It was in a country church in central Kentucky 40 years ago that I remember truly hearing the fullness of the Gospel. What my parents had taught me through word and deed became crystal clear. I began to comprehend the fullness of God’s sanctifying grace clearly laid out in all of Scripture. I saw, for the first time, God’s intention for His people.
In a Sunday evening service I began to understand the importance of the Holiness tradition and its consistent emphasis on the day of Pentecost as a turning point in the history of salvation. I came to truly conceive that our beliefs about the possibility of a pure heart are not strained or odd readings of Scripture. The Army has only ever pointed to the heart of the God who redeems us from all our sin. What an overwhelming, beautiful thing the Gospel is. But when does such a marvelous promise actually take place? Is it only an ideal? A hope only for Heaven, but not this life?
Pentecost is our answer.
The grandeur of the Gospel revealed in Scripture is that God has always offered all of Himself to us. As persons created in His image, God revealed His intention for us. Though marred by the Fall, that divine desire is made possible by the restorative power of the Atonement. We join all who have believed that the human heart can be transformed by the work of the Triune God. The proof of that reimagined fullness has been revealed in history on the day of Pentecost.
It was there, in that small church, that my mind and heart were opened to the Scriptural evidence that makes plain what God longed for Israel, what Jesus came to offer, and what the Spirit produces in every heart. I realized on that Sunday evening the biblical plan for recreating God’s image in us.
Most of us would agree that the disciples were moral, seekers after God and were willing to pay some price to follow Jesus. They were better than most. Certainly, they were not openly sinning. But as every Gospel indicates, their hearts were full of self-centeredness. Jesus compares one of them to Satan!
An honest look at their hearts reveals:
- They did not have the same mindset as Jesus. Their perspective was law abiding but it was not formed by the Cross that Jesus kept bringing to their attention.
- They had no spiritual power to confront the needs of the world. Their ministry began with a semblance of authority but that was gone very soon. Jesus strongly confronted them with their inability to offer wholeness to the needy.
- They were always bickering, arguing and undercutting each other. When a disciple does not have the mind of Christ they turn toward those nearest them in competitive comparison.
- They did not love anyone outside their circle. It is revealing that one would struggle to find any clear act of selfless outreach in any disciple once Jesus began to talk about the Cross. They did their duty but there is no passionate love for the needy exhibited anywhere.
- They did not love Jesus faithfully or consistently. All of them, except John, left Jesus and ran the other way when the authorities came for Him. They had everything God could offer and missed Him and His full, transformative grace.
The immediate context of Pentecost is forgotten by many who proclaim the Gospel. Brengle pointed out that no one was converted between the Resurrection and Pentecost. He had his finger on the pulse of most Christianity. We think we have the Cross right. We believe in the Resurrection. But we live without the whole plan of the Father and the Son and the Spirit actualized in our lives. Wesley referred to Pentecost as the first “proper Gospel day.” And that is what I saw that evening in a dimly-lit church.
Everything was different on that first Pentecost after the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus.
Everything was different on that first Pentecost after the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. Something happened on that day that changed the history of the world. Every self-curved attitude and action the Gospels reveal about the disciples was countered by the re-orienting power of the Spirit.
- They began to think like Jesus. His purposes were no longer unclear to them and, with the first proclamation of the undiminished Gospel in one afternoon, thousands came to believe in Christ.
- Note that a selfless, yet powerful, ministry ensued. In Jesus’ name, redemptive power flowed to human need. The disciples knew that the Risen Christ could meet every need of the heart.
- The disciples have a new, committed loved for each other. They actually like each other.
- They love those who before had repulsed them. Indiscriminate, inclusive holy love poured out of them. The Spirit enabled them to reach out without a whit of condescension.
- They stayed committed to Jesus no matter what it cost them. They loved Him with a love that was not of their own making. All of this and more was given to them in an ongoing, intimate, daily relationship with the Spirit of Jesus.
The concept of sanctification is central to all the Bible and Christian thought. We dare not separate the Cross from Pentecost. The Trinity does not suffice with a Gospel that merely pardons sin and leaves us with the quandary as to sin’s source. Without the possibility of an Upper Room experience we are left behind locked doors just like we find the fearful disciples at the end of the Gospels. Without the coming, the bestowal, the fullness, the baptism of the Holy Spirit the Church is just like the disciples were before Pentecost. As one evangelist said, “without Pentecost, we are simply ornamenting the dead.”
But, the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, has come. And if anyone yields by faith to His full presence, He can come and produce in us the life, power, purity and love of Jesus. Then, there is hope that we also can live each day as a “Gospel” day. That is what the Gospel means; the life of God in the soul of every person; the presence of Jesus pervading all of me. That is why the Army proclaims both Blood and Fire. Golgotha and the Upper Room. Pardon and purity.
Pentecost was the first Gospel day. The question for us is, are we willing to live in the reality of this Gospel day by day? Experiences are wonderful, but it is the daily life of the mind and power and love of Jesus that reveals those who are formed by the Gospel. If you have ever known a Gospel day it will set the course for every day to follow, because it is all about the presence of the Risen Lord in your heart, filling you with His love and power and purity.
Today, this day can be your day of salvation. What a prospect!
Dr. Bill Ury is the national ambassador for Holiness with The Salvation Army and, an adjunct professor at several institutions.