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QUESTION: re Worship & Baptism in Spirit

Red Question MarkCan a person praise God without having the baptism of the Holy Spirit?

Jesus spoke to the woman at the well about true worship, or praise, to God.

A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth. – John 4:23-24.

In the chapter just before this important conversation, there was another important conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. There, Jesus told this Jewish leader about the new birth. When he asked how a man can be born when he is old, Jesus replied:

I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ – John 3:5-7.

I do not think these two conversations about a spiritual birth and spiritual worship are one right after the other by coincidence. The context of each includes the other. Spiritual worship follows the spiritual birth as naturally as being a member of a family follows being born into it.

Of course, your question is not whether one who has been baptized in the Holy Spirit can praise (worship) God, but whether having been baptized in the Spirit is required before one can worship God.

Note that God seeks worshipers who can worship in spirit and in truth. It is those who are born again or water and the Spirit who are spirit, and not just flesh. These are the worshipers God seeks. He wants them to become “spirit” by being born of water and Spirit.

Examples of this are in Philippians 3:3 and Revelation 1:10. In Philippians, Paul declared, “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.

In Revelation, John declared, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” While we might find nuances of difference in these and Jesus’ statement in John 4 about true worship, I believe these are all in essence the same.

There is no doubt that this is the norm. But, does God accept worship from people who have not been born of the Spirit?

Throughout the entire Old Testament, men praised God – but the New Birth is not in the Old Testament. It is introduced by Jesus in the New Covenant where we have a new relationship to God in Christ as we live in Him empowered by the Spirit of God, whom God gives to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32).

I think of at least two people, though, in the New Testament who were praying to God before they received the Holy Spirit: Saul of Tarsus, after he saw the Lord on the Damascus Road, and Cornelius, the devout Gentile soldier.

In Acts 9, Saul had received warrants from the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem to go to Damascus to find Christian Jews to arrest and bring back to Jerusalem. On the road, Jesus appeared to him in a blinding light. When Saul realized who this was, he asked, “What shall I do, Lord?” (see Acts 22:10 where Saul, then known as Paul, retold this story years later). The Lord told him to go on into the city where he would be told what he must do. His companions led him into the city (for he was blind) where he prayed for three days as he waited to be told what to do. At the end of the three days, a disciple of Jesus named Ananias was sent to him and said:

Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized (Acts 9:17-18).

As Saul told the story, Ananias had said to him, “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). In answering a question by the Jews who had killed Jesus, in Acts 2:38 Peter had said,

Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Ananias came to Saul that he might receive the Holy Spirit; he told him to be baptized, calling on the name of the Lord, to wash his sins away. Peter promised that those who were baptized in the name of the Lord for the forgiveness of sins would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. So Ananias told Saul just what Peter had told the people on the Day of Pentecost. In each instance, praise to God and glorification of His Son followed (see Acts 2:47 & 9:19-20).

In Acts 10, an angel came to a devout, God-fearing Gentile man named Cornelius as he was praying. He told him to send for Peter who would tell him how he and his household could be saved (cf. Acts 11:14). When Peter arrived at the home of Cornelius, he preached the good news of Jesus to all who were there, the Holy Spirit fell on them, and they were baptized at the command of Peter.

Saul of Tarsus and Cornelius were both praying before they received the Holy Spirit. Were they praising God in their prayers? We do not know the specific content of those prayers. Did they include praise? My guess would be that they did. Saul’s prayer would likely have been similar to that of the tax collector in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:9-14, who prayed, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” To look to God as the source of salvation and redemption is certainly one form of praise. As a God-fearing man, Cornelius praised God, not only in his prayers, but also in his deeds for “he gave generously to those in need” along with his regular prayers. Everything about what we are told of this man suggests that he was one who praised God.

But did you notice something about these two? God caused each of them to come to know His Son through whom we are saved, born again, and find our new relationship to God in the Spirit. He did not leave them without Christ and without the Spirit.

Jesus has promised that those who seek will find (Matthew 7:7). One who praises God without the Spirit is one who is seeking God. God will provide a way for such a person to come to know Him and to find fellowship with Him in His Son through the Holy Spirit – for God is seeking those who seek Him.

I hope these thoughts will be of some assistance to you in your journey with God.


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