We all know college football is a passion across the country, and perhaps no conference more intense than the Southeastern Conference (SEC). I love college football, too, but I’m not really passionate about any particular team. I’m more of a spectator. And even though the SEC fans are not actually out on the field playing, their passion, involvement, and heartfelt commitment goes far beyond being a mere spectator like me.
I’m well-meaning, enjoy the games, and watch many of them, but my heart is not invested.
In the Book of Acts, Paul came upon a group of seemingly dedicated followers of Jesus. They must have proclaimed to be followers of Jesus, and I’m guessing they looked the part. After all, they were called “disciples.” But the story took an odd twist. Listen to the dialogue:
Now, it happened that while Apollos was away in Corinth, Paul made his way down through the mountains, came to Ephesus, and happened on some disciples there. The first thing he said was, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? Did you take God into your mind only, or did you also embrace him with your heart? Did he get inside you?”
“We’ve never even heard of that—a Holy Spirit? God within us?”
“How were you baptized, then?” asked Paul.
“In John’s baptism.”
”That explains it,” said Paul. “John preached a baptism of radical life-change so that people would be ready to receive the One coming after him, who turned out to be Jesus. If you’ve been baptized in John’s baptism, you’re ready now for the real thing, for Jesus.” (Acts 19:1-4, MSG)
At a men’s gathering to explore questions about the Bible, the ice-breaker question is often, “Tell us where you are in your spiritual journey, using football as an analogy.” The answers can be poignant, revealing, and downright funny.
One night, we had this response: “I’m outside the stadium, trying to find the door in.”
The next day, this man called me to say he was experiencing a heart change and an eye-opening awakening unlike anything he had experienced before. I could sense something big was changing in his life; and trust me… it stuck. My new friend retooled his life’s direction (repented) and began a heartfelt and compelling pursuit of Jesus.
One day, this friend said to me, “You know… almost one year before that night when I said I was outside the stadium looking for an entrance, I had actually prayed the sinner’s prayer with sincerity, asking the Lord to come into my heart. I was very sincere, and it was heartfelt. I was sure I was saved then. Except… I wasn’t so sure. Nothing had really changed in my life, but now a year later, the day after that night with you guys, Jesus really lit me up, and I could see for the first time how blind I had been and how much I had missed it. What happened? What’s the difference between a year ago, praying the sinner’s prayer, and…” He hesitated, grappling for the right word. “And… this?”
My answer? A year ago, he wanted to change and sincerely so. As a result, he was “baptized” with John’s “baptism of repentance.” He was already well-respected in the community and had been attending church irregularly. He was trying to pray a little more, give a little more, and read his Bible… a little more.
He knew more about Jesus, but he didn’t know Jesus.
There was no baptism of the Holy Spirit.
And this is where I want you to do a self-check.
I know this will offend many, but from my observation, the vast majority of people in church, well-meaning and sincere people, have only experienced “John’s baptism.” These folks, perhaps you included, are far beyond me morally and have much better life track records than I.
But… You must confront yourself, and answer the question, “Did you take God into your mind only, or did you also embrace him with your heart? Did he get inside you?”
Are you a mere spectator (most of you are, though well-meaning and sincere)?
If you’ve been baptized in John’s baptism but haven’t experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit, are you ready now for the real thing? For Jesus?
A follow-up note: To clarify, this baptism of the Holy Spirit is not merely a “speaking-in-tongues” event, and it is not a “falling-down-and-flopping-around” event. It is simply the Holy Spirit moving into your heart because you have finally realized you have missed it and are fully engaged in surrender to Jesus as your new King and your absolute Savior. Something shifts inside, and you know you will never be the same. The light comes on, and the simple explanation is that “all I know is I was blind but now I see.”