FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 17, number 39, October 04, 2018
“. . . and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” -Acts 2:38
Ask for the Holy Spirit
What are we lacking, my friends? We have our Reformed theology. We have our Westminster Confession of Faith or other wonderful doctrinal statements upon which we found our churches. We have faithful ministers of the word. We have people who love the Lord and desire to serve Him. We have very nice church buildings and uplifting worship services. We have countless seminars, conferences, and on-line teaching opportunities from the best the Reformed and Evangelical world can offer. Yet, would you not agree that we are losing ground? We are losing the war. The secularism in the west continues, seemingly unabated. Our millennial children are abandoning the church in droves. What is the problem?
As Paul, the apostle, began his second missionary journey from Jerusalem, his intention was to visit the churches established in Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe on his first missionary journey, and then to make his way north into Bithynia (the modern day Istanbul, Turkey region). He was forbidden by the Holy Spirit to go there. The Spirit also did not allow him to go into Asia (Asia Minor, modern day western Turkey). He passed through the Galatian and Phrygian regions and finally made his way to Troas. There he received the Macedonian vision, “Come over to Macedonia and help us,” (Acts 16:9). Paul then followed the Spirit’s leading into Europe where he preached the gospel of grace in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. He always began with the Jews but they soon rebelled and he then preached to the Gentiles. Everywhere Paul went, he met with terrible persecution, beatings, and imprisonment. He then made his way to Athens and received a cold reception, with only a few believing the gospel. Paul continued south into Achaia and established a church in the wicked city of Corinth. After completing his ministry in Corinth, Paul sailed across the Aegean Sea and stopped briefly in Asia Minor at the prominent and important city of Ephesus, one of the top five cities of the Roman Empire. Paul continued back to Jerusalem to report to the church leaders on the mighty things God wrought on his journey. On his third journey Paul made a straight line from Antioch to Ephesus and stayed there for two years, eventually teaching daily in the school of Tyrannus. Upon his arrival Paul found some disciples of John who received John’s baptism. He asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They said, “No, we do not even know if there is a Holy Spirit,” (Acts 19:2-3). Paul laid hands on these formerly pagan, Gentiles and they received the Holy Spirit (as the Jews did at Pentecost in Acts 2, the Samaritans did in Acts 8, as the God fearing Gentiles did in Acts 10). So the gospel had gone from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria, and to the utter most parts of the earth, as Jesus promised it would when the Spirit came upon them in power (Acts 1:8).
Then Luke recounts the amazing work of grace wrought by the Holy Spirit through Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, the center of culture and worship of the cultic, pagan goddess Diana. The Temple of Diana was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world (it was 225 feet wide, 425 feet long, with 127 marble pillars supporting the roof, some of which were covered in silver or gold, each 60 feet tall). The church at Ephesus became an “epi-center” church where at least nine more churches were planted in Asia Minor. Demonic possession was addressed and put down by the gospel. Those engaged in witchcraft repented and put away their idols to serve the true and living God. The silversmiths lost business because so many were converting to Christ and no longer buying the silver trinkets of the goddess. A riot broke out in the local sports stadium, lasting two hours, as the city fathers tried to stir up resentment toward Paul and the gospel, seeking to garner support for the goddess. An amazing transformation took place there.
How did it happen? While on his way to Jerusalem, after completing his third journey, Paul called for the Ephesian elders to meet him at Miletus. He then reminded them of his ministry among them, how he labored in humility and tears, facing opposition and persecution from the Jews and Gentiles, how he did not shrink from declaring anything profitable to them, how he publicly and from door to door preached repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, not counting his own life as dear to himself so that he may carry out God’s call upon his life, namely to testify solemnly of the grace of God in Christ Jesus (Acts 20:17-24).
But why was this ministry successful? The only explanation is the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
My brethren, you must ask for the Holy Spirit. After all, you are carrying this glorious gospel message in your earthen vessel—your frail, weak, fleshly body. After all, the gospel is veiled to the unbelieving by the devil so that they cannot see the glory of God in Christ Jesus. After all, this gospel you preach is a savor of life to some and a savor of death to others. Who is sufficient for these things? You have agnostics, atheists, vile and immoral sinners, self-righteous, religious, and irreligious people in your communities. How possibly can you reach them—by your good looks, your winsome personality, your great music ministry, your wonderful master plan, your gifted expository preaching, your theological acumen, your years of experience in ministry? What are these in the face of unbelief and hostility to gospel truth?
My friends, you must have the Spirit and you must ask for Him. When asked, Jesus taught His disciples to pray using the Lord’s Prayer. He illustrated the need for persistence, and drove home His point by saying, “Ask and you shall receive. Seek and you shall find. Knock and the door shall be opened to you.” He then applied it powerfully by saying, “If you, being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him,” (Luke 11:1-13). Persistence in prayer, magnified by asking, seeking, and knocking, promises to yield the Spirit’s presence and power.
You must have the Spirit. You must ask for the Spirit. When you sin against God you are grieving, quenching, or resisting the Spirit. What, then, must you do? You must see your sin and run to Jesus for the grace of forgiveness and restoration. Plead the mercies of God and the covenant of grace. He is a God to you and you are a people to Him (Jeremiah 31:33).
What results from the Spirit’s presence and power? At the very least you will experience personal revival. You will find an increased joy, boldness, power, and efficacy in your daily walk and ministry. You will find that the Spirit will go before you, preparing open doors of ministry, making you a catalyst for help, comfort, sanctification, conversion, or whatever work of grace the Spirit sovereignly designs to accomplish. You may see something similar happen to your friends or family members, to your church if you are a pastor or elder. In other words, you may find God coming down upon your church or community in a mini-revival. And then, perhaps God in His great and tender mercy will visit us again with showers of blessing, an outpouring of the Spirit on the dry, parched ground of the western world, a place where once the revival fires burned brightly, altering the landscapes of our nations.
By all means, hold onto your Reformed Theology, read your good, theological books, but realize mere preaching, planning, programs, and personalities will never bring the change so desperately needed. You must have the Spirit and you can have Him today, everyday, if you want Him, if you seek Him in repentance and faith.
I aim to expand on this in more detail next week.