I had set aside a few days to fast and pray and seek the Lord. I took our camper we owned at the time and parked it outside a friend’s church; having previously procured the key and permission to spend time in prayer in the church. The first morning after my arrival, I was sitting at the desk determined to read the Word. I thought, “Where should I start reading?” (This was before I had a systematic reading program: something I highly recommend!). I decided on John. When I got to verse 33, I received one of my most important revelations. John the Baptist (speaking of Jesus) said, “I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’”
I saw it! Speaking of Jesus, John didn’t say, “He comes to save you; or He comes to help you overcome sin; or live a joyful life.” No, instead he mentions just one thing: “This is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” Think of it! Of all the wonderful things that Jesus came to earth to do, the one single thing that John mentions here about His coming is that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. This speaks volumes to us. Let’s explore the truth further.
After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples and, “breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:22). Later, Luke reports the Lord told them, “I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”(Luke 24:49). Finally, His last words before He ascended into heaven were, “You shall receive power when the Holy spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me.” (Acts 1:8). This is surely something very important!
John’s first declaration of Christ was of His baptizing in the Holy Spirit. Christ’s last words referenced this same baptism. Peter’s first sermon included, “Repent . . . And you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Even Paul’s first words to the Ephesian church in Acts 19:2 were, “Do you read the Bible and go to church?” No! His first words were, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” Surely these many witnesses of Scripture ought to convince us that receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit is the most important experience we can have after salvation. (And, it is an experience subsequent to salvation, or Paul would not have asked the Ephesians if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed!).
I heard a statistic that half of the members in Assembly of God churches have never received the baptism with the Holy Spirit! The Foursquare Church used to require of members that they be an “earnest seeker of the Holy Spirit.” (I haven’t checked lately, but if I were a betting man, I would bet that requirement was removed!). You could go to an average Pentecostal church for a month and not know they believed in the baptism or speaking in tongues! I talked with one woman who attended a church and sang in the choir. I asked her what denomination it was? She didn’t know. But, when she told me the name of the church . . . it was Foursquare!!!! She sang in the choir and didn’t know it was a Foursquare Church! (Aimee Semple McPherson-the founder of the Foursquare Churches-would roll over in her grave!)
Has the church become so “seeker sensitive” that we are no longer “seekers of the Holy Spirit?” Are we afraid that the Holy Spirit might do something to embarrass us all and our attendance might go down? Ludicrous! The Holy Spirit is the one who is helping us win the lost to Christ! I think we need to go back to our roots: the roots of John, Jesus, Peter and Paul’s priorities: that the Holy Spirit in our lives and moving in the midst of His church is a highest goal of us all. Such people are called “Pentecostals.” (People who believe that all the things that happened on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 still happen to Christians today). Pentecostal is a dated and stereotyped term; but its meaning is as fresh as the wind of the Spirit!
Jesus’ words, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” reverberate across the 7 continents and two millennia demanding and answer for the question, “Why is the church not obeying its Lord?” Paul wrote, “Be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph. 5:18). This is a commandment; not a suggestion. Every Christian should make it his or her aim to receive the Spirit and to stay filled with the Spirit.
“Receive the Holy Spirit” is at once a command and an invitation, just as receiving Christ as your personal Lord and Savior is both a command and an invitation. You have received Christ. Have you received the Holy Spirit? And, if not, why not? Jesus said clearly in Luke 11:9-13:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
Jesus said the Father gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask. So, if you haven’t received yet, you haven’t asked (at least not long enough, not sincerely enough or not with enough faith). It does require faith, for Paul wrote, “He that supplies the Spirit to you . . . Does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Gal. 3:5). The clear inference is that we don’t do things to deserve the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We receive it by faith.” The fact that so many Christians no longer are diligently seeking to receive the Holy Spirit is the obvious answer to why so many have not received: to stay a lifelong earnest seeker of the Holy Spirit requires great faith!
“I guess then I don’t have enough faith to receive.” one might be tempted to think. But, remember, faith for things always includes a fight: “earnestly contend for the faith.” (Jude 3) and “Fight the good fight of faith.” (1 Tim. 6:12) prove this truth. Have you stopped fighting the fight of faith? Well; enter the battle again! You have a glorious promise that if you seek you will find. So, get back seeking! How long? Until you receive!
How will you know when you have received? You should not stop seeking until you have received the supernatural ability to speak in tongues as they did in the book of Acts. The Bible never says, “You haven’t received the Holy Spirit unless you speak in tongues.” Nevertheless if we study each time in the book of Acts that anyone was baptized in the Holy Spirit, we will discover ample “proof” that speaking in Tongues is the evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit.
