Today is the celebration of Pentecost, and we heard a fine sermon by Pastor Omodhi in church this morning that dealt with a critical question we all face: How do I know that I have received the Holy Spirit? Especially when I consider all the bad things I’ve done, how do I know that I am a genuine Christian and not just a hypocrite who is going through the motions? How do I know that my sins are actually forgiven?
In Africa, Pentecostal churches are very common, even more common than in the United States, and Pastor Omodhi pointed out that the answer many of these churches give to the question above is this: You will know you have received the Holy Spirit when you speak miraculously in foreign tongues like the apostles did in Acts 2. They received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues; therefore, all Christians who truly have the Holy Spirit will speak in tongues.
But there is a problem with this. There is no promise from God in Holy Scripture that all Christians will receive this gift. By the hand of Moses God parted the sea, but that does not mean all Christians will have this ability. Peter had faith and walked on water (at least for a while!), but it does not follow that all Christians with faith will do the same. Many in the early Church were given miraculous gifts of healing, but there is no promise from God that all Christians will receive these gifts.
The same is true of the miraculous gift given on that first day of Pentecost. There is no promise from God that all Christians, or even most, will receive the gift of speaking in foreign tongues. So then how do you know if you actually have the Spirit? Where can we find an actual promise from God?
It’s right there in Acts 2. In verses 38-39 we read, “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’”
There it is. Right there is a promise from God that is explicitly for everyone. There is a sure thing. “Repent and be baptized… and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” And what is repentance? Repentance is being sorrowful over your sins and looking to Jesus for forgiveness. It is as simple as that. All who repent and are baptized have received the Holy Spirit. God has promised it.
So, on this day of Pentecost, even if you have never spoken in a miraculous language or performed a miraculous healing like the apostles (I haven’t!), be assured that the same Holy Spirit who was given on that day has been given also to you. He came when you were baptized. He came when you believed God’s promise that your sins are forgiven because Jesus shed His blood for you. It’s a promise of God, written in Scripture, and God’s promises never fail.