“...Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, 'Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?' So they said to him, 'We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.' And he said to them, 'Into what then were you baptized?' So they said, 'Into John’s baptism.' Then Paul said, 'John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.' When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 19: 1-5
As I was reading last night, I came upon the scene laid out above in Acts 19 and I couldn't quite wrap my mind around what these differences in baptism really boiled down to, and so I decided to do some investigating.
As it turns out, a man named Apollos instructed these new disciples about the need to repent and turn back to the Lord, that was the main message of John the Baptist and that was the message Apollos was so personally fervent to share with anyone he met. The problem was through, that just like John the Baptist knew, this message of repentance was not the end of the story. The message that Jesus had to share, that would be received by hearts that had turned back to the Lord, was the even greater message to be received.
If you go on in reading Acts 19 you will learn that it wasn't until these 12 men believed in Jesus and were baptized in the “name of the Lord Jesus” did they receive the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. The final part of the story had finally been put into its proper place in their lives and their hearts had been cleared, ready and waiting for the Holy Spirit to come and indwell in them and to work through them.
As I thought about these men and the preparation they had undergone before Paul encountered them in Ephesus I have to think of how many times this same type of scenario happens every day in the lives of people who want to make a change in their ways, but do not realize their need for Jesus after their confession of sin.
In the past I have likened the repentance and forgiveness process that we enter into as Christians was an on-going cycle. In the illustration below you see three arrows that go around in a circular fashion. Image with me for a while that each of those arrows represent a step in the cyclical pattern our sinful nature takes us on as believers who put our hope and trust in the Lord. The green arrow represents a committed sin. The blue arrow represents the heart seeing its need for repentance of that sin. The red arrow represents the work done by Jesus to forgive us of our sin and bring us back into a righteous relationship with God.
Now, think about what that cycle would look like if that last of the arrows, the red one, was removed from the picture. If there was no forgiveness, just repentance, the cycle would never complete itself and a person would be left changing their direction to only have the next sin that they commit drop them even further away from the Lord. We NEED Jesus to bring us back to the top – the place of restoration that only His sacrifice on the cross and resurrection can accomplish. On our own we are left in a zigzag pattern into the pit of hell and a greater and greater separation from God.
Thankfully, no matter how far that zigzag pattern takes us away from God, the sacrificial offering made by Jesus is enough to bridge the great divide. And, it is only when that divide is closed that our hearts our cleared and ready to receive the Holy Spirit – the same as these 12 men who were baptized in the name of Jesus. The work was complete and their lives were forever changed because they now had the power of the resurrected Christ in them.
How about you? Do you stop at asking forgiveness and then try to work out your own salvation when you realize you have messed up and need to make an about face? Or, do you take one step further after you see your sin and repent of your ways, and call upon Jesus to once again cleanse you and bring you back into that perfect relationship with Him, His Father, and the Holy Spirit?
To access the power of God requires accepting the work of Jesus done on the cross. Without the cross we are dead in our efforts to redeem ourselves and even more so, offer redemption those who are lost and searching for the God we say we serve.