The Promise of the Holy Spirit

Lance Fredrickson


Is this promise of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 3:14 received at regeneration or at entire sanctification?

In the Old Testament, a New Covenant was promised by God whereby he would pour out his Spirit and do a work in the heart, enabling those who follow him to be able to keep his law. In the New Testament, John the Baptist identified Jesus as the one who would inaugurate this dispensation of the Spirit: "he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire." At the Passover just before his crucifixion, Jesus inaugurated the New Covenant. He told his disciples that it was to their advantage that he went away for he would send to them "another comforter," that is the Holy Spirit. Jesus said he would "send the promise of my father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from upon high."

The Day of Pentecost fulfilled Jesus' words of sending the promise of the Father and thus baptizing the disciples with the Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit is said to cause spiritual regeneration, or the new birth. This new birth is linked to entering the spiritual kingdom of Christ. As Jesus told Nicodemus, entering the kingdom hinges upon being born again of the Spirit.

The Church, including early Methodists such as John Wesley and Adam Clarke, has traditionally associated the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the new birth. In the 1830s starting mainly with Asa Mahan and Charles Finney, some in the Holiness Movement began to associate the baptism of the Holy Spirit with entire sanctification instead of the new birth.

Those who hold this new teaching have many interpretive hurdles to jump if they are to prove their position from the scriptures. They first of all must prove that everyone in Acts who received the Spirit already were born again Christians. Many holiness writers go to great lengths to try to demonstrate this. They also face the tenor of all the New Testament Epistles that presuppose that all Christians have been baptized with the Holy Spirit.

Among holiness writers, there is not universal agreement on the role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the regenerate and then in effecting entire sanctification. Some see two advents of the Spirit, one in regeneration then the other as "the baptism of the Spirit" which is said to effect entire sanctification. This view recognizes the tenor of the New Testament that all believers have the Spirit and also seeks to preserve the teaching that Spirit Baptism effects entire sanctification.

Some holiness writers recognize that born again believers have received the Holy Spirit but have not yet been baptized with the Spirit. E. E. Shelhamer writes, "Regenerated souls have the Spirit and consequently the fruit of the Spirit" [Bible Holiness, How Obtained and Retained]. Donald Metz in his book, Studies in Biblical Holiness, follows a similar line of thought. Others believe born again believers do not receive the Holy Spirit until they are entirely sanctified. Rev. Lyle Potter's testimony in Spiritual Death Route Holiness by L. S. Boardman asks this question, "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?" This same question is repeated at the end of each chapter in the book When the Holy Ghost is Come by Samuel Brengle.

The emphasis that all Christians have received the Holy Spirit agrees with the experience of those who are truly born again and the tenor of the New Testament epistles. But the problem with this position, just described in the previous paragraph, is that it teaches two advents of the Holy Spirit, one at salvation, the other is termed "the baptism of the Holy Spirit" occurring at entire sanctification. Where is the scriptural evidence for teaching two advents of the Spirit?

Paul is instead extremely explicit that the pouring out (baptism) of the Holy Spirit occurs at regeneration: "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:5-7). In this passage Paul ties the pouring out of the Spirit with regeneration and justification, not with entire sanctification. Paul here teaches that there is a cleansing that occurs in those who are born again. The Titus 3:5-7 passage links together the concept of "the baptism of the Holy Ghost" spoken of by John the Baptist and the new Spiritual birth that Christ counseled Nicodemus about as one and the same event occurring at justification.

Others recognize the lack of scriptural basis for two advents of the Spirit and argue for a single advent. They place the timing of this advent at entire sanctification. Yet if all believers who do have the Spirit are entirely sanctified, do we say the Galatians were in an entirely sanctified condition? These same Galatians were flirting with going back to the Old Covenant, apostatizing, and being circumcised. Yet Paul presupposes that they have the Spirit, they began with the Spirit, and will be perfected by the Spirit. Paul recognizes that they had received the promise of the Father. He commands them to "Walk by the Spirit."

