The Mark of True Believers

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The book of Acts is full of strange occurences that can be very difficult for us to understand. For instance, how is Philip seemingly teleported from the road to Gaza where he met, witnessed to, and baptizes the Ethiopian eunuch, to Azotus, a coastal town, where he continues to share the gospel? How is Peter miraculously delivered from his prison cell in the middle of the night, but Paul and Silas remain in theirs in Philippi? The Holy Spirit has a way of doing things one way, but then does them another way and it makes it difficult for us to understand exactly what He is up to. But we have to remember that God’s usual pattern is to do that which we do not expect. But when it comes to forming a theology of God, more specifically the Holy Spirit, we must be careful to form our theology, that is our belief and understanding based solely on the book of Acts. It is a transitional book and things take place here that do not seem to occur in the world we live in today. The passage we are going to look at today is a puzzling story and has led to much controversy in understanding the role of the Holy Spirit, when he comes upon a believer, what this means for salvation, and more specifically, how we might understand the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues.
As we dive in, you will recall that last week Paul was in Athens spreading the gospel to the common worker and the philosophy juggernauts at Mars Hill, otherwise known as the Areopagus. God had gifted Paul with the ability to communicate effectively to a wide audience. He was crafty in contextualizing the gospel for his audiences. He left Athens and went to Corinth, then to Cechrea, then Ephesus, but he doesn’t stay in Ephesus very long. You’ll recall from our series on the seven churches of Revelation that Ephesus is on the western end of modern-day Turkey. Paul leaves Ephesus and returns to Caesarea, then back to Antioch, concluding his second missionary journey. During his third missionary journey, Paul returns to Ephesus in Acts chapter 19 and that is where this very peculiar instance takes place.
Acts 19:1–7 NASB95
It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. There were in all about twelve men.
This is such a strange story and I feel it has been misconstrued over the ages. Here there are twelve men called disciples. Nineteen chapters into the book of Acts, we begin to presume that disciple refers to a follower of Jesus. But then Paul asks them if they received the Holy Spirit and they respond by saying they didn’t even know there was a Holy Spirit. This seems odd, because each of the four gospels records, Matt. 3:11, Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; and John 1:33, John the Baptist saying that the One coming after him will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. So we can see that this was a part of John the Baptist’s teaching. It appears that these disciples are not yet disciples of Jesus, but disciples of John. Perhaps they missed the part about the Holy Spirit or maybe they forgot. Whatever the reason, they were unaware by the time Paul arrived that there was a baptism of the Holy Spirit. Paul then explains that John the Baptist’s teaching pointed to Jesus, and at that statement, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Paul then lays his hands on them and the Holy Spirit comes on all of them and we see they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.
This encounter is unusual because it raises a lot of questions. How can these men be disciples if they do not have the Holy Spirit? How could anyone believe and not receive the Holy Spirit? How are we to understand the gifts of speaking in tongues and prophecy today?
Let’s revisit the references to the coming of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts thus far.
Acts 2:1-12 - Holy Spirit comes on all in upper room, signified by speaking in tongues, which were real, intelligible foreign languages the audience could hear and understand.
Acts 8:14-24 - Samaritans come to faith. Holy Spirit comes only through laying of hands from apostles later on. No mention of speaking in tongues.
Acts 8:36-39 - Ethiopian eunuch believes and is baptized, but no mention of the coming of the Holy Spirit or speaking in tongues.
Acts 9:3-6, 18-19 - Paul believes in Christ, receives water baptism, but no mention of Holy Spirit or speaking in tongues.
Acts 10:44-48 - Cornelius’ household believes, receives the Holy Spirit, evidenced by speaking in tongues. No indication of what sort of tongues they were.
Acts 11:19-30 - People in Antioch believe, but no mention of the Holy Spirit or speaking in tongues.
Acts 16 - Philippian jailer believes, is baptized, but no speaking in tongues.
What are we to make of these things? There seems to be no consistent pattern to how the Holy Spirit comes on a person, when the Holy Spirit comes on a person, or if speaking in tongues is evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit in every case.
