“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
All that we have written so far about the Day of Pentecost comes down to one final question, “How do the truths revealed at Pentecost apply to us today?” Before we answer this question, we must lay a proper foundation.
COMPLETE IN CHRIST
It has often been said that walking in the truth is like walking on a narrow road with a ditch on both sides and that the believer is in constant danger of falling off either side.1 This is especially true with regard to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. On one side, there are those who argue that the believer is indwelt with the Holy Spirit at conversion, and therefore, should simply walk by faith in that truth without seeking anything more. There are others who claim that the believer is incomplete until he or she has been baptized or filled with the Holy Spirit and that such an experience must be evidenced by some sign or wonder. It is the author’s opinion that both of these camps have fallen into opposite ditches.
The Scriptures clearly teach that the believer is complete in Christ, regenerated, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. There is no Scriptural evidence to support the belief that a person can be a genuine believer in Christ and yet without the Spirit. The Apostle Paul wrote, “But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him,”2 and “all those who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.”3
The believer is complete in Christ in that he or she is fully justified before God and is indwelt by the Spirit of God. There is no such thing as a second-class Christian or a higher category of Christian who stands above the rest because of some extraordinary knowledge or spiritual experience. Our standing, position, and glory are all found in Christ and His atoning work on our behalf.
THE REALITY OF OUR ONGOING NEED
Having laid the foundation stone of our completeness in Christ, we must now ask ourselves a very important question:
“To what degree can we identify with the many statements in the New Testament that describe the Spirit’s life and power in the life and ministry of the early church?”
Jesus promised His disciples that the Spirit would flow from their innermost being like rivers of living water,4 and He commanded them to wait in Jerusalem until they were clothed, arrayed, or endued with power from on high.5 The Apostle Paul declared that he labored according to the power of God that mightily worked in him,6 and that his message and preaching “were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”7 Finally, Paul prayed that the eyes of all believers might be opened to the surpassing greatness of God’s power toward them; a power that is in accordance with the working of the strength of God’s might which was revealed in the resurrection of Christ from the dead.8
In light of these texts, which have a direct application to all believers of every generation, we must seriously and honestly ask ourselves: “To what degree is the Spirit’s life and power manifested in our own lives and ministries?” “To what degree are the above texts present realities in our lives?” As we have already attempted to show, these great promises cannot be relegated to only the first century or only to the Apostles! They belong to the church, and yet the church and the great majority of her ministers seem to be but a faint reflection of such life and power. We know that the problem is not with God or His promises. Therefore, it must be with us. What is the reason for such a drought of the Spirit’s power, even in the most devoted and committed of God’s servants?
One of the great truths of Christianity is that our completeness in Christ is not grounds for passivity, nor does it suggest that what we have in Christ does not need to be appropriated. In other words, we may possess many things in Christ that are not full or present realities in our lives. Do all believers possess a certain degree of the knowledge of God? Yes, but should we not all seek a greater knowledge of God and desire that this knowledge should become a greater reality in our lives?9 Absolutely! Are all believers recipients of grace? Yes, but are we not to grow in grace? Does not even the Apostle Peter pray that grace and peace be multiplied to those who believe!10
As with knowledge, grace, and so many other gifts from God, the Holy Spirit has been given to us, and yet, we should be constantly seeking that this gift becomes a greater reality in our lives and that there be greater and greater manifestations of His life and power in us. In Luke 11:13, Jesus gave a great promise to the church:
“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?”
There is so much unnecessary confusion and debate surrounding the meaning and application of this text. We receive the Holy Spirit at the moment of conversion. Why then should we ask for the Holy Spirit if He has already been given? The answer is clearly and powerfully set forth in a sermon on Luke 11:11-13 from Charles Spurgeon:
“Did we not hear some time ago from certain wise brethren that we were never to pray for the Spirit? I think I heard it said often, ‘We have the Holy Spirit, and therefore we are not to pray for Him.’ Like that other declaration from certain men of the same brotherhood, that we have pardon of sin, and are not to pray for it, just as if we were never to pray for what we have! If we have life, we are to pray that we have it more abundantly. If we have pardon in one respect we are to ask for a fuller sense of it; and if we have the Holy Spirit so that we are quickened, and saved, we do not ask for Him in that capacity, but we ask for His power in other directions, and for His grace in other forms. I do not go before God now and say, ‘Lord, I am a dead sinner, quicken me by Thy Spirit,’ for I trust I am quickened of His Spirit; but being quickened I now cry, ‘Lord, let not the life Thou hast given me ebb down till it becomes very feeble, but give me of Thy Spirit that the life within me may become strong and mighty, and may subdue all the power of death within my members, that I may put forth the vigor and energy which come from Thyself through the Spirit.’ O you that have the Spirit, you are the very men to pray that you may experience more of His matchless operations and gracious influences, and in all the benign sanctity of His indwelling may seek that yet more and more you may know Him. You have this as your encouragement that God will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him.”11