The traditional view, when compared to the above options, has much merit. This view holds that the disciples, who were "sons of the covenant," were believers in the Old Testament sense. It views the events recorded in Acts as transitional between the Old and the New Covenants. The gospel mandate was to offer the blessings of the New Covenant "to the Jew first and then the Gentile." The disciples thus experienced the new birth of the New Covenant on the day of Pentecost. They were baptized with the Spirit as Jesus promised. This view does not limit the further work of the Spirit in the lives of believers, additional anointings (1 John), or fillings of the Spirit, as Paul writes, "be filled with the Spirit." We are also to be receptive to the purifying flame of the Spirit and not put it out, "quench not the Spirit." The traditional view holds that all born again Christians are baptized with the Holy Spirit at the point of justification.

Acts has been the much fought over battleground in the timing issue of Spirit Baptism. Acts is primarily a historical narrative and secondarily doctrinal. If Acts were all we had to go by, arguments for or against associating Spirit Baptism with entire sanctification may be advanced. But when Acts is read together with the doctrinal epistles, the traditional view is greatly strengthened while the view advanced by Finney and Mahan loses out.

In the debate Galatians 3:1-14 has been largely ignored. This is very unfortunate. Paul makes very explicit statements about the timing of receiving the "promise of the father." He ties Spirit baptism and justification together as occurring at the same time. Paul's letter to the Ephesians also ties receiving the promise of the Spirit to the believer's initial justifying faith, "In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory" (Eph 1: 13-14).

The "promise of the Spirit" in Galatians 3:1-14 ties to Matt. 3:11,17, John 14:16, 26, Luke 24:29, Acts 1:4, 5, Acts 2:2-4, Acts 2:16-18, Eph. 1:13, 14, Titus 3:5-7, Joel 2:28, and Ezekiel 36:26, 27.

Many commentators pass right by the timing issue in Galatians 3 and hardly notice it. H.A.W. Meyer (Critical and Exegetical Handbook, American Edition) and E. D. Burton (ICC) did not do this. They argue both extensively and exegetically from the Greek that the timing of Spirit baptism occurs at the point of justification. However, The Beacon Bible Commentary is very disappointing in its treatment of Galatians 3:1-14. In the place of exegesis, the commentator resorts to dogmatics and associates Spirit baptism with entire sanctification. This commentator, inexplicitly, does not exegetically address the timing issue of this passage.

The new birth, entering the New Covenant, entering the kingdom, justifying faith, having the Spirit poured out upon us, and the witness of the Spirit are just some of the events that intersect and transpire at conversion. In the new birth we pass from death to life! "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." Adam Clarke comments:

It is vain for a man to profess affinity to Christ according to the flesh, while he is unchanged in his heart and life, and dead in trespasses and sins; for him that is in Christ, that is, a genuine Christian, having Christ dwelling in his heart by faith, is anew creature; his old state is changed: he was a child of Satan, he is now a child of God; he was a slave of sin, and his works were death; he is now made free from sin, and has his fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. . . .Therefore, old thingsare passed away.
The man is not only mended, but he is new made; he is a new creature, , a new creation, a little world in himself; formerly, all was in chaoticdisorder; now, there is a new creation, which God himself owns as his workmanship, and which he can look on and pronounce very good.

The timing issue is very important. It not only affects our doctrinal stance but our practice. There has been an effort to undermine the significance of the new birth in Wesleyan circles that dates back to Fletcher's Checks. Wesley gave counsel that entire sanctification was not to be overemphasized to the detriment of justification. There is today a general view among many even in the Church that those who are born again live sinful lives just like people of the world. God forbid! My Churchgoing older brother even told me that the only difference between the saved and the lost is that the saved have their sins forgiven. Many are seeking salvation from the penalty of sin, not salvation from sin. We need to have the high view of regeneration that the scriptures hold. There is something very significant and glorious that occurs when the new birth is experienced. "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!"

God's promise in the New Covenant is that he will put his Spirit into us and enable us to live holy lives. We do not have to wait for entire sanctification to be "sons of the New Covenant." Entrance into the New Covenant occurs at regeneration. Romans 5 ties together the giving of the Spirit to us with justification. God's seal to this event is the giving of the Holy Spirit, whom He pours out upon us. The experience of our lives should be "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" because "the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." Those who have been born again should be living dead to self, alive to Christ lives from the moment of conversion. Entire sanctification should be seen as a perfecting and heightening of the life of holiness that began at the moment we first believed.


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