A. Pentecost and experience
1. Pentecost is sometimes called the birthday of the church. As such, it corrects an error in our pattern of making disciples. The church is born, not with a class of instruction—a catechism, but with an experience. The Spirit comes, and stuff begins to happen. To be sure, there will be catechism. Peter’s sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:14-40) explained the experience of Pentecost, and the church took the next four centuries to get the explanation just right; but the experience came first and the explanation came after.
2. We often confuse the explanation with the experience. Too often we believe in statements about God, but do not experience God’s grace and power. This gap inevitably leads to theological and spiritual doubt—for the explanation cannot hold without the experience. The church has contributed to this problem in evangelism and catechism by explaining God to people when we should be leading them into the experience of communion with God.
B. Our experience of Pentecost
1. We are unlikely to experience what the first disciples experienced on Pentecost. There is no reason for God to enable us to miraculously speak in some foreign language unless we are given a mission to people who speak that language. But we can experience the relational connection with God that Jesus promises in the gospel for Pentecost.
2. In the gospel Jesus gives a pattern for how the Spirit comes to us. He repeats it three times for emphasis:
If you love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever—even the Spirit of truth (John 14:15-17).
He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him (John 14:21).
If anyone loves me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (John 14:23).
3. In summary: If we keep the commandments of Jesus, God will send us the Spirit. When we hear the “commandment” our tendency is to think of the Ten Commandments—the rules God gave Moses on Mt. Sinai. Thus, if we keep the rules, God will send us the Spirit. This is, unfortunately, how many look at faith. They try hard to keep all the rules hoping that God will accept them. This is wrong.
C. The commandment to believe or trust
1. In John’s gospel, Jesus gives two specific commandments. These two commandments are the essence of what Jesus means when he says, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” The first is the commandment to believe or put our trust in Jesus. In John 6:29, Jesus says, “This is the work of God; that you believe in him who he sent.”
2. Faith in Jesus reverses the pattern of the first sin—which we all repeat in our lives. We don’t trust God; therefore we disobey his commandments and lose our connection to God through the Spirit. Alienation from God lead us to feel guilty, ashamed and afraid. This is the state of spiritual death. The answer is to trust Jesus now where we did not trust God before. This reverses the pattern: Faith opens our hearts up to the gift of the Spirit. This Spirit raises us from spiritual death, reconnects us to God and gives us a new desire and ability to please God. Guilt, shame and fear are replaced with forgiveness, joy and peace.
3. This relationship of trust is distinct from mere rule keeping. If I trust a person who has authority over me, l will want to follow his instructions because I believe he knows and desires what it best. However, if I don’t trust those in authority over me, I will follow the rules out of fear—fear of what will happen if I don’t. The problem is that Spirit enters our lives through our attitude of faith in Jesus. This is what it means to be saved by faith. Thus, fear and doubt reject the relationship of union with God and the gift of the Spirit that are the very means of salvation. This is why Jesus commands us to believe
D. The commandment to love
1. The second specific commandment of Jesus is the commandment or mandate to love. At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you…By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35—see also 1 John 3:23).
2. The commandment to love highlights the communal nature of the gift of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not my personal possession; the Spirit is God’s gift to us all corporately. We become who we are meant to be as individuals only in relationship to others in the community—just an arm is useless unless it is attached to a body.
3. The experience of the Spirit is mediated through others. When we love one another with the love that we have experienced from God, we become part of each other’s experience of God. We give with our spiritual gifts, and receive from others through their spiritual gifts. This is why objections to mediated grace are silly. People will say, “I don’t need anyone to come between me and God. I can go to God directly through Jesus.” This is a dangerous half-truth. To be sure, we can all pray directly to God, and there is a direct, mystical experience of grace. But, in addition, we need and should want a thousand mediators. Mediators bring us closer to God; the more we have, the better off we are.
E. Trust and Love in community
1. Mediating relationships, of course, are not all love and sunshine. Relationships within the Body of Christ are often messy and difficult because we are messy and difficult people. Many people shy away from the church precisely because real relationships require this kind of deep personal engagement and commitment. However, when we avoid real flesh and blood community, we avoid a substantial means of grace—the grace that comes from knowing others and being known, from loving and being loved.
2. Our relational experience in the Body of Christ is an essential part of our Pentecost. When we offend each other, the Holy Spirit calls us to grow through the pain; to learn how to speak the truth in love; to examine or own motives; to learn how to forgive and accept forgiveness; to learn how to forbear and suffer long—and not run away. The Spirit comes to us as we trust Jesus and love each other through tragedy, trial and disappointment. We do not yet trust and love as we ought. Rather, in our relationship with God and with each other in Christ, we are learning how to trust and learning how to love. This is the experience of the Holy Spirit.
3. In this light, we can see why we are tempted just to memorize the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments and be done with it; why it is easier to argue about theology than it is to trust God; why it is easier to judge each other than it is to love each other; why we are more comfortable with the explanation than we are with the experience. However, Jesus calls us to more than that: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word [he will begin to trust me and begin to love others] and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”