Receiving the Holy Spirit
By Hal Knight
In Numbers 11 Moses finds himself responsible for an exceedingly large congregation of constant complainers. It was becoming hard to manage, and Moses cried out in despair to God. So God told Moses to bring the 70 elders of Israel to the tent of meeting. There God would take some of the spirit that was on Moses and put it on them, enabling them to share the burden of leadership.
That is what Moses did. When the spirit rested on the elders they began prophesying, although they did not do so again. But two of the elders, Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. Nonetheless, the spirit fell upon them as well, and they began prophesying as well.
When Joshua heard this he urged Moses to put a stop to it, fearing it would undermine Moses’ authority. But Moses responded, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!” (Num. 11:29 NSRV)
That is what happened on the day of Pentecost: the Holy Spirit was poured out upon all of the disciples. As Peter makes clear in Acts 2, this is a gift for all Christians. The immediate effect on that day was that they spoke in a variety of tongues and were heard by people from all over the Roman Empire to be speaking in their native languages. John Wesley does not doubt the miraculous nature of this, but sets aside the question of whether such gifts are for the present. He is concerned with the deeper and ongoing work of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit, he says, enables us to truly know God, and thus to know we are loved by God in Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven, and we are children of God.
The Spirit enables us to love as God loves, renewing our hearts in love so that it is our reigning disposition and the well spring of our motivation and desire.
The Spirit incorporates us into a holy community, in which God is the object of our praise and gratitude, and we love and share with one another as Christ has loved and given himself for us.
The Spirit empowers us to share this love to the world, through inviting others to know God through Jesus Christ, and reaching out in love to meet human need.
We can all receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and we all can be continually renewed by the Spirit. May we then join Charles Wesley in this exhortation and prayer (from A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists):
Sinners, your hearts lift up,
Partakers of your hope!
This the Day of Pentecost;
Ask, and ye shall all receive;
Surely now the Holy Ghost,
God to all that ask shall give.
Father, behold we claim
The gift in Jesus’ name.
Him the promised Comforter
Into all our spirits pour;
Let him fix our mansion here,
Come, and never leave us more.
Hal Knight teaches in the areas of Wesleyan theology, history, and evangelical theology at Saint Paul School of Theology.