The Holy Spirit is the distinguishing mark of the believer in Jesus Christ. Christians do not earn the right to have the Holy Spirit; they are given the Spirit. Therefore, our main responsibility as Christians is to receive. Christianity is distinctive in this sense – it is primarily a religion of receiving. The reason for this is that the Christian life cannot be lived by one’s own strength; it is lived by the power of the Holy Spirit. The only function of faith is to receive what grace offers. We are saved by grace alone through faith. And it is equally true that the Christian life is lived by grace alone through faith. God lives in and through us by means of his Spirit. The miraculous and the supernatural cannot, obviously, be done by any human person. It can, however, be accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We put a lot of pressure on ourselves, me included, to be a certain way and to do certain things. The result is that we are tired. And every time we catch our breath, someone else needs something else. But what if Christianity were not mostly about giving, but about receiving? What if the Christian life were really all about putting ourselves in a position to receive what God has for us through prayer and humility? You see, the opposite of receiving is not giving but pride.
Maybe this kind of talk makes you feel uncomfortable. I am not talking here about being passive or lazy, but about receiving grace from God by means of the Holy Spirit and allowing God the Spirit to do what he wants to do in and through us for his own purposes and glory. Jesus said we would do greater works than even he himself with the advent of the Spirit! The question then becomes: Will we let God do this? Will we participate with God, and allow the Spirit to do his work? Will we, as individuals and churches, petition God and, in essence, write him a blank check so that he can do whatever he wants to do in and through us?
The Spirit is elsewhere in Scripture described as a gentle presence, an encourager, counselor, and comforter. But not at Pentecost – the Spirit is portrayed like wind and fire. Not a gentle breeze, nor a warm campfire but a violent presence. The Holy Spirit in Acts 2 is not some gentleman caller coming politely into our lives when invited. Instead, he appears more like a drunken sailor who bursts into the room and causes and big ruckus. There is nothing subtle about the Spirit at Pentecost. He is electric and volcanic, causing a huge upheaval. This is a big God with a big Word looking to expand out into a big world.
Because of Pentecost, true believers are marked and defined by God’s Spirit living within them and being full of the Spirit. So, what does God want to do? He wants to pour out his Spirit on all kinds of people. He wants to fill people to overflowing so that what comes out of them is “prophecy” (Acts 2:14-21). By “prophecy” Joel and Peter do not mean predicting the future, but inspired speech and words coming from a spiritual heart full of the Spirit. Just as an inebriated person says and does things he/she would not typically say or do because they are filled with alcohol, so the person filled with God’s Spirit says things and does things that they would not typically say or do because their inspiration and courage do not come from themselves but is a result of God within them.
God transformed this little band of people in Acts 2 from learners, to ones sent out with a mission. Being on a mission from God is not about feeling adequate; it is about being filled and sent. First time parents may learn and read and find out all they can about parenting before their child is born, but when that little bundle comes into the world and the hospital puts this kid in your arms and sends you out you feel pretty inadequate for the task. Parenting becomes a kind of supernatural affair where you learn and pray on the fly, finding out that you need something beyond yourself to get anywhere in raising this screaming, pooping, sleeping person who depends completely on you for everything.
God has sent us into the world to make disciples and we may feel pretty inadequate for the task. But this has more to do with receiving the Spirit. The Spirit comes looking to impact the world not in some small way but with turning the world upside-down with new life in Jesus Christ.
In light of Pentecost, God’s agenda for his people is not to simply have nice worship services among nice people so we can live nice lives in the world. The Spirit came to shake things up and do among God’s people what they could never do on their own. The church in the New Testament was not formed as a country club for people to simply enjoy the perks of membership. The church in Acts 2 is more like a place where the people seem drunk because they are all talking with inspired speech from the Holy Spirit.
It all begins with receiving. If our hands are continually making fists and fighting other believers then we are not in a position to receive the Spirit. But if our hands are open, palms up, then we are ready to have the Spirit come and be the Wild Person he came to be, just like a tornado and a blazing fire. If there is something the Church needs more than anything else today it is someone: the Holy Spirit. Come, Holy Spirit, we need you.