While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.
8 Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. 9 But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. – Acts 19:1-10
I recall being deeply touched when I first read Martin Luther’s explanation to the 3rd Article of the Apostle’s Creed. Luther writes:
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.
I continue to be impressed at the fullness of God’s grace. Not only did he send his Son, Jesus Christ to redeem the world by his life, suffering, death and resurrection; God sent the Holy Spirit to us to bring us to faith in Jesus and enliven us as his people.
This encounter with these disciples who had not heard of the Holy Spirit, but who apparently didn’t really understand who he was, must have been brought to faith in Jesus by the Holy Spirit – even though they didn’t know him or about him. But there was more that was to come, and Paul will bring this blessing to them through the laying on of his hands.
Apart from questions about speaking in tongues, and whether this is an essential expression of faith in Jesus, there is another forgotten – or ignored? – role and work of the Holy Spirit. This is indicated in verse 10: “This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.”
The Holy Spirit not only brings us to faith, he also inspires, emboldens, and sustains people in the mission of God. My appreciation of this facet of the Holy Spirit’s work is somewhat recent. That may surprise some. But our whole focus has been for years that of the Holy Spirit’s essential role in bringing people to faith in Jesus. A quick look at 1 Corinthians 12:3 shows this to be true: we cannot even say, “Jesus is Lord,” apart from the Holy Spirit. Remember also, however, Jesus’ promise to the Apostles: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be my witness to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The Holy Spirit propels mission (cf. Acts 13:1-3), prepares hearts to hear the Gospel, sustains believers in the faith, and inspires fruitful living: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, kindness, faithfulness, and self-control. That’s a fairly significant and far-ranging spread of influence and work in the mission of God and life of the believer. Luther’s explanation is a beautiful of the role of the Holy Spirit in bringing people to faith and sustaining the church. Perhaps some day someone will write a paragraph on how the Holy Spirit inspires and sustains Jesus’ followers on his mission.