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An End or a Beginning?
The Spirit doesn't bring us instant sanctity.
by Tom Gryniewicz
T he day after I was baptized in the Holy Spirit, I woke up feeling joyful and excited. All day long I felt so close to God that it seemed as though nothing could tie me down to earth again. That evening I went to my computer class to work with my two laboratory partners on a difficult program we had been struggling with for two weeks. My partners had arrived first and decided to play a joke on me. They crumpled up an old teletype tape, put it on the computer, and when I arrived they told me that the ruined tape was the one I had been working on for so long. Tears started to come to my eyes - and then they laughed and admitted that it was a joke. I was furious! I lashed out bitterly and accused them of being immature and cruel. Needless to say, we spent the remainder of the evening in complete silence.
I returned to my apartment that night completely crestfallen. I couldn't believe that after feeling elated and close to God all day I had behaved so badly. I fell to my knees and cried out to the Lord. After a few minutes I picked up my Bible, and read 1 Peter 2:23 which says of Jesus: "When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly." I wept as I realized that Jesus had endured experiences that were much more difficult than what I had gone through that night, but that Jesus has responded in the right way.
I continued to pray, and as I did I felt as though the Father himself was telling me that he understood my sin and had forgiven me. I learned a lesson that night which I won't easily forget: being baptized in the Holy Spirit doesn't immediately remove sin and trouble from our lives. Instead, it brings us into a deeper relationship with God himself; it opens us to the transforming power of the Spirit. That relationship and power give us the strength to seek and obey the Lord.
Clearly, being baptized in the Spirit is at the beginning, not the end, of our effort to live the Christian life. It is a step that God takes to draw us closer to himself. He equips us to recognize and carry out his will in our daily life. Through the Holy Spirit we are able to mature into holy men and women capable of serving God and one another.
As I learned so painfully that night in the computer lab, being baptized in the Spirit does not being instant sanctity. Nor is it a special phenomenon reserved for a few holy people; God wants every one of us to be in a deep relationship with him to experience the full power of the Spirit. Being baptized in the Spirit is more than an entry into deeper personal prayer; God pours out the power and gifts of his Spirit so that he might grow up the whole body of Christ.
M any of the words of Scripture exhort us to grow in the Lord. Some of the people in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, show us what it means to mature in wisdom and holiness. Moses is a good example.
At the time of Moses' birth, the Egyptians were ruthlessly oppressing the Israelites. The Israelites were a strong people within Egypt, and in order to limit their strength Pharaoh had ordered his subjects to kill any boys born to Hebrew parents. When Moses was born, however, his mother hid him in a basket on the riverbank. He was found by Pharaoh's daughter, who took him home and raised him.
Moses knew he was a Hebrew, however, and when he was forty years old he went to visit his people, the Israelites. An Egyptian was mistreating an Israelite, and Moses, to avenge his kinsman, killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand. Moses' desire to see justice for the Hebrews was right. God himself wanted to deliver them from slavery. But in God's plan, the day of deliverance has not yet arrived. Moses had acted without God's commission and power. He had gone ahead by himself, and the result was total failure. Moses was forced to flee, and he spent the next 40 years of his life in exile from his home in Egypt and from the Hebrew people he was trying to deliver.
We too are often tempted to move ahead on our own power, without direction from God and mature Christians. I remember the day a couple of Christian friends of mine became aware that God heals people. They had recently been baptized in the Spirit and as they read Scripture verses about healing they became very excited. They saw that God wants his people to be physically whole, and they decided to help him fulfill his plans quickly. They went to a local hospital and walked through the wards praying over all the patients for healing. However, some of the patients and hospital officials became upset and asked them to leave.
Like Moses, my friends had caught a glimpse of God's plan and rushed off to accomplish it by themselves. And like Moses, they probably felt very embarrassed and confused when their good intentions failed and got them into trouble. They learned, as Moses did, that God's will can only be accomplished if we are guided by him.
