only given to those who 1) believe in Jesus and 2) are called by God.

The Called, Who Ask

The first requirement for receiving the Holy Spirit is being called by God since we can’t get to Jesus without that calling (John 6:44). Who receives a calling is entirely up to God. It is a gift of grace that cannot be earned (Gal. 1:15; Rom. 9:11), which is given “according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

I do think, however, that someone can ask for a calling. The Father is actively seeking those who will worship “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23), and Jesus tells us that if we ask, seek, and knock persistently, God will respond (Matt. 7:7).

Who Receives The Holy Spirit? | marissabaker.wordpress.comThen you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jer. 29:12-13)

God choses who to call, but He does respond to sincere seeking of Him. If someone hears the gospel preached and wants to learn more, God will see that. We’re not called because of our works, but God does call those who will do good works, obey Him (Acts 5:32), and commit to becoming holy (2 Thes. 1:11; 1 Thes. 2:12; 4:7).

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13)

Committed, Prayed-for Believers

Once God calls us, He gives us to Christ (John 6:65; 17:11). Jesus is the only one who can provide salvation (Acts 4:12), and that’s why the converts in Acts were all “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:16; 19:5). With the exception of the Gentiles mentioned earlier (who God used to show He was opening up salvation to non-Jews), the Spirit is given after baptism. We have two examples of disciples being baptized, but not receiving the Spirit until an apostle prayed and laid hands on them. This happened in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-6), and in Samaria.

Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet it had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:14-17)

There aren’t really apostles today, but the principle, I think, stands. God typically gives the Holy Spirit to someone after they’ve made a commitment through baptism, and after a more mature believer who already has the Holy Spirit prays and lays hands on them.

Those Who Use It

On the question of whether some people get more Holy Spirit than others, I’ve only found two scriptures that talk about how much Spirit an individual is given. In 2 Kings 2, Elisha asked for, and is given, “a double portion” of “the spirit of Elijah” (2 Kings 2:9-12, 15). Then in the New Testament, John the Baptist explains that Jesus received an unlimited supply of the Holy Spirit.

 For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. (John 3:34-35)

You could extrapolate from this that people other than Jesus are given the Spirit “by measure” (i.e. “a limited portion,” Strong’s G3358). It makes sense that we would all have less Holy Spirit than Jesus because we are infinitely less worthy. But I can’t find scriptures that clearly support the idea you’ll find in some churches that ordained leaders are given an “extra measure” of the spirit compared to other believers.

On the contrary, we find several scriptures that remind us God is not a respecter of persons. He opened salvation to the Gentiles because “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). He wants us to treat people fairly “knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.” (Eph. 6:9, see also James 2:1-9). He will judge everyone righteously by looking at “each one’s work” “without partiality” (1Pet. 1:17).

God doesn’t show partiality in how He distributes the Spirit, but we can affect how much Spirit is available to us by whether or not we use it well.

Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Tim. 1:6-7)

“Stir up” is from anazopureo, and means “to kindle” or “re-enkindle,” as in reference to a fire (Strong’s G329). It’s the opposite of sbennumi, which means “to extinguish a fire” (Strongs G4570). Sbennumi is translated “quench” in 1 Thes. 5:19’s command, “Do not quench the Spirit.”

Who Receives The Holy Spirit? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

God gives the Spirit to whomever He wants. These are people who seek a relationship with Him, who ask for His Spirit, and who believe in Jesus Christ. Once given the Spirit, our actions determine how well we can use it. We can either stir up the Spirit we’re given so it burns brighter, or suppress it till it flickers and dies in us. That’s our choice. The closer we draw to God, the more powerful His presence will be in us. That’s what determines who gets the Holy Spirit and how much they can use — the individual believer’s relationship with God. It doesn’t matter whether you’re ordained, and where you go to church only matters in so far that you’re attending a church which preaches God’s truth. What matters most is that you’re following God the way He commands.

Spiritually Fruitful

At the beginning of this week, I was reading Luke 3 and trying to come up with a topic to guide this week’s study and become today’s post when I came to these verses:

“Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:8-9)

This passage was particularly striking because I’d just heard a sermon about the phrase “abide in Me” from John 15:4 that relied heavily on the vine/branch and tree/root analogies.