It is important to note that the Reformed, Puritan, and older evangelical ministers did not interpret Luke 11:13 as a reference to a single post-conversion experience, but they regarded it as a promise for the believer’s whole life to encourage him or her to continually cry out for greater and greater manifestations of the Spirit’s life and power. The jewel to be sought in this promise is not a display of “signs and wonders,” but the power to live a godly life and to be a witness for Christ to the world. Ashbel Green writes, “You cannot desire more encouragement than is here given you, to ask earnestly and perseveringly [for] the influence and aid of that Almighty Agent.”12 The following excerpts from some of the most respected ministers of the past support this conclusion:13
Jonathan Edwards: “The Scriptures do not only direct and encourage us, in general, to pray for the Holy Spirit above all things else; but it is the expressly revealed will of God, that His church should be very much in prayer for that glorious outpouring of the Spirit, which is to be in the latter days, and for what shall be accomplished by it.”14
George Smeaton: “No more mischievous and misleading theory could be propounded, nor any more dishonoring to the Holy Spirit, than the principle that because the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost the Church has no need, and no warrant, to pray for effusions of the Spirit of God. On the contrary, the more the Church asks for the Spirit and waits for His communications, the more she receives.”15
J.L. Dagg: “When our humbled hearts plead that God would, in the exceeding riches of His grace, grant us His Holy Spirit, to renew and sanctify us, and fit us for His service, our petitions rise with acceptance to the ear of the Lord of hosts.”16
Matthew Henry: “The gift of the Holy Ghost is a gift we are every one of us concerned earnestly and constantly to pray for.”17
Thomas Boston: “Wherefore breathe, pant, and long for the Spirit of Christ”18
John Owen: “This is the daily work of believers. If, therefore, our life to God, or the joy of that life, be considerable (i.e., large), in this we are to abound, – to ask Him of the Father, as children do of their parents daily bread.”19
Richard Sibbes: “Take a man that hath the ‘earnest’ of the Spirit, you shall have him defy death, the world, Satan, and all temptations. Take a man that is negligent in laboring to increase his earnest, you shall have him weak.”20
Thomas Murphy: “Not a day, then, should pass without the pastor carrying this petition before the throne, and wrestling for the Holy Spirit to come and baptize him afresh, and baptize him thoroughly, with his sanctifying influences. In urging this petition he should never become weary or discouraged or satiated, or so familiar with the request that it will lose its fervency. When he is praying for the influences of the Holy Spirit, he is praying for more holiness of life, for more of the mind of Christ, for more of the image of God, for more power with men, for everything which as a Christian and Christian minister he should desire.”21
Above every other need on the mission field is that of missionaries who cling to the sufficiency of the Scriptures, preach in season and out, live a life of prayer, and imitate Christ. Yet none of these things are possible apart from the Spirit’s life and power. Every challenge that confronts us and every personal weakness that hinders us should drive us to cry out for a greater measure of the Spirit’s manifest life, power, and wisdom.
There are so many ridiculous, absurd, and dangerous things that are now taught and done in the name of the Holy Spirit by men who known nothing of His true presence and power. However, this should not cause us to neglect the Spirit, deny our need of Him, or hinder us from seeking greater measures of His power for godliness and ministry.
No matter what ministry God may assign you on the mission field, you are not up for the task. Your studies, intellect, sincerity, and dedication will amount to nothing apart from the Spirit’s aid. Never forget, the Acts of the Apostles is actually the Acts of the Spirit through them. It is for this reason that I join my feeble voice to the voices of the men that are recorded in this article, and with them, I implore you to always cry out for greater measures of the Spirit’s life and power. Make it a matter of constant, deliberate, earnest, and believing prayer. As Thomas Boston wrote, “Breathe, pant, and long for the Spirit of Christ.”22
- I first heard this truth years ago in a sermon from Conrad Murrel. I do not recall the title of the sermon, but I will never forget the wisdom contained in it. He said that walking in falsehood was easy because the road was so broad. But walking in the truth was like walking on the edge of a razor blade, and a Christian could easily fall from one side or the other. I do not know if the thought originated with Brother Murrel or if he heard it from another. My purpose is only to declare that the thought did not originate with me.
- Romans 8:9
- Romans 8:14
- John 7:38
- Luke 24:49
- Colossians 1:29
- I Corinthians 2:4
- Ephesians 1:18-20
- Hosea 6:3 – “So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord.”
- II Peter 1:2
- Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol.16, p.620-21
- Shorter Catechism, Vol.1, p.92
- These quotes have been taken in part from Ian Murray’s excellent work “Pentecost Today?” Of all the books that have been written on this subject, I recommend Murray’s work above them all.
- Works, Vol.2, p.290
- Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, p.255
- Manual of Theology, p.261
- Matthew Henry Commentary, Vol.5, p.695
- Works Vol.11, p.168
- Works, Vol.2, p.272
- Complete Works, Vol.5, p.402
- Pastoral Theology, p.67-68
- Works Vol.11, p.168
Paul is the founder of HeartCry Missionary Society and currently serves as its missions director. He also ministered as a missionary in Peru for ten years. He has preached hundreds of sermons and has authored a dozen published works. Paul lives in Radford, Virginia, with his wife Charo and their four children: Ian, Evan, Rowan, and Bronwyn.More By Paul David Washer