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Comparison of the Accounts in Acts
We have investigated all five cases recorded in Scripture where people received the Holy Ghost. In three cases (Pentecost, Cornelius, Ephesus) those who received the Spirit immediately spoke in tongues. A fourth case (Samaria) does not explicitly describe any particular external manifestation but it clearly requires the presence of a miraculous, immediately identifiable outward sign, and most commentators agree this was speaking in tongues. In the fifth case (Paul) the Bible gives no description of the Spirit baptism, but later reveals that the recipient spoke in tongues throughout his Christian life.What about other possible signs of the Spirit baptism? Acts 2 records a sound like wind and tongues like fire, but these preceded the first outpouring of the Spirit and are not mentioned in any other account. Acts 8 demonstrates that not all spiritual gifts and miracles were considered as signs. Acts 19 mentions prophecy, but only after it mentions speaking in tongues. Acts 10 mentions magnifying (praising) God, which is not a miraculous sign; more importantly, it clearly identifies speaking in tongues as the one sign sufficient in and of itself to prove that the Spirit had been given. The following summarizes this comparison:
1. Pentecost: Sound like wind filled room, Tongues like fire (on or over each person), Speaking in tongues (at individual filling).
2. Samaria: Miraculous, public sign (not named, but evidently tongues).
3. Paul: No description – however Paul spoke in tongues often as a Christian.
4. Cornelius: Speaking in tongues, Magnification of God (Praise)
5. Ephesus: Speaking in tongues, Prophecy (probably inspired praise or testimony).
Speaking in tongues is the only outward manifestation to appear in more than one account and the only one to occur at the actual moment of the individual Spirit baptism. The Book of Acts teaches that a person will speak in tongues when he receives the Holy Ghost. Therefore, speaking in tongues is the initial sign (evidence) that one has received the gift (baptism) of the Holy Spirit.
Are Tongues Necessary?
Tongues in and of themselves do not save. Nevertheless, the relationship between the Spirit baptism and tongues is similar to that of faith and works. We are saved by faith, not works, yet works always accompany genuine faith. Likewise, tongues cannot save us, yet the Spirit baptism produces tongues as the initial sign.
Do tongues always accompany the baptism of the Spirit? The Book of Acts indicates this to be so; it describes tongues and nothing else as the initial sign associated with the individual filling. A Spirit baptism without tongues is a non-biblical concept; the Bible does not discuss this possibility. We should always expect speaking in tongues when someone receives the baptism of the Holy Ghost.
The Reasons for Tongues
Why did God choose tongues as the sign of the Spirit baptism? We must realize that God is sovereign; He can establish a plan without explaining His reasons to us. The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and God often uses unusual, foolish, or despised things in the eyes of men to accomplish His will (I Corinthians 1:25-29). Examples are water baptism for the remission of sins and prayer to the invisible God.
We must accept speaking in tongues because God chose this sign. God has historically used outward, physical signs to accompany His covenants with man and the promised blessings under those covenants. Examples are the rainbow to Noah and circumcision to Abraham.
Humans did not invent tongues in a desperate, faithless search for a tangible sign of salvation. God Himself ordained tongues for the church, and we accept His plan by faith. Tongues cannot substitute for faith in the Christian’s walk with God, but God gives tongues as the confirmation of faith (Mark 16:17).
Having said this, we can identify several reasons why God chose tongues as the initial sign of the Spirit baptism.
- The tongue seems to be the most difficult member of the body to control. It is a small member, but it can direct, control, and defile the whole body (James 3:2-6). “The tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). If a man cannot control his tongue his religion is vain, but if he can control his tongue he can control the whole body (James 1:26; 3:2). Before someone receives the Holy Ghost he must surrender his whole being to God, and the last member he surrenders is the tongue. When this happens, God enters and takes complete control, demonstrating His Lordship by using the most unruly member for His glory. Since the brain controls speech, this actually signifies that God has taken control of our center of consciousness, reasoning, and will – in short, the whole person.
- Speaking in tongues symbolizes the unity of the church. After the flood, human beings persisted in disobeying God and tried to compete with God by building the Tower of Babel. To stop their evil schemes and to scatter them, God gave them many languages instead of one (Genesis 11:1-9). Beginning with Pentecost, God reversed the process, taking people from many nations and uniting them into one spiritual family by the sign of tongues. The church contains people of every tribe, nation, and tongue, but all are one through the language of the Spirit. Speaking in tongues becomes the new language associated with citizenship in the kingdom of God.
- Speaking in tongues is universal in application and a valid sign under any circumstances. Regardless of a people’s nationality, language, or location, they can recognize speaking in tongues when it happens among them.
- Speaking in tongues provides certainty about one’s experience with God since it signifies the baptism of the Spirit at a certain point in time. If one has been baptized in the name of Jesus, has received the Holy Ghost with the initial evidence of speaking in tongues, and continues to obey God’s Word, he can know he is saved.
Many churches deny this evidentiary role, and as a result their members struggle with uncertainty about salvation. One Protestant writer stated, “Probably the majority of Christians have a problem with assurance of salvation at some time during their Christian experience. In some cases the difficulty lingers for years… Many are those who continually trip to the altar in search of assurance – and repeatedly leave without finding it.”
This writer also said, “A Christian may know intellectually, ‘I am saved’ and yet be overwhelmed by the feeling, ‘I am not saved.’” His solution is this: If one believes that Jesus is the Son of God and has asked Him to enter his life as Lord and Savior, then he should ignore all feelings and claim salvation. We acknowledge that salvation does not rest in human feelings, but we should certainly pay attention to conviction from God, especially if our experience does not conform to the biblical pattern.
Comments by another Protestant author demonstrate why many church members still have doubts despite the simplistic formula above: “It is possible to make a public profession of faith in Christ and be baptized and still not experience salvation. It might have been only a historic belief with no personal commitment. Your doubts may mean that you really need to be converted.” For example, if a prominent member of a church that teaches unconditional eternal security begins to live in open sin, the church will say he never had a genuine conversion in the beginning. This leads many to wonder how they can ever know if their own conversion is genuine.
The writer quoted above often surveyed seminary students to ascertain how many once made a public confession of faith, later became convinced they were not saved, and then had a second experience which they felt to be a genuine conversion. He found that usually twenty percent fall into this category. His conclusion: “This is probably representative of most of our churches. Some of our members struggle with doubts and conclude that they have not been truly converted. It may be true of you.” His solution: Turn from sin, ask Christ into your heart as Savior and Lord, and believe in Him. These instructions are fine, but somehow they must be applied spiritually and not just intellectually. The Lord provides objective evidence of full commitment to Him; when one repents from sin and believes on Jesus according to the Scriptures, he will receive the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues.