We pesky humans try to control things. Even things that are way beyond our control. You thought I was going to go off on global warming, right? Nope, I’m thinking about coming to faith in Jesus. We can’t control that, especially when it concerns others coming to faith. Nevertheless, we try.
When I was a kid, my church baptized infants, declaring them saved – at least temporarily. Then as we approached puberty, they decided we needed a booster shot of salvation. They called it “confirmation.” We snored our way through classes, learned how to say the Apostles’ Creed, and we all stood together in church to say “I do” to Jesus. Bingo, we were saved, they said. To prove it, they gave us a certificate and allowed us to take communion. It was not until I was 38 that I discovered that all that carefully planned procedure and ritual hadn’t changed anything in my soul.
On the other side of things are those who encourage others to “walk the aisle” or “pray the sinner’s prayer.” They have the prayer conveniently laid out in a numbered sequence in the back of their tract. Good intentions, good motives, but again, a futile attempt to regulate what really is in the control of the Holy Spirit.
Don’t get me wrong! I am sure that many people have genuinely crossed the line of faith during confirmation classes or by praying the sinner’s prayer. I know the Holy Spirit can use even those experiences. And I am not denying that part of the process depends upon our own genuine faith and surrender. My point is this: we cannot make spiritual transformation happen with our little tricks and rituals.
Peter discovered that early on, as he was telling a group of people about Jesus at the home of a Roman Centurion.
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. – (Acts 10:44 NIV)
I picture Peter thinking, “Rats! I didn’t get a chance to give them the invitation or ask them to come down front. They haven’t said the prayer or repeated the creed.” Of course, he didn’t think those things. Instead he had his mind blown as he witnessed the people receiving the Holy Spirit. Which is the mark of genuine spiritual change. Jesus called it being born again and said:
Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. (John 3:6 New Living Translation)
Paul wrote to his friends, saying:
For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. … – (Thessalonians 1:4–5a (NIV84)
God uses believers to tell others about Jesus but the work of making them new is in His control.
Perhaps you are wondering how you can know if you have received the Holy Spirit. Chew on this and we’ll take that up in a couple of days…