QUESTION: Is speaking in tongues the only evidence of being indwelt by the Holy Spirit? (Acts 2:1-4)
ANSWER: On the night before His crucifixion, the Lord Jesus had many things to tell His disciples. Most of these things are recorded in His Upper Room Discourse (Jn. 13-17). Much of what He told them related to the Holy Spirit whom He was going to send to be with and in them (Jn. 14:16-17) after He ascended back into heaven. These chapters are important for a sound understanding of this subject.
In Acts 1 the Lord ascended into heaven. In Acts 2, ten days later, on Pentecost, the Spirit came and indwelt the 120 individual believers who, obedient to the Lord, had stayed together in that Upper Room at Jerusalem. Now these were no longer simply individual believers, for the Spirit had baptized them into one body. This is what Scripture calls the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We call this one body, of which Christ is the living Head in heaven, the Church. When a person is saved today, the Holy Spirit indwells him/her, and he/she is added to the Church, the body of Christ, thus coming into all the good of the baptism of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13).
In Scripture, when God does something entirely new, He often accompanies it with signs or miracles to demonstrate that this is truly His work. The Lord had earlier said, “I will build My Church” (Mt. 16:18), thereby indicating that the Church did not yet exist, but was still future.
The Church began in Acts 2, and God was pleased to usher it in with signs and wonders. Thus in Acts 2:2-4 we find a sound from heaven as of a mighty wind filling the whole house where they were, and tongues of fire sitting upon each one of them. Each believer was filled with the Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. The sound of the wind from heaven drew a multitude together (Acts 2:6), and each person heard the believers speaking in his own language (at least 15 languages are mentioned) the wonderful works of God (Acts 2:11).
On only two other occasions is speaking in tongues mentioned in connection with receiving the Holy Spirit. And each of these occasions marked something new in the ways of God with men. In Acts 10 Peter is sent to the house of Cornelius, a Roman army officer and a Gentile. He was to speak words of salvation to him and his household. As he preached Christ to them, the Holy Spirit fell upon them and they spoke with tongues and magnified God. It was something totally new in the ways of God that Gentiles could be saved on the same basis as Jews, without converting to Judaism. And in Acts 19 Paul, God’s apostle to the Gentiles, baptized Jews of the dispersion, outside their land, and they received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues and prophesied.
These are the only three occasions mentioned in Scripture where people indwelt by the Spirit spoke in tongues. Nowhere in the Bible is there any indication that tongue-speaking normally accompanies salvation, or that believers should look for or pray for such an experience. When the Epistle to the Hebrews was written, such signs, wonders, miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit were already viewed as being in the past. Once God has attested a matter, he doesn’t keep doing so over and over again. If He did, we’d be looking for the sign rather than taking God at His word.
The best evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit today is a life lived in subjection to His will, a life that gives evidence of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Romans 8:9 says, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” A person not indwelt by the Holy Spirit is not a Christian. The Spirit of God will enable a Christian to deal with the deeds of the body, those sinful things that characterized us when we were unsaved. He leads us: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). He witnesses with our spirit – in other words, gives us the inner assurance that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16). Our life as Christians will be characterized by love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control instead of the works of the flesh that characterized us before we were saved.
Speaking in tongues, in fact, is not even mentioned in the Bible as something to be looked for as evidence that the Holy Spirit indwells us. According to 1 Corinthians 12:7-10 tongues are only one of the many gifts of the Spirit. Verses 28-31 indicate that this gift is one of the least important, while 1 Corinthians 13:8 tells us that tongues would cease. Spiritual gifts were given for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7), not for the personal enjoyment of the one to whom they are given. Their proper use in the Church is detailed for us in 1 Corinthians 14. That God would give tongues was foretold in the Old Testament (Isa. 28:11-12; Dt. 28:49) as a judgment upon the unbelief of His earthly people Israel. Other than the passages mentioned in Acts and 1 Corinthians and the Lord’s statement in Mark 16:17, tongues are not referred to in the New Testament. Sad to say, many have pulled the verses about tongues out of their context and have built much false and misleading doctrine around them.
By Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org