Receiving the Holy Spirit
Robert Wurtz II
Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance. For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. (Acts 26:19–21 NKJV)
There is a reason why Paul preached the Gospel the way he did. Even though the Jews seized him in the temple and tried to kill him, Paul would not back down. He understood what was at stake. He wasn’t trying to be mean to people — he simply took seriously Jesus’ words, “Verily, verily I say unto you, you must be born again!” (John 3:3) The born again experience is essential to our Lord building a Church that the gates of hell will not prevail against. If we forsake this reality we will lose Christianity. Just as we are born naturally into the natural world — we must be reborn spiritually if we are to see the kingdom of God.
For over 100 years the reality of Acts 26:19-21 has been largely, if not completely, ignored. When it’s not being ignored, the passage is being twisted by those who cannot handle its implications. In modern times most preachers (who do preach repentance) believe it simply means asking God for forgiveness. Some believe it means to “say you are sorry” or to “be sorry” for your sins. However, true repentance involves a change of mind so profound that it changes the direction of a persons’ life. In fact, repentance is when we come into agreement with all that God has to say. We confess our sins and turn from them. This means that we stop resisting the Holy Spirit in every area of our lives.
Why did Paul preach “John the Baptist type” repentance? Stephen gives the answer in Acts 7 when he concluded his sermon with, “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.” (Acts 7:51 NKJV) When we read Stephen’s word ” resist ” it is natural to conclude that this is a simple non-compliance. However, this is not the case. Stephen employs a rare Greek word (antipiptō) used once in the New Testament. It means to “run against” or “to fall upon.” This is an allusion to Numbers 23 and Isaiah 63 in which God had done everything in His power to bring about His purposes for His people — nevertheless; they provoked (vexed) His Holy Spirit — who is not easily provoked (1 Cor. 13:5). This phenomenon could also be seen in the fact that the prophets words could not be resisted, but the prophets themselves could be, so they killed them. This is what happened to Stephen.
Repentance is vital to the Gospel because it addresses the issue of resisting the Holy Spirit head-on. There is no way to get by on something less than repentance. It is the starting point. Half-way repentance is a half-way beginning that is guaranteed to result in a half-way Christian life. Resisting the Holy Spirit and rebellion against God must be brought to an end. Everyone must have a right attitude towards their Creator. This means we agree with what His word teaches. If the Bible says that homosexuality is a sin — we must agree with that. If it teaches that drunkenness is sin — we must agree with that too. If we have areas where we disagree with God and His word we are resisting the Holy Spirit. The Spirit and the word agree. Until we agree with the Spirit and the word we cannot receive the Holy Spirit.
The old timers used to say that people need to “get right with God.” This language is from Acts 8 when Peter told Simon that his heart was not “right” with the Lord. He had believed and had been baptized but was still perishing in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity. Simon needed “John the Baptist style” repentance. He needed to turn from all known sin and forsake the evil that he entertained. What is true for Simon is true for everyone. God is no respecter of persons’. Nevertheless, multitudes of ministers and Christians search for ways to avoid true repentance. In fact, the subject is rarely even brought up in discussion. The topic is detested.
It is folly to invent doctrines and theologies that sidestep people’s’ need to repent. The tragedy is that theologians and Bible teachers are often better at teaching people what a verse does not mean than what it truly means. In modern times clever theologians have reduced repentance to a mere change of mind towards sin; but in practice the teaching is a dead forgery. They neither teach or preach an expectation that all people must demonstrate a change of mind by changing their behavior. Verses on genuine repentance are made of no effect. This is what happens when men become theologians who themselves have never repented and are in fact resisting the Holy Spirit.
It is interesting to consider just how long man has been actively resisting God’s authority. Our passage in Genesis 6:3 is a subtle commentary on the days of Noah; this would have been roughly 2800 BC, or nearly 5000 years ago. When we arrive at Acts 7:51 we have the same diagnoses, You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. In the 21st Century we have the same pattern of behavior. God is trying to establish His authority in the hearts of men and women and they do always “strive” or “resist.” I suggest that “always resisting the Holy Spirit” is the single greatest problem in mankind, and summarizes the relationship between God and unbelievers. Unfortunately, it is also the case in the lives of many professed believers.