1) The first time anyone received the Holy Spirit; was filled with the Holy Spirit; or was baptized in the Holy Spirit; (all terms are used interchangeably in the New Testament) they spoke with tongues:
“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4). There were other manifestations that day (wind and fire), but the Bible says “They were all (so this experience happened to every single one of them: 120 total) filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues.”
The Greek word translated tongues is “glossolalia” (Greek=to talk in a language). They spoke “as the Spirit gave them utterance.” This wasn’t a language they had learned, yet by the Spirit’s enablement, they spoke. They didn’t even understand what they were saying, but there were many there visiting from other countries who did (because it was a very special day for Jews and proselytes: the Feast of Pentecost).
Some argue that the purpose of tongues was to enable them to preach the gospel to other nations. However, they didn’t preach the gospel with their new “tongue”. V. 11 says instead that they were speaking “the wonderful works of God.” Proof that they weren’t communicating the gospel in other languages is found in verse 12: “They were all amazed and perplexed saying . . . Whatever could this mean?” The visitors knew a miracle was taking place, but they couldn’t understand it all. So, Peter got up and preached the gospel (VV. 14-40) in the language common to all (Greek).
Later, when Paul helped define the purpose of tongues and other gifts of the Spirit, he clarified, “He who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him.” (1 Cor. 14:2). No, the purpose of tongues is not to “speak to men” in their own dialect (except for rare exceptions: there are exceptions to every rule, as Act 2:5-12 demonstrates). Rather, the purpose of tongues is “to speak to God.” Tongues is both an evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit and an ongoing blessing to assist the believer’s prayer life as he “speaks to God” (See 1 Cor. 14:4, Romans 8:26, 27).
2) The Acts 8 new converts of Samaria apparently spoke in tongues. We know this because although Simon had seen miracles of healing and deliverance, he hadn’t offered money to have that gift; yet when the apostles prayed for them and they received the Holy Spirit (V. 17, 18), Simon said, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” Simon had seen something dramatic happen to new converts when they were baptized in the Spirit: more dramatic to him than miracles of healing and demons coming out. Surely he saw an exuberant experience attended by a glowing face speaking in an unlearned tongue! This, of course, is not the definitive answer, but is surely a reasonable one. One thing we know for certain: it wasn’t some invisible, unobservable event. It was dramatic. It caught Simon’s eye. I believe they spoke in tongues! But, there’s more corroboration:
3) Paul the Apostle spoke in tongues. In Acts 9, the Lord sent the disciple Ananias to pray for Paul to “be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (V. 17). Again, although it doesn’t specify in this chapter that Paul spoke with tongues when He was filled, we know he did speak in tongues for he later reported: “I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all.” (1 Cor. 14:18). There had to be a first time for Paul to speak in tongues. The obvious answer as to “when” is that he did so (like those in Acts 2:4) the day that he was “filled with the Holy Spirit.”
4) The House of Cornelius spoke in tongues in Acts 10. V 44: “The Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.” Notice they had to “hear the word” first. I trust as you “hear” the “word” of this teaching, that you to will soon have the Holy Spirit “fall” on you. Not only did they speak in tongues, but this chapter reveals to us the truth that to the apostles, the fact that they spoke with tongues evidenced the fact that they had received the Holy Spirit. Read it yourself . . .
“Those . . . who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:45-47).
Notice that Peter exclaimed, “The gift of the Holy Spirit has been poured out . . . FOR they heard them speak in tongues.” Further, Peter explains that the “have received the Holy Spirit JUST as we have.” There is no question that “tongues” was the common denominator here! If the Apostle Peter used “tongues” as the evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit, dare we today use any other indication than tongues? Can’t we see the wisdom of God in giving us such a clear-cut sign?
5) The Ephesus church spoke in tongues. Paul prayed for the new converts in Ephesus: “And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.” (19:6). Here, a new manifestation was added to the experience: they prophesied (and, of course, any number of wonderful things can happen when the Holy Spirit moves on someone). But, again; tongues attended their baptism in the Holy Spirit. The scriptural record is consistent: people who are filled with the Holy Spirit do (or at least can if they’ll step out in faith) speak with tongues.
So, the question might be asked: “But, do you have to speak with tongues when you receive the Holy Spirit?” No, you don’t have to; you get to! When I bought my SAS walking shoes (the only pair I’ll wear!), I told the salesman: “I want a pair of SAS shoes, but I would prefer a pair without a tongue in it!” He replied, “I’m sorry sir, but all our shoes come with a tongue in it!” Now, I know you want the Holy Spirit in your life, but many of you would probably rather not have a “tongue” in the experience. I hate to disappoint you, but the Holy Spirit comes with a “tongue” in it!