What Shall We Do?

blog post "Spiritually Fruitful" by marissabaker.wordpress.com
pictures of our grapevines, taken yesterday

Looking closer at the phrase ” bear fruits worthy of repentance,” I wonder if the sense it means to convey is that we should be producing fruits in our lives that show we are sincerely repentant. The word “repentance” (G3341, metanoia in Greek) means, “a change or alteration of mind .. from evil to good or from worse to better” (Zodhiates).

What John calls attention to as he continues speaking is that people who thought their physical descent from God’s chosen people automatically made them acceptable to God were mistaken. We can make the same mistake today if we think that we’re part of God’s family simply because we’re attending the “right” church group. Like the people John was addressing, we must actually being doing something to show that we 1) recognized the need for change, and 2) are sincere about changing.

So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?” He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.”

Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.”

Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.” (Luke 3:10-14)

The specific responses here are based on principles found throughout the Bible: “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil 2.4); “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6), and the two great commandments (Matt. 22:37-40; Mark 12:29-31).

For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom. 13:9-10)

Now that we have an idea of the kind of fruits we’re supposed to be producing, lets take a short detour from the discussion in Luke 3 and focus on how we can be spiritually fruitful.

How To Bear Fruit

blog post "Spiritually Fruitful" by marissabaker.wordpress.com

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. … By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. (John 15:4-5, 8)

The key to being spiritually fruitful is abiding in Jesus. If you look at a healthy vine, every branch firmly connected to the rootstock and main vine will also be healthy. It can’t be healthy by itself, though. The moment it’s disconnected from the vine it starts to wither and is no longer capable of fruiting. Similarly, we can’t do anything by ourselves — all our fruit is produced because of our closeness to Jesus.

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Phil. 1:9-11)

All the fruit that we produce in our lives is a direct result of Jesus Christ’s involvement in us, and it is all for God’s glory. We’ve talked before in the weeks leading up to Pentecost about how closely Jesus Christ’s work in us is connected with the Holy Spirit indwelling us. This is yet another example — we cannot bear the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23 unless we are abiding in Him and keeping His commandments.

Unfruitful Branches

Let’s return to our imaginary healthy vine, and suppose that there are some branches on it that don’t have a good connection to the rootstock. They may be visibly withering and dying, or they might have great showy leaves that can initially hide the fact that they have no fruit. Those kinds of branches need to be trimmed out so they do not impact the overall health of the vine.

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. … If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. (John 15:1-2, 6)

blog post "Spiritually Fruitful" by marissabaker.wordpress.com
pictures of our grapevines, taken yesterday

Like most of God’s instructions and warnings this boils down to a very simple principle. If you do good things (abide in Jesus, obey the commands), good things will happen to you (a relationship with God, eternal life). But if you do bad things (disobey, become arrogant and distant from God), bad things happen (no relationship with Him, death). This brings us right back to John the Baptist’s words in Luke.

And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:9)

This is a warning, and it was also a prophecy of what Paul addresses in Romans 11. In this letter, Paul writes to the Gentile believers who were “grafted in” after so many of the Jews, like the ones John was talking to, refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah.

And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.

You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? (Rom. 11:17-24)

This is both a sobering and an awesome message. God grafted us into Himself when He called us out of the world! He took something which was once opposed to Him (Rom. 8:7-8) and made us part of His church by attaching us to His Son — the Vine — and making us part of Christ’s body (Eph. 1:22-23).

The sobering part is a reminder of how dangerous it is to let our awe of what God has done for and in us slip away. Arrogance takes it’s place, here in Romans 11 and in Luke 3, with the idea that we’re important in and of ourselves. In reality, any importance we have comes from God. He did not choose us because of our own merit, or because of our heritage, or because of what church group we attend. He chose us because He is in the business of redeeming insignificant people and turning them into something glorious through His boundless grace and mercy (1 Cor. 1:26-31). Our response to that should be to cling ever closer to Him, and to be producing fruits in our lives that show how drastically we have been changed by Him.

What Makes Us Remarkable

After healing a lame man in Acts 3, Peter and john are brought before the Jewish leaders to explain their actions. After hearing from Peter “that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth … this man stands here before you whole,” the leaders marveled at them.

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

When looking at Peter and John, the only exceptional thing the Jewish leaders noticed about them was that they had been with Jesus. Even the people working against Christ’s teachings could recognize that being in His presence had changed these fishermen who would otherwise be considered unremarkable.