Forty years after Moses' failure in Egypt, the Lord did commission him to carry out his plan. As Moses was grazing his sheep on Mount Horeb, an angel appeared to him in a burning bush. As he marveled at the sight, the Lord spoke to him, "I have seen the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their groaning and have come down to rescue them. Come now, I will send you into Egypt" (see Exod. 3:7-10). Because Moses was sent by God and because he continued to rely on God, Moses was able to accomplish the task of rescuing the Israelites.
Moses' experience has meaning for us today. We don't need to hear God's voice and see an angel in a burning bush, but before we act we should be sure that God has sent us, and we should continue to rely on him. I remember a particular period in my life when I started out with God's blessing but ended up acting on my own strength.
In 1971, my wife and I moved to Washington D.C. for a few years. An amazing set of circumstances led us to a small prayer group that had just been formed. The week we arrived, the people had specifically prayed that the Lord would send them someone who could lead prayer meetings and provide Christian teaching. Since my wife and I had experience in those areas, we were able to help the group. It was obvious to all of us that the Lord had arranged the circumstances so that my wife and I could come in his name and serve.
However, while I came in the name of the Lord, after a while I was working in my own name. I wasn't continuing to be guided by the Lord in the service I was doing; I wasn't relying on him. About a year after arriving in Washington, I realized that I had come to control almost everything happening in the group; I did many of the tasks myself. Without realizing it I had been acting as if redemption depended on me, not on the Lord. I would teach, preach, lead, sing, play guitar, prophecy, counsel, and exhort. It wasn't until I became overworked and tired that I realized I had left God behind and gone on to do God's work for him. I learned a valuable lesson. Once God empowers us we have to continue to rely on him.
A fter God sent Moses back to Egypt, several major obstacles to the fulfillment of God's plan were miraculously swept away. We're all familiar with the signs and wonders God performed to free the Hebrews from the grip of the Egyptians. With God's power at work, Moses was able to lead his people to freedom, something he had been unable to do by his own strength.
Today, God continues to act powerfully among his people. Many people experience sudden freedom from spiritual obstacles in their lives after being baptized in the Spirit. Several years ago, for example, a young woman named Mary began coming to the prayer meetings that I attended. She always sat in a corner looking sad; when I talked with her I discovered that she thought she was unlovable. During one meeting we received several prophecies which people spoke strongly about God's love for certain people present. The prophecies were very personal. As Mary heard them she realized that she was loveable- that God himself loved her.
She began to cry and asked God to baptize her in his Spirit. As we prayed with her, she continued to experience God's love, and a remarkable change occurred. She started to smile and her face became radiant. There was such a tremendous change in her appearance that people noticed it for weeks. God will work in this way. We should expect him to be with us in power. On the other hand, however, when some people are baptized in the Spirit striking changes don't take place, and they are disappointed. We need to achieve a balance in our thinking: We should expect God to work in power but we should also expect him to change us through our daily life in him.
G od performed miracles through Moses, but he also warned Moses about the problems that would come. He said, "I will harden Pharaoh's heart so that he will not let the people go." Moses quickly encountered hardships and spiritual battles that proved God's word to be true. Moses marched into the court of the king of Egypt demanding that he "let my people go." But the king did the exact opposite. What is more, the Israelites were infuriated with Moses because his demands provoked the Egyptians to make the Israelites' lives more miserable. Moses cried out, "O Lord, why did you ever send me?" Far from ending all his problems, Moses' encounter with God at the burning bush had quickly led him into spiritual and physical combat. Moses went to Pharaoh, made demands, and failed to see the expected results. He had to repeat the whole process time after time.
We sometimes experience frustration and find ourselves dealing with all sorts of problems after we have been baptized in the Spirit. When we find ourselves in difficult situations we should be encouraged by what happened to Moses: despite his apparent failures God was in reality working out his plan. In the midst of what seems like failure we can learn, as Moses did, to depend more deeply on the Lord, to seek his strength more diligently, to become wiser and bolder in speaking his word.
Being baptized in the Holy Spirit gives us the power to recognize and fulfill God's will in our daily lives. The Spirit goes with us, showing us how to come through every experience with victory. Our part is faithfully to ask God to give us the zeal and strength we need to grow, day by day, into holy men and women of God.