“But,” (it might be argued), Billy Graham is surely a man filled with the Holy Spirit, and he doesn’t speak in tongues.” True, however there are exceptions to every rule. (Why is it that everybody always wants to be one of the exceptions instead of the rule?). I’m the first to admit that we cannot categorically say, “You absolutely cannot be filled with the Holy Spirit unless you speak with tongues.” But, my question to those who argue against tongues is this: “Why would you not want to speak with tongues when it is so evident in the New Testament that this is part of God’s plan?” The following are some of the . . .
Excuses for not speaking in tongues
1) It’s the least of the gifts. Is it? Where does it say that? Just because it is mentioned last on one list of the gifts in 1 Cor. 12:28, doesn’t make it insignificant. Love is mentioned last on a list of things in 1 Cor. 13:13. Is love unimportant? At Christmas time, do you throw in the trash the smallest gifts and just open the big ones? Of course not! There might be a diamond ring in that smallest gift! I want all my Christmas gifts and I want all the gifts of the Spirit He wants to give me!
2) Paul criticized speaking in tongues in the church. In 1 Cor. 14:19 Paul said, “In the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” Notice he said “in the church.” Yes, the primary purpose of tongues is personal devotion to God. But, notice that in the verse just before he claimed, “I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all.” (And he said that to a church that (many argue) had a problem with speaking in tongues too much! So, you know Paul spoke in tongues a lot: but not with people sitting there watching him. That, of course, would be ridiculous!)
3) It was just for those days (that dispensation). If so, then why do over 600,000,000 on earth in the 21st century people speak in tongues? And why did Peter (referring to the Acts 2:4 Holy Spirit outpouring attended by speaking in tongues) say, “You shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38, 9). It’s obvious why! Tongues attending the baptism of the Spirit is “the promise” to every generation: including today!
4) Tongues is psychological poppycock. Are tongue talkers just making up the words? Are they under some trans? Linguistic experts have confirmed that tongues has syntax and inflection, just as any language has. Tongue talkers will tell you that they have full control of their mind while speaking in tongues and can stop or start talking any time they want. Besides, there are many Christians who testify to the difference in their life since they received the Spirit and the blessing to their life that their “prayer language” brings. We don’t judge truth by experience: but truth results in verifying experiences!
5) Tongues might be the devil speaking through someone! Antagonists mention examples of Mormons speaking in tongues or people under witchcraft-type spells as “proof” of the dangers of receiving a demon instead of the Holy Spirit. This is absurd for two reasons. One; the Lord promised in Luke 11:9-13 that the Father would “give the Holy Spirit to them that ask;” reminding them that if a son asked his father for a stone, would he give him a serpent? Do you really think our loving Heavenly Father would allow a son or daughter of his who is sincerely seeking for more of God in his life to receive a demon? Impossible! Those outside the covenant of faith might; but not God’s kids! There are counterfeit experiences out there, of course. There are also counterfeit dollar bills out there. Nobody risks prison to print up counterfeit dollars if there weren’t so many benefits to the real thing! Satan counterfeits the genuine, but we get to receive the real thing!
6) My church just doesn’t believe in it. Well, could your church possibly be wrong in this one doctrine? I used to go to a church that didn’t believe white people would go to hell. I found out they were dead wrong. (I’m glad I got out of that church too!) Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them.” Look at the fruit of the churches were they believe in and enjoy the “moving of the Holy Spirit” and the gifts. There are healings; there is joyous worship; there are manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit (such as prophecies). In fact, I challenge you to find a church that doesn’t believe in speaking in tongues that has manifestations of the other gifts of the Spirit. Remember, the Ephesian church in Acts 19 spoke in tongues first and THEN they prophesied. No wonder Satan fights tongues! No wonder the Holy Spirit is just a doctrine in many churches and not part of a vital experience. Speaking in tongues is the God-ordained entryway into the multitudinous blessings that the Holy Spirit wants to bring to every church!
7) I just don’t see the need in my life. I attended a Baptist church when I was a teenager. I wasn’t saved; but lots of popular kids attended there. After I got saved, I visited the youth minister of the church and told him of my experience with the Holy Spirit. His response: “I don’t see the need in my life.” (His ministry didn’t help me find the Lord! A Pentecostal camp did! Yet, he didn’t see the need in his life!) You may know the Lord intimately and are a very strong Christian. But, couldn’t you humble yourself and admit that maybe you don’t have “the whole ball of wax” yet? Isn’t it possible that you could still experience an even deeper and more powerful spiritual life? “You shall receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon you” is a promise of the availability of greater potential (Acts 1:8). If Paul were to ask you today, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” would you say, “No?” If so, why not change that!