SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSONS
Commentary by Walter Albritton
Embracing the Power and Guidance of the Holy Spirit
Key Verse: Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. – Acts
Hurricanes like Katrina can cut off our electric power supply and make life miserable. Our lives are geared to the use of electricity. But usually power is restored within a few days so we call this a temporary inconvenience.
However, trying to live for Christ without the power of the Holy Spirit is a major problem. This is because God’s plan for Christian discipleship requires the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We dare not leave home without Him for without Him we are powerless!
When the electric power lines are down, most of us can do nothing but wait. It is a problem we cannot fix. However, there is something we can do when the Spirit’s power is missing from our lives. This is a problem God can fix if we will follow the plan given to us in the Scriptures. Think of the plan not as a magical formula but as a promise of God offered to everyone who believes.
God’s promise is truth but, like medicine, it must be applied to our lives before it can help us. Because the Bible is the Word of God, what Peter said to his hearers long ago, he says to us today. Those who applied Peter’s words to their own lives, or “welcomed his message,” were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Their sins were forgiven and they, each one, received the gift of the Holy Spirit. From that day forward, life was different for they had encountered and embraced the Holy Spirit!
Pastors do people a disservice when they allow them to “join the church” without also inviting them to embrace the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Some will disagree; they say, “No, joining the church is simply Step One. Later on they can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” There is merit in this position – but only if the pastor is quite unwilling to accept church membership as sufficient. The emptiness, frustration, and powerlessness of multitudes of church members can only be resolved by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. His presence comes only in response to surrender, repentance, baptism, forgiveness, and a willingness to receive the gift of the Spirit. Study will not result in a Spirit-filled life. Pleading with God in agonizing prayer will not bring it about. Surrender is the only way – surrender that results in genuine repentance and obedience to what Peter said on the day of Pentecost.
Break down the key verse and examine it as a “many splendered thing.” It is beautiful but not complicated.
First, repent. Repent of your sins. To repent truly is to turn around and go in the opposite direction. Biblically, to repent is much more than a feeling of remorse. Some dictionaries define repentance with the word “regret,” but God requires change. You can never get “right with God” by regretting that you have done wrong; God insists that you “turn from” your sins.
Second, be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Baptism requires humility and surrender. It may seem foolish to the rational mind to submit oneself to such a ritual. However, to humbly submit to God in baptism symbolizes your willingness to give up managing your life and let God have the steering wheel. Why must you be baptized? Peter explains why – “so that your sins may be forgiven.”
Third, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Observe the strong word “will.” Peter does not say that you may receive the gift; he says you will. Your part is to exercise faith. Believe that you have received the gift of the Spirit. Do not wait for “signs” or proof; believe it now, the very moment you accept and apply the truth of this promise to your life. By faith, believe it because God is faithful. He never fails to keep his promises.
Observe that in the experience of receiving salvation you receive the gift, not the gifts, of the Holy Spirit. Our great joy should be in knowing that the Giver has come into our hearts. The Giver gives us gifts, “as He wills,” as He determines which gifts He wants us to have. Then as we live in obedience to his indwelling presence, He produces the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Never strive to produce the fruit of the Spirit. Follow the example of the apple tree; it quietly cooperates with its Maker’s plan and produces fruit normally and naturally in due season.
Be careful not to think of the gift of the Holy Spirit as an “it” or anything other than a person. Never ask another believer, “Do you have it?” The Holy Spirit is a Person, not an extraordinary emotional experience. When He comes into your heart, you know that He is there, and that, of course, may produce genuine emotional feelings. We are emotional beings, and for that we can thank God. But the Spirit remains a Person with whom we can have a growing and joyous relationship.
Some people speak of the Spirit in almost quantitative terms, as though one person may have five gallons and another only half a pint. This confuses our understanding of the Spirit. What may make one person appear more “full” of the Holy Spirit than another is actually the degree of surrender. One is fully devoted to Christ while another is still at a kindergarten level of surrender.
The decisive question is not how much of the Holy Spirit do I have, but how much of me does the Holy Spirit have? The more of myself I am willing to give to Him, the more of Himself He gives me. All the while I am learning that the Spirit-filled life is the only life for me. It alone allows me to be continually transformed, guided, and sanctified by power of the One who lives within me. Glory!
+ + + (Contact Walter at firstname.lastname@example.org)