“Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them.” Acts 2:3
Baby Chris’s 11th week of development begins this year on Pentecost Sunday, the day many Christians observe as “the birthday of the church.” In Acts 2 Luke records how the Jesus’ disciples were gathered together to pray and wait – for an unknown gift he called the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” - as he had instructed before ascending into heaven (Acts 1). When the promised gift arrived, they were startled by a sound like blowing wind, and saw something like “tongues of fire” that came to rest on each of them, individually. Immediately, the confusion of languages in Babel (Gen. 11:1-9) was reversed, as the speech of different nations became intelligible to everyone present.
In this morning’s sermon we were told that the fire that day brought both warmth and light, things we all need for life in Christ. The light of the Holy Spirit in individual believers, enables each person to experience sanctification: the transformation of life accomplished by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) and evidenced by our relationships and behavior (James 2:18-36; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4; Galatians 5:22-25).
Some people mistakenly think that we need to “try harder” to become more Christlike, forgetting that the Holy Spirit is a gift from God (Acts 2:38). We have nothing to do with our sanctification – our development – throughout our lives, except to show up:
In The Pilgrim’s Progress, author and pastor John Bunyan relates the vision of a man whom his main character, Christian, sees sweeping the wooden floor of a large room. The man’s sweeping produces an impenetrable and intolerable cloud of dust. The more he sweeps, the more the dust is stirred up, and the more the dust is stirred up, the harder and faster he sweeps.
The hopeless situation seems to have no end in sight until a young girl comes and sprinkles some drops of water over the dust, causing it to drift back to the floor where it can be swept into a neat pile and disposed of properly. This vision, Christian comes to understand, represents the futile human effort to deal with sin through effort apart from the gracious working of the gospel.
Bunyan teaches us that our great effort in fighting sin must be undertaken in the power of the Holy Spirit through the gospel. If our efforts are divorced from the work of the Spirit, they will prove futile — just like the ineffectual sweeping of the serving man in Bunyan’s tale.
It is a valuable lesson: We cannot sanctify ourselves in our own strength any more than we can save ourselves in our own strength. (Andrew Shanks, “Do We Participate in Our Own Salvation?”)
Just so, Baby Chris has nothing to do with his own development. No amount of kicking and wriggling will change anything. Wrapped in the warmth of his mother’s womb, the light of his life was kindled from the outside by the Spirit, and his individual development and physical growth are guided by the hand of God to mold him into exactly the person God intends. There is nothing the unborn child can do that results in self-determination. He has just “shown up.”
Pentecost teaches us that we are not as autonomous, either in body or choice, as we tell ourselves. Our careful plans for our own lives and futures are often altered from the outside by the unexpected arrival of the wind of the Spirit. All we can do is show up and respond.
“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:14