In Genesis 6:3 we have the word “strive.” The context is found with Noah a preacher of righteousness, bringing forth a message of salvation. This is God striving with people outwardly. In this way, God had used men as His means of striving with man since the prophet Abel in Genesis 4:8 (compare Luke 11:50-51). Just as Cain rose up to snuff-out his witness to the truth of obedience to God, the response of the masses has rarely altered course. Inwardly, the people would feel the sting of their conscience, and the many strong impressions made upon them by the Spirit of God. The scripture is replete with men who quenched, grieved, resisted, vexed, and even blasphemed God’s Holy Spirit (Isaiah 63:10, 1 Thess. 5:19, Ephesians 4:30, Matthew 12:24-32). This is the message of Stephen to the religious leaders, “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.” (Acts 7:51 NKJV)
The very people who prided themselves as instructors of the foolish, and teachers of babes — men who had the form of knowledge and truth in the law (Romans 2:20 NKJV) — did always resist the Holy Spirit. In fact, Stephen added, as your fathers did, so do you. It had been a tradition in families for generations! Stephen went on to ask them which of the prophets did their fathers not persecute? He then went on to show that Jesus Christ, the anti type of all who had gone before Him, was given the most hideous treatment of all. The one who was the greatest representation of God was the one most persecuted by the rebellious. The treatment of a man was proportional to His capacity to represent God in striving with men. In other words, the more godly he or she was, the worse they were treated. This is the record.
I once attended a meeting where several men were speaking on the topic of the end-times. One man took the pulpit and opened his address with this unforgettable question, “How are we going to talk about 666 when we can’t even turn off HBO?” It was his way of saying that we love to speak about all kinds of topics that divert our attention away from unpleasant issues. In the late 19th and early 20th century a methodology for “getting saved” was invented that allowed people to continue to resist the Holy Spirit and anyone who preached a “book of Acts” type Gospel and still call themselves “saved.” A person can be actively resisting the Holy Spirit and be told “you are saved and don’t let the devil lie to you and tell you anything different!” And if they go on and try to receive the Holy Spirit they can say a few unintelligible sentences and be told “You got it! You got the Holy Ghost!” Meanwhile, there is no real change. The person still lives in the carnal mind.
New Birth or Stillbirth
There is nothing more tragic than a stillborn child. What is even more tragic is a stillbirth that could have been prevented. The same is true in the spiritual realm. It has been said that, “If obstetricians were as reckless with childbirth as many ministers are with new birth we would have an infant mortality rate in the land that is unprecedented in world history.” People have to be born of the Spirit and there is a right way to preach in order to see that reality come about. It doesn’t just “happen” whether the Gospel is properly preached or not. Far too often ministers cite examples of people “getting saved” in ways different from the New Testament prescribes. These examples become the pretext for everything from the sinners prayer to not praying through at all. Ministers become entrenched in false ideas about salvation and new birth — filling the churches with people who have not been regenerated by God. They were merely told they were.
“Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” (Romans 8:7 KJV)
Becoming a Christian means we align ourselves with God and His holy word. All of it. Not just the things that suit our desires. Moreover, the Holy Spirit and the word of God agree. If a person does not agree with God’s word — in reality — they are resisting Him no matter what they profess. And you cannot receive and resist the Holy Spirit at the same time. Jesus asked the simple question , “… and why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do the things I say?” As if He would ask, “why do you make my word of no effect by your traditions? Why do you keep doing things that are contrary to God’s word, just as your fathers did?” Answer, because once someone is bold enough to trample on a precept others are emboldened to follow. Soon everyone is doing it (well, not everyone). This is how we have veered off course so bad in the last 100 years. None now live who even remember how repentance and receiving the Holy Spirit is supposed to be.