The reason this is an issue is because there are some who claim that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a subsequent act of God on a believer that happens after conversion. This is part of Pentecostal theology and can be seen in several Christian denominations. It is suggested that this baptism of the Holy Spirit can take place shortly after one converts or any time after one converts to Christianity. In their view, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is always evidenced by the gift of speaking in tongues. If one has not been baptized in the Holy Spirit, he is not saved. Many who follow Pentecostal theology believe that all the gifts of the Spirit are available to every believer today. I believe these points as stated are unbiblical.
In the Pentecostal or charismatic movements within Christianity, what passes for speaking in tongues today is on the level of incoherent chants of sorts that is really difficult to describe. If you have witnessed this, you know what I am talking about. People are speaking but it sounds more like gibberish than an actual language. This is also seen done in groups, which without an interpreter is unbiblical according to 1 Corinthians 14:27-28
1 Corinthians 14:27–28 NASB95
If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that there is a heavenly prayer language people can use to speak to God. If there is no one around in a group setting to interpret those words, which is the case in most churches today, then the speaking in tongues is prohibited.
The subject of spiritual gifts and their use is addressed rather extensively in 1 Corinthians 12-14. In these three chapters, the Greek word for tongue is used 21 times. Paul only uses this word three other times in all of the 13 letters he wrote. The term is used fifty times in all of the New Testament. This means that just under half of these references are attributed to Paul. In every instance the Greek word for tongue refers either to the physical tongue or discernable human language. There is no reference except maybe one of a language not spoken by human beings and that is 1 Cor. 13:1.
1 Corinthians 13:1 NASB95
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
Is there a language angels speak before God that we don’t know? Perhaps, but even if there were, every instance of angels speaking, even in the throne room of heaven, is discernable by the ones who are observing it.
However we go about interpreting 1 Corinthians 12-14, we can be sure that because every other instance of the word tongue in the New Testament refers either to one’s physical tongue or a real human language, the tongue in these chapters likely do too.
So what are we to make of this and of what is taking place in Acts 19?
There appears to be no set pattern for how and when the Holy Spirit came upon a person when he or she believed in Jesus in the book of Acts. He came at various times and in various ways.
The men in Acts 19 were disciples of John, not Jesus. Only when they were told about Jesus did the Holy Spirit come.
Speaking in tongues is not a universal experience, and therefore cannot be the mark of having received Him.
1 Corinthians 12 explains no one person has all the gifts or that everyone shares in the same gift.
1 Corinthians 12:28–30 NASB95
And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?
Since speaking in tongues cannot be an experience shared by all believers, any teaching suggesting that it can must be rejected. Rather,

The mark of a true believer in Christ is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit evidenced by the fruit of repentance and manifestation of spiritual gifts.

Paul clearly states in Romans 8:9 that if anyone does not have the Holy Spirit, he does not belong to Christ. In 1 John 3:24 John writes that we know we abide in Christ through the Holy Spirit whom He has given. Then Ephesians 1:13 and 4:30 both say that the Holy Spirit seals the believer upon believing. So if we receive the Holy Spirit upon believing we do not receive a part of Him. We receive all of Him. The men in Acts 19 had not received Him because they had not yet believed in Christ. When they believed in Christ, they received the Holy Spirit.
How can you know that you are saved? By knowing you have received the Holy Spirit. How do you know that you have received the Holy Spirit? You must place your faith in the one who sent Him. By believing in Jesus as the Son of God who bought your pardon through offering himself as a sacrifice, you can be saved. The Holy Spirit will come upon you and seal you until the day of redemption. We know that we have the Spirit when we see evidence of repentance and the manifestation of the gifts He has given for the benefit of ourselves, the church, and those He has called us to reach.
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