Why the baptism of the Holy Spirit today is different from Acts

Much preaching today in the Church assures us that God loves us and wants to bless us. Jesus died to forgive us of our sins, and if we repent and put our faith in Him we are born again as God’s children. His blessing will then be ours, abounding in every area of our lives on earth as well. In that way later on we will be a “blessing to all nations” through the preaching and extension of the gospel throughout the world.

Such is the logic of much popular preaching today. God loves us very much and wants to bless us in every way. We should believe in Him. Then we will be “blessed to be a blessing.”

In some circles we are also urged to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. We will speak in unknown tongues. We will experience His love, joy, peace, and presence in an indescribable way. We will be able to enjoy “rivers of living water” (John 7:37-39). Scripture will then teach us how to live and enjoy God’s abundance in every area of our lives, including material blessings. In this way we can finance the preaching of the gospel around the world and in so doing we will become a “blessing to all nations.”

We submit to you that preaching and teaching of this kind has the order backwards.

First of all, what is the primary purpose of the Holy Spirit in our lives?

Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The purpose of the Holy Spirit is clearly to empower us to be witnesses of Jesus Christ throughout the world. We are to preach the gospel to all creation in fulfillment of what we call “The Great Commission”—the final commandment Christ gave to His disciples before His ascension to the right hand of the Father.

Matthew 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. 

This then should be the reason why we should want to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It should be for the sake of the kingdom of God, and not for personal blessing and fulfillment.

Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? ….31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 

33  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 

This is what Jesus taught His disciples well before the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came. They were to serve God and not money. They were first to seek his kingdom. They were first to seek to be righteous as He is righteous. They were first to obey the Lord’s commands, and the Lord would provide for their earthly needs. If they kept His commands, He would send the Holy Spirit to help them and be with them forever.

John 14:15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth.

The condition for the disciples to receive the Holy Spirit was that they were keeping his commands—they were first seeking His kingdom and His righteousness in their lives.

This was the background and context behind the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came. On the day the Spirit descended, the disciples were already prepared to receive Him. They already loved their Lord Jesus and were following him. They were already endeavoring to obey His commands with the (limited) light already given them by their Lord. Because of that they received the Holy Spirit in His fullness at Pentecost. After that they changed the known world through the preaching of the gospel.

This runs contrary to much preaching in the Church today. Today believers are taught first to seek God’s blessings in their personal lives. After they are blessed, then they can be a blessing to the nations. Where there are no miracles to draw the people as we see in the gospels in Acts, such an approach is the kind of “marketing” which can draw people. The vacuum left by the lack of the miraculous in the Church can only be filled by tickling people’s ears with feel-good messages.

The order is backwards. This is why the Church is so weak and ineffective in the West. Is this why the baptism of the Holy Spirit today is not as we see it happening in Acts 2?

I was baptized in the Holy Spirit according to Acts 1:8 in 1977, one year after receiving Jesus Christ at a Billy Graham Crusade in Southern California. At that time I was within about a year of receiving my Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology at the University of California. After receiving Christ in 1976, I began going to church faithfully, even to the point of being elected and serving as Chairman of the Board. I was able to resist a certain sin which had been tempting me.

But everything changed the following year in 1977 when I was baptized in the Holy Spirit as the early disciples were at Pentecost. The presence of the Lord and his love for me became so very real.  At times He felt so near to me that I felt I could reach out and literally touch Him. His overwhelming love would cause me to break down and weep in His presence. I just had to tell the whole world of His love.

So I felt compelled to go out walking in our neighborhood in Anaheim, California and to witness for Jesus to whomever I met. Eventually I ordered a powerful portable “Bethany Broadcaster” enabling me to preach the gospel to anyone within a half-mile radius.  I went to the streets of Southern California and blew people away with the live-giving gospel of Jesus Christ. Once I stood outside in front of a Latino apartment complex where with my trusty bullhorn turned up to full volume I preached the gospel in Spanish (which I didn’t know) by reading outloud from a Spanish Four Spiritual Laws I had picked up. On one occasion I put my bullhorn on the hood of my Fiat 128 Sedan and drove out to the streets preaching the gospel to cars to which I would pull up alongside. Once I went to downtown Los Angeles and stationed myself at a very busy intersection. There for several seconds I preached the gospel to the crowd of people on the other side of the intersection who were waiting for the traffic light to turn before crossing the street.

This was how the Holy Spirit transformed a shy, quiet Asian-American man.

The fire within me to tell others about Jesus was so intense that I wanted to preach the gospel to people who had never ever heard the gospel—and moreover had no chance at all to hear it. Overseas especially in the Third World there are billions of such precious souls.

And so in 1978, after having known Jesus for two years, I took my wife and went to Indonesia—the fourth most populous nation on earth with more Muslims than any other country. Through the Holy Spirit the Lord had given me radical faith to trust him to provide for our needs and to open the way for us. And so we left for the mission field without financial support from any church, without the benefit of a missionary organization to train and send us, and without any invitation from anyone in Indonesia. We had no idea of what we were going to do after arriving in Indonesia. We simply trusted the Lord.

And God was faithful to open the way for us to preach the gospel and make disciples over nearly nine years in primitive regions of Indonesia. Through His Spirit the Lord taught us how to heal the sick and cast out demons effectively as irrefutable evidence to the lost that Jesus is the Messiah—just as Jesus promised in John 14:11-12.

All of this was made possible because I had been baptized with the Holy Spirit as Jesus had promised Acts 1:8. This is the magnificent grace of God in operation on someone who by nature is shy and quiet.

Today in 2021 we have preached and trained many thousands of disciples in 50 countries—and counting. Through these Elijah Challenge-trained servants of God, millions have come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

God is so very, very good.

-Founder of The Elijah Challenge