The consequence of modern-day evangelistic techniques is that the churches have filled up with people who are unregenerate. This simply means that God has not changed them by what Jesus called being born again (John 3:3). Unregenerate people are no different from sinners — except they may start coming to church and “trying” to live the Christian life. They still have a unregenerated carnal mind and heart. They have a mind that is still at enmity with God. For example, many denominations, including the United Methodist Church, are debating the issue of homosexual marriage and transgender identity. There are people “high up” in authority that cannot agree with God about the subject. Why? Because either they were never born again to begin with or they are now thinking and living like carnal men (sinners). Can you see why it is so important to make sure that the people who we call Christians are actually born again of the Spirit? We risk filling the churches with people who are no more spiritual in mind and heart than the average sinner… and they move up into places of authority and start making decisions for the churches. Can anyone say, “The devil is in the house!?”
Many have repeated a prayer similar to a Catholic Hail Mary. In football, a “hail mary” is when a quarterback tries to throw the ball from one end of the field to the other in a last-ditch attempt to score a winning touchdown. The idea is to go from one end of the field to the other in one pass. This is what the sinners prayer is. It is a last ditch effort to save a person who is a million miles from God with a simple “up in the air” pass. How often do they actually connect? Not often. Imagine if a quarterback decided that from the beginning of the game every play would be a “hail mary.” That would be called “throwing the game” because it would not work. Similarly, people believe that by repeating the prayer it means they have repented of their sins and placed their faith in Christ — in one motion. However, repenting is not telling God you repent… it means changing your mind and turning from the behavior. You may tell God you have repented, but it is only true if you have actually done it. Words and actions have to match.
Ours is the generation that can change a hundred years of substandard evangelism. We must make the change or it is going to be too late. We are losing whole denominations to sin and compromise. People are asking, “why is this happening?” I explained it in this article. Carnal minds that have not changed by the power of the Spirit will remain carnal. They will remain in a state of enmity with God even though they start going to church and become active in ministry.
If something does not change fast the churches will be full of carnal people who have no interest in obeying God’s word. It is already happening. Many “Christians” see nothing wrong with all kinds of sins and then wonder why they have not received the Holy Spirit. Others received a spirit that was not of God and are moving in false spiritual gifts wreaking havoc in churches. In time the carnal will take over if we don’t get back to the true Gospel.
A minister may have preached a soft Gospel for 75 years, but if they are sensitive to God they can change course. It’s not too late. Lay down the excuses — recognize what is happening — and get back to New Testament evangelism (repentance, faith, water baptism, and receiving the Holy Spirit). No more excuses. Sadly, I’m convinced that other will go to their graves doing the same old thing that is not working. When I say “not working” I don not mean that you ask a person if they are “saved” after they pray the sinners’ prayer. I mean you can testify that the person is radically changed and are now on a truly spiritual path. There is fruit in their life. You know for a fact that the person has been radically changed by God. They are a new creature and everyone can tell.
Meanwhile the churches go on filling up with people who have no real desire to comply with God’s will. The face of Christianity has changed radically in the last 70 years. It’s as if a whole new religion has been created to serve the people who never stopped resisting the Holy Spirit. Do the research and see how much the churches have changed. And there is no end in sight. Environments use music to forge the presence of God while the people keep on resisting His Spirit. These and many similar elixirs numb the conscience — enabling people who actually do read their bible and just skip past the verses they don’t like or agree with. They resist the word but want to entertain the “Spirit.” This is the tragedy of our times. Nevertheless, there is hope for anyone who will hear the voice of God and truly repent. They can leave of resisting the Holy Spirit and finally receive the Holy Spirit in the genuine article. Genuine regeneration. Genuinely born again. A new heart and a new spirit. They can become the real thing — not a forgery. They can begin in the Spirit and live a life that agrees with God and longs to do His will. With that we can recover ourselves, as the churches, from this carnal tract that we are on. If not, just as Ishmael persecuted Isaac — the carnal church attendees will begin persecuting the children of the promise. It is only a matter of time.