Here we should be intelligent and know that in one sense all is not accomplished when the Holy Spirit is received. The possessor of the Spirit is not at once entirely perfect, pure in all respects, no more sensible of the Law and of sin. We do not preach the doctrine that the Spirit’s office is one of complete accomplishment, but rather that it is progressive; he operates continuously and increasingly. Hence, there is not to be found an individual perfect in righteousness and happiness, devoid of sin and sorrow, ever serving all men with pleasure.
The Scriptures make plain the Holy Spirit’s office–to liberate from sin and terror. But the work is not then complete. The Christian must, in some measure, still feel sin in his heart and experience the terrors of death; he is affected by whatever disturbs other sinners. While unbelievers are so deep in their sins as to be indifferent, believers are keenly conscious of theirs; but Christians are supported by the Holy Spirit, who consoles and strengthens till his work is fully accomplished. It is terminated when they no longer feel their sins.
So I say we must be prudent; we must take heed we do not arrogantly and presumptuously boast possession of the Holy Spirit, as do certain proud fanatics. The danger is in becoming too secure, in imagining ourselves perfect in all respects. The pious Christian is still flesh and blood like other men; he but strives to resist evil lusts and other sins, and is unwillingly sensible of evil desires. But he who is not a Christian is carelessly secure, wholly unconcerned about his sins.
It is of no significance that we feel evil lusts, provided we endeavour to resist them. One must not go by his feelings and consider himself lost if he have sinful desires. At the same time he must, so long as life lasts, contend with the sins he perceives in himself. He must unceasingly groan to be relieved of them, and must permit the Holy Spirit to operate in him. There is in believers continual groaning after holiness–groaning too deep for expression, as Paul says in Romans 8, 26. But Christians have a blessed listener–the Holy Spirit himself. He readily perceives sincere longing after purity, and sends the conscience divine comfort.
There will ever be in us mingled purity and imperfection; we must be conscious both of the Holy Spirit’s presence and of our own sins–our imperfections. We are like the sick man in the hands of the physician who is to restore him to health. Let no one think: “Here is a man who possesses the Holy Spirit; consequently he must be perfectly strong, having no imperfections and performing only worthy works.” No, think not so; for so long as we live in the flesh here on earth, we cannot attain such a degree of perfection as to be wholly free from weakness and faults. The holy apostles themselves often lamented their temptations and sorrows. Their feelings concealed from them the Holy Spirit’s presence, though they were aware of his strengthening and sustaining power in their temptations, a power conveyed through the Word and through faith.
The Holy Spirit is given only to the anxious and distressed heart. Only therein can the Gospel profit us and produce fruit. The gift is too sublime and noble for God to cast it before dogs and swine, who, when by chance they hear the preached message, devour it without knowing to what they do violence. The heart must recognize and feel its wretchedness and its inability to extricate itself. Before the Holy Spirit can come to the rescue, there mutt be a struggle in the heart. Let no one imagine he will receive the Spirit in any other way.
We see this truth illustrated in the narrative here. The beloved disciples were filled with fear and terror. They were disconsolate and discouraged, and sunk in unbelief and despair. Only with great difficulty and effort did Christ raise them again. Yet their only failing was their faintheartedness; they feared the heavens would fall upon them. Even the Lord himself could scarce comfort them until he said: “The Holy Spirit shall descend upon you from heaven, impressing myself upon your hearts until you shall know me and, through me, the Father. Then will your hearts be comforted, strengthened and filled with joy. And so was the promise fulfilled to them on this day of Pentecost.
By Martin Luther