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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Acts 19:1–7

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied—altogether there were about twelve of them. (NRSV)

So what is Paul doing here? Telling people they haven’t “really” been baptized, or that they haven’t been baptized in “the right way?”

I mean, these are folks who were baptized into John’s baptism. You know who else was baptized into John’s baptism? Jesus. He seemed to think it was pretty worthwhile. And you know who didn’t personally baptize anybody? Jesus. His disciples did, but he didn’t. And John kept baptizing after he dunked Jesus, so you know, it wasn’t like John’s baptism had an expiration date or anything.

So where does this guy get off coming into town and asking, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” Like, “Did you get the membership card?” “Did you learn the secret handshake?”

But listen to what the people said when he asked them: “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

Whoa. Now Paul comes off a little differently. Maybe a little less snooty, a little more, “You mean nobody told you about this? Because it’s kind of significant.”

You see, John’s was a baptism of repentance, and repentance is an action, a thing you do: you come out of the water and do things in a different way than you did before. Paul is talking about something more. He’s talking about a fundamental change in being. It’s not just that you act differently (adverb), it’s that you are different (adjective). Your relationship with the world is different. God isn’t “out there,” watching and evaluating; God is “in here,” in you. When you are true to that presence of God within you, you relate to the world in a different way.

And that is a huge distinction, one that Paul would have been seriously remiss in not addressing.

Lord, remind us that “Christian” is also an adjective, and that our challenge is to be true to your presence within us as we relate to the world and each other. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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