If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at My saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
There [Paul] found some disciples 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.”
Have you ever wondered why the experiences we read about in the New Testament may not be our experiences?
From the beginning of time God’s plan was to walk and talk with us. From the garden of Eden, to Moses and Israel in the wilderness, to the advent of the Messiah straight through to His return: God’s plan is to live with us. But when we are unwilling to listen, our sin separates us from God making us unable to hear and casting us from the knowledge of His presence. So God sent us His Son, Jesus, to cleanse us from our sin by His death on the cross, restoring our relationship with God. Jesus’ name “Immanuel” even means “God with us”.
When Jesus arrived people could once again walk and talk with God on earth. When Jesus ascended, He promised to send the Holy Spirit to be with us always, to teach us everything we need to know, to remind us of everything He said, and to perform His Word through us by the Spirit’s power at work within us. In other words: so that God lives with us still today.
It has been said that the miracles, healings, and other experiences of the first generation of Christians – the ones who met Jesus and experienced Pentecost – ended after they died. But in reality we are still members of the first generation of Christians when we meet Jesus and experience Pentecost today. God only has children, and everyone who has ever believed and trusted in Jesus Christ is a brother or sister: members of one generation of one family with God as our Father. So the apostle Paul is not my 100 times great-grandfather in the faith – he is my brother.
When Jesus, in speaking of the last days before His return, affirms: “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (Mark 13:30), He is speaking truth, of course, because there is only one generation of Christians from the time of His death and resurrection until the day He returns.
Why then does our experience today look so different from Acts? It is often because we have not met Jesus and experienced Pentecost for ourselves. Almost our entire experience of God depends on whether our conversion is religious or of the Spirit.
A religious conversion works for any religion and looks like this: I agree with what is being said/done. I do whatever is required to join. I add this to my life. I might learn some true things about God. I try to live what I have learned, if I am a good convert.
A Spirit conversion is quintessentially Christian and works like this: I believe that Jesus is Lord (The Son of God, The Savior of the World, The Living Christ raised from the dead) and I am willing to confess it to others. I surrender my life to Him in exchange for His life. I invite the Holy Spirit to live in me and I meet God. He transforms my life. Jesus lives His life through me as I walk and talk with Him day by day.
With a religious conversion, we keep control and we are alone. With a Spirit conversion, we surrender everything and we live with God now: we are never alone.
What is surrender? Surrender is the point where my desire for God and for a transformed life meets my inability to do anything about it. It’s at this point that I either give up and walk away or turn to God and give everything to Him. I surrender my entire life to God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, goodness, truth, joy, peace – to everything God is – in exchange for Jesus’ life lived in and through me.
When we believe and confess Jesus, we are saved. But if we do not surrender our lives in exchange for His life, we have no room inside of us to contain Him. Surrender makes the room necessary for the Holy Spirit to move into us and to live through us.
This is how we experience God now as our brothers and sisters did in Acts. This is how we meet God, hear God, walk with God, talk with God, and live with God today. This is how we participate with God: living with God, resting in His love for us, doing what only God can do.