What is the GIFT of the Holy Spirit?
by David Lemmons
Without question the question of this article is challenging and of interest to all Christians. It is a question which has been asked and answered in numerous question and answer forums, articles, sermons, and other media. Sometimes the consideration of this question generates a great deal of emotion and HEATED debate among us. To attempt an answer to this question is to open up oneself to being treated with suspicion as to one’s soundness in the faith if it is not answered in exact accord with the view held by the reviewer. On the other hand, many brethren, when addressing this question, show more cordiality or graciousness in the statement of their view than others seem to be able to muster. It is a question which has tested many keen intellects among us and yet one that has been answered in many different ways. Why then would this humble scribe attempt answering such a problematic question? I suppose the best answer to that question I can summon would be that same response to the question of why some men would climb Mount Everest–just because it is there. But then there is also this void [i.e., “an empty space”] in my own mind that comes as a result of some of the answers given by my brethren whom I love and respect highly.
I would want to identify myself with those described above who show more cordiality and graciousness as I state my own answer to the question. I could be wrong in my view! I recognize that giving a different answer from those given by men who are sound in the faith and whom I respect and love needs to be done only after having carefully considered the arguments presented.
To those who give answers that involve the Holy Spirit acting directly upon the hearts of men today without agency, I say I can have no fellowship with you. The relatively recent views expressed by the Deavers is a position of false teaching and leaves no room for fellowship as I understand the position. I was recently viewing a DVD which presented the view that the gift of the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit Himself. The person presenting his answer to this question was claiming a literal indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but was not claiming any direct operation of the Holy Spirit upon the life of the Christian. I believe that view is false, but not consequential enough to become the basis of withdrawing fellowship. Brethren among us have lived and worked together on both sides of that issue for many years [e.g., the Woods/Nichols discussions at Freed-Hardeman], and I think that is wise.
The answer to this question which is given by a great number of my friends and brethren for whom I have the greatest respect and appreciation (and with whom I hope to maintain close fellowship), is that the GIFT is miraculous, coming from the laying on of hands of an apostle. I have to state that this view is possible. I could be wrong in saying that I do not believe it is the correct answer to the question. The problem that comes to my mind about this position is that it leaves in my mind that void as defined above–an empty space. How is it that this GIFT, given only to some who lived in the first century, a gift to me? Yes indeed, I do benefit from the confirmation of the word which resulted from the miraculous signs performed by the apostles and those on whom they laid hands. I certainly do not deny this! But is this really the natural reading of this text? I cannot get it through my feeble brain how this view does anything but cause part of verse 38 of Acts 2 to be snipped out of my Bible. Is it required that I give a detailed explanation, involving other chapters in the Book of Acts, to those who ask me about why people living today do not get this GIFT? If the GIFT is the miraculous ability derived from the laying on of apostles’ hands, brethren, I DIDN’T GET IT! I don’t have any such ability. There was no apostle to lay their hands on me at the time I was baptized! It seems to me that the folks who repent and are baptized are the ones who are PROMISED a gift. It does not seem reasonable to me that only the ones who repented and were baptized IN THE FIRST CENTURY, and who had hands of an apostle laid on them, received the GIFT.
What then is the GIFT? I think a much simpler answer is the correct one. I think the immediate context provides an insightful clue to the answer. Let us notice… Acts 2:39 “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” The last part of verse 38 surely sustains a relationship to the next verse, does it not? Beginning with the word FOR, surely tells us that an explanation is being given relating to the GIFT mentioned in the last part of verse 38. As simply as I know how to put it, the GIFT is salvation. I identify salvation with the PROMISE of verse 39 and the GIFT of verse 38. Some will say, but this has Peter stating the same thing twice in his answer to the question of verse 37. You have him granting the remission of sins and then also saying salvation which are equivalent. Brethren, is it so strange that Peter, a Jew, would address his Jewish audience with a figure used so abundantly in Hebrew Scripture–synonymous parallelism. What is so wrong with stating twice the blessing that comes from repentance and baptism? I also relate the GIFT to the fact that all spiritual blessings are in Christ (Eph 1:3) and the only way to get into Christ is by being baptized INTO Him (Rom 6:3; Gal 3:27). When we repent and are baptized, brethren, we have access to all of those spiritual blessings.
Do we receive the GIFT today? Yes, we do. Is it miraculous in nature? No, it is not. The gift is salvation–that same salvation promised long ago to the father of the faithful.
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