God Running is a place for anyone who wants to (or even anyone who wants to want to) love Jesus more deeply, follow Jesus more closely, and love people the way Jesus wants us to.
In our last five posts from the book of Acts we examined Stephen’s defense against his accusers in the court of the Sanhedrin. If you’re interested you can check out those posts in the five part series here: Stephen’s Defense.
In today’s post we’ll look at one important thing that’s required of you, and of me, if we want to receive God’s Holy Spirit the same way Stephen and Peter and John and other disciples of Jesus received God’s Holy Spirit.
And Saul approved of his execution.
And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.Acts 8:1-3
The Foremost Sinner
At the end of the previous chapter from the book of Acts we saw a couple of verses that set up the beginning of today’s passage which is the beginning of chapter 8. At the end of chapter 7 we read that Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit. And we also saw how the people at Stephen’s execution laid down their garments at the feet of Saul. (Acts 7:55, 58)
Today, in chapter 8, we see that Saul approved of Stephen’s execution. And not only that, but Saul was violently opposed to Jesus and his followers. Like a combat unit moving from house to house engaged in urban warfare, Saul was “entering house after house” and dragging off Jesus’ followers and throwing them into prison. In the next chapter we’ll see that Saul was breathing threats and murder against the disciples of Jesus. (Acts 9:1)
Saul was terrorizing Christians. He was, as he describes himself, the foremost sinner against God and Christ. And yet later in scripture, we see that “Saul, who was also called Paul, [was] filled with the Holy Spirit . . .” How is this possible? How could such a reprehensible person, an enemy of God and Jesus and God’s Kingdom, how could such a man receive God’s Holy Spirit? (1 Timothy 1:15, Acts 13:9)
God’s Requirement to Receive His Holy Spirit
The answer to how the foremost sinner could be filled with the Holy Spirit, and the answer to how you and I can be filled with God’s Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit that filled Stephen and Peter and John, and Saul who was also called Paul, is found in Acts 5:32. In that verse Peter says, “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is . . .
“the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
So, here we see it. Those who receive God’s Holy Spirit are those who obey Him.
For some number of years now I’ve been interested in receiving God’s Holy Spirit the way the early disciples did, but, you know, I never saw that before. And maybe I never saw that before because I didn’t want to. That’s some hard news to hear. Obeying God can be a real challenge sometimes. Conforming my heart and mind and soul and strength to what He wants is so much harder than just letting the inertia of my own personality carry me through the day. It’s also much easier to compare my strengths to other’s weaknesses, and to dwell on where I’m right and where other people or groups are wrong, and to focus on my frustrations with the behavior of others than it is to concern myself with obeying God, with surrendering myself to Him in obedience. But here’s the thing about God and obedience: He receives and accepts our obedience the moment it begins — without regard for what we did before that moment.
Even in the Old Testament, before the redemptive work of Jesus, we see God respond to people this way.
The Evil King
Manasseh’s father was one of the most godly men in the entire Bible. He tore down the high places where people were worshipping other gods, in fact he made sweeping reforms that restored YHWH as the sole person to be worshipped in his kingdom. While he wasn’t without sin, he is presented in scripture as a righteous king in both 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. His obedience to God was rewarded when he defeated the superior armies of enemies attacking his kingdom and when he was healed from a fatal disease. (2 Chronicles chapters 29-32, 2 Kings chapters 18-20)
But his son didn’t follow his father’s ways. Manasseh rebuilt the high places his father had torn down. Manasseh erected alters to the Baals. He even built altars to other gods in the courts of the house of the Lord. Manasseh also set up an idol inside the house of God.
He was responsible for spilling innocent blood and he even burned his own sons, probably in a pagan ritual.
And yet, eventually, during a time of suffering and sorrow and heartbreak in his life, Manasseh decided to surrender himself to God. He “humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.” He began to pursue God’s favor. And God was moved by his prayers and God heard his pleas. And God gave Manasseh opportunity to do good in His sight and Manasseh took advantage of that opportunity and he changed his direction. From that point forward Manasseh did many things that pleased God as his father had done before him. And he was forgiven. (2 Chronicles 33, 2 Kings 21)
You Can Only Move Forward
Manasseh’s story reminds me of David. David sinned when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband murdered. But, while there were consequences, David repented and was forgiven by God. And David received the Holy Spirit when he penned the Psalms you and I read today.
These examples from the Old Testament blow my mind. To some degree I can understand God’s mercy after the great sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf, but, long before Jesus, God gives us insight into his mercy and grace and love through these sinners in the Old Testament scriptures.
And then there’s Saul. The foremost of sinners, who will be receiving God’s Holy Spirit very soon as we’ll see.
So here’s the thing: yes, to receive God’s Holy Spirit you and I must obey Him. But the good news is, our obedience can start right now. Now. Now is the time to become obedient to God. Now is the time to change direction. Now is the time to surrender yourself to Him, to greatly humble yourself before Him the way Manasseh did. Now is the time. Now is the time to obey Him.
And if we do, we too can receive His Holy Spirit.
“Father, have mercy on me and on the person reading this right now because we’re sinners. We have sinned against You in what we’ve done and also in what we’ve failed to do. Have mercy on us and change our hearts. Bring us to the place of repentance and help us to obey You in all things. Bless us with obedience to You and then fill us with Your Holy Spirit the way You filled Stephen and Peter and John and Jesus’ disciples. Fill us in a way that glorifies Your name Father and the name of Jesus Christ Your Son.
“It’s in Jesus’ name we ask these things of You.
Image of man surrendering to God via Will Foster – Creative Commons
Love Like Jesus: How Jesus Loved People (and how you can love like Jesus) now available on Amazon!
Love Like Jesus begins with the story of how after a life of regular church attendance and Bible study, Bennett was challenged by a pastor to study Jesus. That led to an obsessive seven year deep dive. After pouring over Jesus’ every interaction with another human being, he realized he was doing a much better job of studying Jesus’ words than he was following Jesus’ words and example. The honest and fearless revelations of Bennett’s own moral failures affirm he wrote this book for himself as much as for others.
Love Like Jesus examines a variety of stories, examples, and research, including:
- Specific examples of how Jesus communicated God’s love to others.
- How Jesus demonstrated all five of Gary Chapman’s love languages (and how you can too).
- The story of how Billy Graham extended Christ’s extraordinary love and grace toward a man who misrepresented Jesus to millions.
- How to respond to critics the way Jesus did.
- How to love unlovable people the way Jesus did.
- How to survive a life of loving like Jesus (or how not to become a Christian doormat).
- How Jesus didn’t love everyone the same (and why you shouldn’t either).
- How Jesus guarded his heart by taking care of himself–he even napped–and why you should do the same.
- How Jesus loved his betrayer Judas, even to the very end.
With genuine unfiltered honesty, Love Like Jesus, shows you how to live a life according to God’s definition of success: A life of loving God well, and loving the people around you well too.
A life of loving like Jesus.