It's both basic and awesome at the same time: Acts 2:38 explains how God makes it possible for man to achieve his purpose in life. This is because Acts 2:38 explains how individual human beings can receive the Spirit of God — and it is only through the Spirit of God that we can understand the reason why God created us, and then fulfill this purpose by growing to think, act and become more like our Creator Father. Why go through the mental strain of repentance? Why make the effort to be baptized? Why even bother with understanding the name of Jesus Christ? Why seek the remission of sins? There is in fact one simple answer to all of these questions — one basic reason for all of these "why's" — that we may qualify to receive the gift of God's Holy Spirit. Nothing could be more spectacular. Nothing more all-encompassing. Nothing more awesome.
We start with a basic definition of God's Holy Spirit: It is His power — the power of the Almighty Creator. Acts 1:8 gives the actual historical promise which Christ gave to His disciples: "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost [Spirit] is come upon you." Here is the great promise of God's Holy Spirit. Power. Power can be simply defined as "the ability to act" — or, more technically, as "the capacity to do work." This most certainly applies to the power of God's Holy Spirit. By His Spirit God created the entire universe in Genesis 1:1. And it is also by the power of His Spirit that God has continued to sustain the universe from that time until this time. In another sense, the Holy Spirit is the essence of the mind of God — the power by which God begets His sons and enables them to keep His law. A basic definition of this aspect of God's Holy Spirit would be "the love of God fulfilling the law of God." And this brings us directly to the point of this article, which is the climax of Acts 2:38.
If we had to list biblical verses in the order of their relative importance, Genesis 1:26 would surely be placed near the top. Here God states the reason why He created man: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." Man was designed with a physical human body resembling God's body and a human mind resembling God's mind — much as our shadows resemble our bodies. But this was just a start. Man, every man individually, would have to spiritually grow in order to attain "unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). And the way to spiritually grow? There's only one: living the law of. God. In Exodus 19:5-6 God made a covenant with His people. He told them that they could become a treasure unto Him, "a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation." All they would have to do would be to "obey my voice" and "keep my covenant" — in other words, follow the law of God. And Israel sincerely wanted to obey. "All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient" (Ex. 24:7). But as everybody knows, neither ancient Israel nor Judah ever kept God's law consistently. And as a direct result both were exiled (II Kings 17:6-23 for the House of Israel, II Kings 25:1-17 for the House. of Judah). Why? Why were God's physical people unable to keep God's law and fulfill their part of the covenant? The answer is given in Hebrews 8. After raising the question as to why the first covenant had to be superseded by the second covenant (verse 7), Paul answers: "For finding fault with them...." In other words, there was nothing at all wrong with the law. It was the people who were at fault; it was Israel, not God, who was responsible for the failure of the first covenant. But this is not the end of the story — it is not even the end of the eighth verse of Hebrews 8. Read this section in its entirety: "For finding fault with them, he [God] saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah." For further details, go on to verse 10: "For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people." How can God put His laws into our minds and write them in our hearts? In precisely the same way that God can be our Father and we can be His sons! Through God's Holy Spirit! This is the essential ingredient of the New Covenant. This is why the New Covenant can offer "better promises" (Heb. 8:6). Without God's Spirit, the human mind is carnally minded — which means that it is "enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom. 8:7). With God's Spirit, the human mind is spiritually minded — it is a converted mind — which means that it is no longer enmity against God. Rather, the individual whose mind is filled with God's Holy Spirit minds "the things of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:5), he has "life and peace" (Rom. 8:6), and in him "the righteousness of the law is fulfilled" (Rom. 8:4). In one short sentence, God's Spirit gives a man the power to obey God's laws. Many are the false teachers who proclaim that human beings cannot keep God's commandments. Now, humanly speaking, that's true — we can't. Yet we must. Because God will not allow anybody in His Kingdom if He cannot rule that person. So we have a problem. But God solves it: He supplies the power to obey Him — which is God's Spirit. Recall the definition of power — "the capacity to do work." Now it must certainly be considered "work" to reorient and lead a human mind in the direction of obedience to God — because this is exactly the opposite direction from the human mind. Hence the necessity of a power to do this "work," a power which God's Spirit supplies. Putting the whole story together, we find that the individual filled with God's Spirit is well on his or her way to fulfill and accomplish the ultimate purpose in life — the very reason why he or she was born! This is why the crucial presence or absence of God's Holy Spirit is the only valid determination of whether or not the individual is, in reality, a real Christian (Rom. 8:9).
In the physical realm, obedience to God makes possible a more abundant physical life. In fact, one of the reasons Christ came in the flesh was to make this more abundant life possible (John 10:10). Even more important, God's Holy Spirit increases the capacity of your mind to know and to comprehend spiritual things. The addition of God's Spirit elevates a human mind onto a new plane. I Corinthians 2:9- 14 tells this remarkable story. Now verse 9 is often used alone by those who wish to show that God hides His truth from man: "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him" — and there the quote usually ends. But why isn't the next verse quoted? "But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God." God reveals His most profound truths through His Holy Spirit. Of course! God's Spirit is a part of His actual mind. And it can be implanted in our own human minds! So it makes perfect sense that God's Holy Spirit will lead the converted individual "into all truth" and will enable him to understand "things to come" (John 16:13). God's Spirit also generates the hope of God — the quiet confidence of the certainty of the resurrection which makes a human life happy and successful (Romans 15:13). In fact, the Holy Spirit brings a whole list of the attributes of God into our lives. Read them in Galatians 5:22. The fruits of the Spirit are these: "Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." And there you have it. So simple. Yet so profound.
