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.
And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.
–Acts 19:1-10 (NASB)
I know I finished my review of MacArthur’s sermon series, but today (Sunday, February 9th as I write this), the Pastor at my church delivered a sermon based on Acts 19:1-22. As you’ll recall, MacArthur’s final sermon in his series was based on Acts 19:1-7 so there is the potential for overlap between MacArthur’s message and Pastor Randy’s preaching. In fact, there was sufficient overlap and parallel, that I felt compared to present my own interpretation today.
I can only read or listen to a recording of Pastor MacArthur, but with my own Pastor, I’m sitting in the pew, watching him, listening to him, and directly experiencing his message, particularly with the background of knowing something about him and how he thinks.
He opened with the Bonfire of the Vanities, which I’ll skip, and I just thought that was a novel by Tom Wolfe, one I haven’t gotten around to reading (Pastor mentioned that Wheaton College might need to burn a few things, but I had to look that up online to know what he was talking about).
Oh, to see why bonfires are relevent to this sermon, see Acts 19:18-20. I also mention those verses at the very end of this missive.
The “MacArthur connection” came in when Pastor backed up a bit into his sermon for last week and discussed Apollos.
Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.
–Acts 19:24-28 (NASB)
You may want to refer to the relevant sections of MacArthur’s sermon to see how MacArthur’s and Pastor Randy’s messages interface. Just a suggestion.
Relative to both Apollos and the twelve disciples Paul encounters at the very beginning of Acts 19, Pastor Randy seems to split the state of being a “believer” with being a “Christian.” I tend to use the two terms interchangeably, but Pastor Randy drew a sharp distinction based on this:
You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
–James 2:19 (NASB)
Apollos and the twelve disciples were taught the baptism of John (probably not by John himself) but, as MacArthur said in his sermon, didn’t have all of the details about who and what they were being baptized into. Frankly, I really can’t place any blame at the feet of Apollos and the other disciples since they didn’t have the Internet, email, text messaging, the telephone, or any other way to quickly disseminate a unified body of information in the then-civilized world of two-thousand years ago. Written letters were slow and when copied for re-delivery, may not have been copied precisely. I imagine there were a lot of folks with only bits and pieces of the teachings of Jesus who had to interact with other believers and teachers in order to get a better picture, but this would have taken a lot of time.
Both MacArthur and Pastor Randy said (and I like Pastor Randy’s delivery a lot better) that believing isn’t enough and that at this point and until they received the Holy Spirit, Apollos and the twelve weren’t Christians. In my previous review of MacArthur, I wondered how he arrived at that conclusion and Randy was able to fill in some blanks.
But this raised other problems. Like MacArthur, Pastor Randy said that a certain passage in this text has given rise to a misunderstanding.
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.”
–Acts 19:2 (NASB)
Depending on the translation, the question could be rendered (erroneously, according to Pastor Randy) “Having believed, did you then also receive the Holy Spirit?”
The idea is that coming to faith and believing in Christ automatically results in, as MacArthur states, a one-time, momentary miracle of receiving the Holy Spirit. Apparently (I’ve never heard this but there’s a lot I don’t know) in Pentecostalism, there’s the idea that one becomes a believer and then at a subsequent time, one receives the Holy Spirit. Randy and MacArthur both stress that coming to faith and receiving the Spirit is a simultaneous event. It’s not one and then the other.
Of course, that makes quoting James 2:19 in this context seem odd since James is saying that believing isn’t enough. Then again, James isn’t talking about believing and the Holy Spirit, but he’s “marrying” belief/faith and actions, leading a transformed life. Of course, Christianity teaches that you can’t live a transformed life without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, so I suppose that’s implied.
I got to thinking about Calvinism, which both MacArthur and Pastor Randy support, the idea that only certain pre-selected individuals will ever come to faith in Messiah and that, regardless of how we evangelize the rest, they are not pre-determined to be among the elect, and therefore, they are automatically condemned to Hell before they were ever born.