Wisdom of the Poor Man

Not surprisingly, a similar thing happened to Jesus. He was not what people expected the Messiah to be, and some people rejected Him because He seemed so ordinary.

And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! 3 Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” So they were offended at Him. (Mark 6:2-3)

"What Makes Us Remarkable" by marissabaker.wordpress.comThese people missed out on knowing the son of God because they rejected the wisdom of the poor man (Ecc. 9:16). All too often, we fall into the trap of rejecting someone because of an unfavorable first impression based on a stereotype rather than actually knowing them. Rejecting someone because of their lack of education and credentials isn’t solely confined to intellectuals, but I’m afraid it’s a trap that educated people might be more likely to fall into than others.  I’m very much in favor of education, but I do agree with this quote by Dr. J. Budziszewski: “there are some forms of stupidity that one must be highly intelligent and educated to commit.”

Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught. And the Jews marveled, saying, “How does this Man know letters, having never studied?” (John 7:14-15)

Instead of asking how they could know Jesus better, or listening when He explained that “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me,” the people accused Him of having a demon (John 7:16-20). Seeing this kind of rejection towards Jesus, it should not surprise us if people reject us as well. Christ warned His followers,

“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:18-20)

That’s Not Fair

Not only will we be considered ignorant and foolish by the world for our belief in God, but in addition to that we are not usually remarkable by worldly standards before our calling either.

But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are,  that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God — and righteousness and sanctification and redemption — that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 27-31)

There’s a verse in Ecclesiastes that I’ve often seen used to talk about how life doesn’t always seem logical or fair that comes to mind in this context.

I returned and saw under the sun that — the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all. (Ecc. 9:11)

"What Makes Us Remarkable" by marissabaker.wordpress.comUsually when we talk about the unfairness of life, we only think of what is working against us. But “unfairness” happens in our favor as well. We just read in 1 Corinthians that we’re the weak, base, and poor of the world — where would we be if God only let the swift run the race (Heb. 12:1), only worked with the strong to win battles (Eph. 6:12-12), only fed those who were already wise (Mark. 6:34-42), only gave understanding to rich men (Mark. 10:23-25), and only showed favor to those who are skilled (Ex. 4:10-12)?

Our Vocation

I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received Eph. 4:1 NIV

I was reading through Ephesians (in my KJV Bible) when a word caught my eye. Earlier, I’d been reading something about the word history of “vocation,” and learned that it wasn’t until fairly recently that it referred to anything other than an ecclesiastical calling. With that in mind, I thought the word choice in Ephesians 4:1 was intriguing:

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called

Prior to the mid 1500s, the definition of vocation was always linked to a calling from God (vocation, n. Oxford English Dictionary Online). Of the 11 definitions given in the OED, 5 have to do with a religious calling. Even after the word expanded, the primary meaning continued to involve a Christian calling – there simply weren’t other employments that you could choose instead of being born into. Here are two of the definitions (1a was first recorded in 1426, and 2a was in use by 1487):

1 a. The action on the part of God of calling a person to exercise some special function, especially of a spiritual nature, or to fill a certain position; divine influence or guidance towards a definite (esp. religious) career; the fact of being so called or directed towards a special work in life; natural tendency to, or fitness for, such work.

2 a. The particular function or station to which a person is called by God; a mode of life or sphere of action regarded as so determined.

Back when the King James Bible was being readied for its publication in 1611, these are the definitions they would have had in mind when they chose to translate the Greek word klesis (G2821 κλῆσις) as “vocation” here and as “calling” in ten other places. For them, a life’s work which you were called to had to involve Christianity.

Though one of the main reasons we can use “vocation” more generally now is that we have the freedom to choose a profession other than that of our parents, I think it goes deeper than that. It is telling of our society that when we think of a vocation, we rarely (if ever) think of anything religious or spiritual.

When we talk about finding your life’s work or discovering your calling, we mean finding employment that is lucrative and enjoyable for us. Even as Christians, when people ask “what do you do?” we are more likely to respond by telling them about our job than about our faith. I’m as guilty of that as anyone. But (except in a setting where we should clearly be talking about the kind of work we do) maybe we should re-think this. Our true vocation – our calling from God – should be the one that’s more interesting to talk about and more important to share.