Jesus Christ stated, "It is the spirit that quickeneth [makes alive]" (John 6:63) — or, as a modern translation puts it: "It is the Spirit that gives life" (The Twentieth Century New Testament). How does this occur? How does God's Spirit "give life"? When an individual receives the Holy Spirit, he then, for the first time, has a begettal of inherent life — self-existent life — life within himself. Christ said of the man who would have God's Spirit in him, "Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive)" (John 7:38, 39). What is the end result of this? We read about it in I Corinthians 15:50-54. At the resurrection, at the last trump, both the dead and the living in Christ — those who died with God's Spirit and those who will be living with God's Spirit — shall have their mortal, corruptible, physical existence exchanged instantly for an immortal, incorruptible, spiritual existence. This will be true whether that physical existence be a living body or dead dust hundreds or thousands of years old.
How do we qualify for God's Spirit? First of all, the Holy Spirit is a gift from our Father and Creator. Acts 2:38 makes this quite clear. But God will not give us something we don't want. Certainly not His Holy Spirit — the most precious commodity in the universe. We must fervently want it. And we must demonstrate this by asking for it. Speaking to His disciples, Jesus said: "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" (Luke 11:13.) It's a breathtaking promise. Do you want God's Holy Spirit? Then ask your heavenly Father. (Of course, we should realize that even our desire to ask for God's Spirit must originate from God Himself: "For it is God which worketh in you both to will [to desire] and to do of his good pleasure" [Phil. 2:13].) Now it is rather simple to realize that God's Spirit is a gift and that we must ask for it. And so if these were the only conditions, the unlimited power of God's Spirit would be proliferated to anybody and everybody — and thereby disastrously misused. Therefore, in order to build harmony, order and control into His overall system, God added another condition — obedience. God will give His Holy Spirit — with all the powers, abilities and capacities involved — only to those who have demonstrated by both attitude and actions that they want to obey God and His laws. God first demands this wholehearted, wholly sincere desire to obey His laws; then, and only then, will He give us the power to actually obey these laws. Peter told his persecutors: "We are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Spirit, whom God hath given to them that obey him" (Acts 5:32). Now some might misinterpret this statement and claim that Peter taught "salvation by works" — that he was a "legalist." This would be a most hasty conclusion. Throughout the Bible, God plainly shows that we can never "earn" "the right" to have the Holy Spirit. It is unquestionably a free gift from God, a gift which we do not and cannot ever deserve. But this has nothing to do with whether or not we must first want to obey God's laws. It is a mystery how anybody could even suggest that God would not require us to have an attitude of perfect obedience to His law before He would give us His Holy Spirit. How could God allow even the possibility for some "misguided souls" to abuse such massive power?
How do you receive God's Holy Spirit? Just follow the simple, straight forward directions of Acts 2:38: one, "repent" — and that naturally includes "obey" — and two, "be baptized." When you have repented and have been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, then you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit when God's ministers lay their hands on you after the actual baptism (Acts 8:17). And there are no "perhaps's" or "probably's." You shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is an absolute promise of God. It is sure. There is a concrete act that you must do. You cannot baptize yourself. You must be baptized. And who better than by a true minister of Jesus Christ? How can you arrange this? As many of our readers already know, God has His ministers within easy reach of all areas of the United States, British Commonwealth and Western Europe. So if you want to meet and counsel with one of these men, write in the United States to: The Good News Pasadena, California 91123 See the inside front cover for addresses in other areas of the world. If you live in the continental United States and you would like faster service, please dial this toll-free number: 800-423-4444. (Readers in California, Alaska and Hawaii may call 213-577-5225 collect.) This is all you have to do. Then it becomes our responsibility to arrange the most convenient time and place. In this regard, there is a question that many readers have considered well worth asking. Many of you have been baptized in the past, or have had a "religious experience," or have made a previous decision or commitment to what you then believed to be the truth of God. Now, through articles in The Good News, you have come to learn a great deal more about many things — such as, for example, the Holy Spirit. So the puzzling question arises: "What should I do? Should I be rebaptized?" The answer is found in the book of Acts. The story is short: from 18:24 to 19:6. It concerns Apollos, who was teaching what he knew from the ministry of John the Baptist. Now when Apollos baptized people, they did not receive the Holy Spirit. Upon meeting some of these, the Apostle Paul immediately asked them: "Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?" These people told Paul not only that they hadn't received it, but that they didn't even know what the Holy Spirit was! But then, hearing the additional truth regarding Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, salvation, etc., Apollos' followers were immediately rebaptized "in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them." So it was only after rebaptism that these people did receive the Holy Spirit which they, though sincere, had never actually qualified to receive before. If this be your situation, then you should consider this outstanding example and likewise be baptized into "the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Indeed, you must be so baptized. No matter what your previous religious history has been, don't worry about it. Start afresh. Become a "new man." This is what Acts 2:38 is all about. Begin to put the power of God's Holy Spirit to work in your life. And begin to look forward to the day when this same Holy Spirit will transform you into a Spirit Being — an eternal member of the God family!