The Promise of the Holy Spirit – Part 4

The Promised Outpouring upon Believers

In the previous three posts from our concluding study on the promise of the outpoured Holy Spirit from the prophet Joel, we have seen that the promise was first to Christ the Messiah (Anointed One) as He was endowed with the Holy Spirit without measure through His incarnation, baptism, and ascension. Then we saw that the promise of the Spirit was to proceed from Christ to His disciples, subsequently manifested to them at Pentecost. Here we want to recall that when the Spirit arrived in the upper room, accompanying sights, sounds, and signs (tongues), it was not a salvific event. In other words, this manifestation of the Spirit among those in the upper room (likely 120) was not the Spirit coming in His ministry of regeneration, rather it was in His ministry of empowerment. In this way, Pentecost is a unique event that serves as a launching point for the advancement of the gospel of Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. In this post, we will return to the scene at Pentecost to observe how the fulfilled promise of the Holy Spirit outpoured upon the disciples was to be extended to all believers as a gift of the New Covenant.

Using once again the passage from Joel quoted by Peter in his Pentecostal sermon, we find that the prophecy was not limited to fulfillment by the disciples, now apostles, but was indeed to be given to all flesh, subsequently defined through the use of various societal categories such as, “sons and your daughters…your young men…your old men…my male servants and female servants” (Acts 2:17-18). The substance of this promise, again which was inaugurated at Pentecost, indicated that the promised outpouring of the Spirit was to be widespread.

As we saw last time, the conclusion of Peter’s sermon demanded a response
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Acts 2:37b-41
The required response was necessitated by the hearers being cut to the heart. This conviction of sin in the heart is specifically a work of the Spirit as promised by our Lord in John 16:8-11 and is the control of the passage, as we will see. Here too we find further fulfillment of the Holy Spirit promise in that it was to be extended to those who repent and are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, implying faith, for the forgiveness of their sins (vs. 38). Again we see the relationship between the Holy Spirit and water, as we have previously seen, specifically the waters of baptism.

Here, a point of clarification is warranted to help us navigate the relationship of baptism with the forgiveness of sins and the giving of the Spirit. For this we need to keep in mind the control of verse 37 mentioned above. Some have taken this passage to mean that the act of baptism saves or is at least necessary for the forgiveness of sins. In other words, it is not calling out to the Lord in repentance for mercy and forgiveness of sin as a result of the convicting work of the Spirit and trusting in Christ as Savior for the only hope of redemption, rather it is the actual work of baptism that acts as the pathway for forgiveness (sometimes combined with profession, i.e. upon profession baptism is immediately required to complete the work of salvation). Numerous denominations promote the teaching of baptismal regeneration, not the least of which is the Roman Catholic Church (Catechism 1265), many Orthodox Churches, as well as Lutheran, Methodist, Anglican, and some among the Churches of Christ (also included in the list would be the LDS Church). In fact, on just shear numbers alone it would appear that baptismal regeneration is the majority belief. So is this correct? Is the Holy Spirit given at baptism, along with the forgiveness of sin essentially regenerating the heart with this one act?

No.

The immediate context is clear that repentance is necessary (Acts 2:38) and it is again clear that the only way for someone to realize that repentance is necessary is through the convicting work of the Spirit as seen in verse 37. To further emphasize, once the word of God was sent forth it was the work of the Spirit that convicted or pricked the heart of the hearers. They did not in and of themselves conclude that they needed to repent, it was indeed an entire work of grace by the Holy Spirit. Repentance requires an act of volitional will literally implying a turning or changing the direction of the mind. Because of the corrupted nature of the mind with which we are all born, condemned and guilty before the Holy God, our mind/will is enslaved to sin. Yes, we have volitional free will, but that will is towards sin, not God. The only remedy is a new will, the product of a new heart or mind and that can only come by means of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Said simply, Peter’s command here to repent can only be obeyed by a heart that has been renewed/regenerated/reborn through the efficacious work of the Holy Spirit.

