Phil Cox


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Evangelical Alliance Basis of Faith

God gives the Spirit without limit

3rd May 2007

Today, I want to consider a short quote from John the Baptist. It's found at the end of John 3:34, and it's the title of this week's column.

John 3:34
...God gives the Spirit without limit.

Some commentators say that this is a reference to Jesus – that God gave Jesus the Spirit without limit. Some say that it applies to us – his followers – as well.

From the context (this verse comes in the middle of a speech, from verse 27 to verse 36) we can see that John was talking about Jesus, at least primarily. But, even if you decide that that’s all he was talking about, here’s a question: does God give the Spirit without limit to all Christians? I believe the answer to that question is “Yes”.

Jesus is our example, our forerunner, our leader, our pioneer. He came to Earth to live as a man – to live like we do, except that He was sinless. He ate and drank and slept like us. He was baptised like us. And He was baptised in the Holy Spirit like us (Matthew 3:16). And when He came as a man, He laid down his divine power. The miracles that He performed, He performed through the power He received through the Holy Spirit – just like us. And He said:

John 14:12
I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.

So we see that we have the Holy Spirit, in the same way that He did during his life on Earth. And just as God gave Him the Spirit without limit, so He gives us the same Spirit in the same way.

Someone will say, “but Jesus was special”. Yes, He was, and is. He is the Son of God. A Christian is a son of God. We are like Him, but less. He is God, we are not. He is sinless, we are not. But we are sons of God. And we are – or can be – baptised in the Holy Spirit.

Do we have “less” Holy Spirit than Jesus? And, if so, doesn’t it follow that we have only a finite amount? Excuse me while I do a bit of mathematics:

Some infinite numbers are smaller than others

That may sound strange at first, but consider. There are infinitely many whole numbers (1, 2, 3...) and there are infinitely many even numbers (2, 4, 6...). But there are twice as many whole numbers as there are even numbers, even though there are infinitely many of each.

Similarly, we can have an infinite deposit of the Holy Spirit, and still have less than Jesus.

Here’s another scripture to think about:

Luke 4:18-19
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour."

Is this passage only about Jesus, or is it about us too? It’s about Jesus. But it’s also true of us – but less so. If you’ve been baptised in the Holy Spirit, then the Spirit of the Lord is on you. If you’re a Christian, God has sent you to preach good news to the poor and proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind. He’s sent you with the words of His gospel, to release the oppressed and to proclaim the year of His favour. Not like Jesus, but it’s true nevertheless.

The Greek word translated as “limit” is “metron”, from which we get words like “metric”, “meter” and “metre”. It actually means “measure” or “measurement”. John’s saying that God gives the Spirit generously – not parcelling Him out but pouring Him out (the Spirit is a person, not a thing):

Acts 2:16-18
No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: "‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy".

God is continually pouring out the Holy Spirit! He never stops! He’s not measuring the Holy Spirit out as if there’s only so much of Him to go round! The Holy Spirit is infinite. There’s plenty for all! I just can't imagine God looking at one of His children and saying "That's it, you've received all the Holy Spirit I want to give you".

And God loves to give us His Holy Spirit:

Luke 11:13
If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

And these last two scriptures are definitely about US.

So the question now arises: if God is pouring out infinite amounts of the Holy Spirit, why do we seem to experience so little of Him?

Imagine a channel between God and us, with God continually and generously pouring His Holy Spirit in at the top. The reason we receive so much less than we’re given is because we have a number of mechanisms for blocking the flow. These include:

  1. Sin: Sin blocks all God’s blessings to us. It doesn’t block them completely, because God is merciful. But it does block them to a great extent. It especially blocks the fulness of the power of the Holy Spirit.
  2. Unbelief: Learn to pray with the man quoted in Mark 9:24: "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"
  3. Low expectations: This is a refined form of unbelief. We believe that God could pour out His Spirit. We even believe He could pour out His Spirit on us. But we’ve lived for so long with so little power, that we don’t really expect things to change very much.
  4. Apathy: We don't really want it.

The context of Luke 11:13 is:

Luke 11:9-13
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

Jesus says “Ask – and keep on asking. Seek, and keep on seeking. Knock, and keep on knocking. And you will recieve.”

Do we ask? Have we stopped seeking? Do we keep on at prayer – knocking on heaven’s door for the fulness of His Holy Spirit? Why isn’t the church in the UK experiencing revival? Isn’t it because we’re not full of the Holy Spirit? And why aren’t we full of the Holy Spirit? Sin, unbelief, low expectation and apathy.

But it’s not too late to repent.