According to Calvinists, you’ll never believe let alone receive the Holy Spirit if you are not among the pre-selected elect. The gospel message of Jesus Christ will just bounce off of you. However, if you are among the elect, you will take hold of the message of salvation and receive the Holy Spirit and become a Christian. Of course to be pre-selected also supposes that in your future at some point, you are destined to hear the message of the plan of salvation. I can’t imagine God selecting someone and then not providing the opportunity to hear about Jesus.
I also can’t imagine God selecting someone as a member of the elect and then them becoming a believer but not a Christian. But then Pastor Randy did challenge the congregation. He said that we can’t take for granted that we’re saved just because we answered some altar call once upon a time or raised our hand at a Bible camp at age 14 indicating that we believed. If we aren’t living a transformed life, we haven’t received the Spirit. We’re not really Christians.
But if belief and receiving the Spirit is a unified event and don’t take place separately, then how is it possible to be a believer and not receive the Spirit, thus becoming a Christian?
I’ll take it for granted that I missed something in Pastor Randy’s sermon, but it certainly seems based on my notes and my memory, that a contradiction exists within the body of his message.
Randy painted a picture of someone at Heaven’s Gates asking to be let in. A voice asks the person, “Why should I let you in?”
Randy said the only appropriate answer would be, “I have trusted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.”
Before Randy answered his own question, the first response that came to me, imagining such an august and solemn query was, “I am not worthy to enter the Heavenly Courts and to approach the Throne of God.”
Well, I’m not. Who am I? Just a guy. Why would God allow me to enter into His presence. Not because of any answer I could possibly give Him. Only because He is good and gracious and merciful. Belief and faith isn’t a magic ticket that gets you a free ride on the bus to Heaven. If God weren’t merciful in the extreme, no amount of belief we could cognitively or emotionally generate, and no acts of righteousness, even out of that faith and devotion, could sway God this way or that.
Yes, I believe human beings have free will and we can choose or reject God, but it is God who chooses to accept or reject us as Sovereign King, and the King only accepts out of His gracious mercy through our woefully inadequate and imperfect faith.
Although, thankfully, Pastor Randy didn’t use terms such as “Pre-Cross” or “wrong side of the cross,” he did characterize Apollos and the twelve disciples as “Old Testament Saints” as opposed to Christians (he also used “mini-Pentecost,” which MacArthur mentioned as well and I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean). The difference is the arrival of Jesus and the key verse “…no one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6). Before Jesus, Jews came to faith in God the Father and in that faith by God’s grace, there was salvation. Then Jesus arrived and faith in God was no longer the key, but rather access to God required faith in Jesus. Did God change the rules?
I’m not even going to attempt to evaluate that one and the Jewish anti-missionaries have a field day with the dissonance suggested in this doctrine.
I won’t go into the rest of Pastor Randy’s sermon since at this point, the parallels to MacArthur end, but I do want to mention the “saving grace” of the service, so to speak (not that I had anything against the preaching, but it raised as many questions as answers). Today (as I write this) is part of a series of services at my church aimed at promoting and supporting Christian missionary work, so normal Sunday school classes were suspended. Instead, one big Sunday school class with guest speakers was to be conducted in the sanctuary.
So instead of the last hymn being sung, Pastor Dave went up to the pulpit and conducted a closing commentary and prayer based on this:
Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.
–Acts 19:18-20 (NASB)
Pastor Dave invited us all to consider our lives, what we have in them that is displeasing to God, those practices, materials, and beliefs we need to confess and burn (literally or otherwise), all the “stuff” that separates us from a closer relationship with God, or even having any relationship at all.
Theology aside, Pentecostalism aside, transitions from Judaism to Jesus aside, this was probably the single most practical message based on these scriptures that I heard, the urging to leave our habits, our traditions, and our comfort zones and to honestly examine ourselves, and I hope (re)examine the scriptures, and re-evaluate who we are, what we’re doing, and what sanctifies and desecrates the Name of God.