Secondly, as the passage is summarized we find in verse 41 that those who received the word were subsequently baptized. Received simply means to accept what is offered. The gift is held out and received with gladness. Reception of the gift, in this case salvation, is the product of faith alone apart from any work of the flesh including baptism. Supporting this, we also note in our context Acts 2:44, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common” affirming for us that faith and its counterpart repentance are necessary for salvation. Third, the phrase connecting repentance with the forgiveness of sins is not novel to Peter’s sermon, rather it is a clear reference to the words of our Lord as He commissions His disciples just prior to His ascension,
45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. Luke 24:45-47
Fourth and finally, baptism is not for the forgiveness of sins, rather it is because of the forgiveness of sins. The construction of the sentence, somewhat veiled in translations like the ESV, implies that while repentance was for them all and each one was individually commanded to be baptized, the command is to be baptized into the forgiveness of sins. Grammatically, that’s a bit clunky and confusing, so it is better rendered because of the forgiveness of sins. With this clarification before us, we turn our attention now to the controversial Acts 2:39.
For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Acts 2:39
Initially we observe that there is a promise. Then that this promise is extended to three cases: you, your children, for all who are far off. Next, these cases are conditioned by the phrase, “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself”. First we need to determine what is meant by the promise, which is critical to a proper interpretation.

We ought to recall that this entire passage from Acts 2 on the occasion of Pentecost had the prophecy from Joel 2 as its foundation and indeed given the events of the rushing Spirit, flames of fire, and speaking in tongues, Peter helpfully interprets the promised Spirit from Joel as being fulfilled in that day. Then, the promise of this Spirit is not limited to the disciples, but is extended to all those who repent and are baptized in the name of Jesus, qualified as we have seen. The promised Spirit from Joel, given first to the Son, then to His disciples, is now available to all those who have heard the word of God sound forth from Peter, and who respond in repentance, faith, and the obedience of baptism. We can begin to see then that the promise mentioned in Acts 2:39 concerns the giving of the promised Spirit. The promised gift of the Spirit is given to those who repent, believe, and are baptized (more on this later). Three cases then follow indicating that the promised Spirit is not limited to those present at Pentecost (you), but is for your children.

There are at least three different ways to take this next phrase. First is that it has in mind the immediate children of those who have just heard the word and are called to repent and believe. This interpretation is possible, however those who practice paedobaptism (the baptism of infants) include infants in the definition of children. In isolation, it is perfectly true that those present at Pentecost may have had children and that those children may have included infants. Additionally, it would no less be true that the promise of the Spirit would be for them as well, upon the condition of hearing and responding to the word through the conviction of the Spirit with faith and repentance as we have seen. However, here the paedobapist disconnects from the immediate context to insert their own understanding that the promise is that of the Abrahamic Covenant and that it extends to the children of believers as did circumcision of old. Second, children may refer here simply to future generations to whom the promise of the Spirit would extend upon the work of the Spirit in the heart and the response of faith and repentance. Third, what may actually be in view here is the fulfillment of Joel’s prophetic words which are qualified to show that the promise is not limited by person hood or societal status
“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. Acts 2:17-18a
As seen above, in Joel’s original prophecy, the fulfillment of the promised Spirit was pointing towards sons and daughters, young men and old men, male and female servants. So far in our study we have seen that the promise of the Spirit was first an outpouring upon Christ – a significant but unique event with our Lord. Then, we’ve seen that Christ promised to send His Spirit upon His to empower them for ministry. This unique event occurred at Pentecost and was a direct fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. Finally, we are beginning to see that as a direct result of the Spirit empowerment upon the apostles, the Word of God went forth and hearers were convicted, regenerated, and responded with repentance, faith, and the outward testimony of the Spirit’s work, baptism.

With this in mind, there is one additional connection that needs to be made concerning the outpouring of the Spirit upon believers and for all who are far off, namely the prophetic command from our Lord to His disciples that they would be His witnesses.

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Christian saved by grace through faith.

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