Acts 18:23-20:38; Galatians
We have often been told as members of the Church that the most important thing we can have in this life is the gift of the Holy Ghost. For example, in a First Presidency Message, President Ezra Taft Benson said to the Church: “The most important thing in our lives is the Spirit.” [i] [i]
Likewise, Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught in General Conference: “To have the continuous companionship of the Holy Ghost is the most precious possession we can have in mortality.” [ii] [ii]
Indeed, the gift of the Holy Ghost is one thing that distinguishes the true and living Church from among all other churches. After an interview with Martin Van Buren, president of the United States, the Prophet Joseph Smith with his companion Elias Higbee wrote a letter to Hyrum Smith in which they said: “In our interview with the President, he interrogated us wherein we differed in our religion from the other religions of the day. Brother Joseph said we differed in mode of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. We considered that all other considerations were contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost. ¼” [iii] [iii]
The first effect of receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost is being “quickened in the inner man” (Moses 6:65) or spiritual rebirth (John 3:1-5). Through the gift of spiritual rebirth one becomes spiritually alive or sensitive to spiritual things. Spiritual rebirth sets one on the path of righteousness. But “spiritual rebirth is the very beginning of righteousness.” [iv] [iv] Joseph Smith taught that one must “grow up in [God], and receive a fullness of the Holy Ghost” (D&C 109:15).
Each member of the Church who grows up in God and incrementally gains a fullness of the gift of the Holy Ghost will experience several necessary capacitating gifts from the Spirit. The scriptures record some of these gifts as a remission and sanctification of sin (see 2 Ne. 31:17; 3 Ne. 27:20), spiritual guidance and direction (see 2 Ne. 32:1-5; D&C 8:2-3), enriching testimony (see John 15:26; 1 Cor. 12:3; 3 Ne. 28:11; D&C 20:27; 42:17), increased understanding of doctrine taught in scripture and from the Lord’s servants (see John 16:13; 1 Cor. 2:10-15; Moroni 10:5; D&C 11:13), increased joy (see D&C 11:13), and effective ability to teach (see 2 Ne. 33:1; D&C 50:13-23).
As I have noted in an earlier article, the Holy Ghost is one of Luke’s main themes found in both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts 18:23 -20:38, we see that the Apostles of the early Christian church placed a premium importance on Holy Ghost as a sign of a true Christian. This section begins with a story about a Christian convert from Alexandria, Egypt, named Apollos. We are told that Apollos was “an eloquent man.” Eloquent translates the Greek word logios which can also mean learned. Indeed, Apollos was educated as well as trained in the art of rhetoric. Further, he was well versed in the scriptures — the Old Testament. He was very zealous for his new religion which found him often traveling as some sort of itinerant teacher.
Luke informs us that he taught “diligently the things of the Lord” (18:25), probably meaning that Apollos argued that Christ had fulfilled the messianic expectations found in the Old Testament. But Luke also states that Apollos only knew of the baptism of John (Acts 18:25). Therefore, his knowledge of the Holy Ghost would have been woefully lacking. Paul’s close associates, Aquila and Priscilla, heard Apollos’ teachings and took him aside and “expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly” (18:26). Apparently, Apollos responded positively to the enlightened teachings he received from this honored couple.
Paul and the Disciples of John
Continuing the Holy Ghost theme, Luke records that after a brief visit to Jerusalem, Paul returned to Ephesus in Asia Minor to continue the work he had briefly begun some months before (see Acts 18:18-21). Ephesus was one of the grandest cities in Asia. It boasted a population of more than a quarter million people–extremely large for that day and age. Only Rome, Alexandria of Egypt, and Antioch of Syria were larger. Ephesus served for over 150 years as the seat of Roman administration for Asia Minor.
Arriving in Ephesus, Paul found certain men claiming to be Christian living there. Testing them, he asked, “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” They responded, “We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.” They had not heard of the Holy Ghost??!!
Bothered by their reply, Paul asked, “Unto what then were ye baptized?” To which they said, “Unto John’s baptism.” Paul immediately realized that they had been taught and baptized by an imposter for John the Baptist always informed his disciples of the coming of the Holy Ghost through the ministry of Christ. Paul said to the ill-informed disciples, “John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” Having taught them the correct way, “they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Then Paul “laid his hands upon them” blessing them with the gift of the Holy Ghost. Immediately, “the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied” (19:1-6).
“Live in the Spirit”
Clearly taught in the stories of Apollos and the disciples of John at Ephesus is the necessity of the Holy Ghost as a sign of a true Christian. As mentioned earlier, with that newness of life that comes from receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost come a variety of gifts. Note that when the disciples of John at Ephesus received the gift of the Holy Ghost, immediately they experienced certain spiritual gifts, particularly the gifts of tongues and prophesy. Paul would call such spiritual gifts as “fruits of the Spirit.”
To the saints in Galatia, a Roman province in central Asia Minor, Paul gave valuable instructions relating to the significance of the gift of the Holy Ghost. In Galatians 5, Paul taught the Galatian saints to “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of ” (5:1).
The yoke of Paul referred to was the stranglehold of the ritualism inherent in the law of Moses. An unintended side effect of the law of Moses was ceremonialism — “which had caused spirituality to wither almost to death in the hearts of the people.” [v] [v] When a member of the Church is given to ritualism — or even living the gospel by habit or tradition — the purity of intent that is required to live the gospel at its highest is most often lost. Such ceremonialism had become a yoke of for the Jews.
Joseph B. Wirthlin warned, “Unfortunately, some in the Church may believe sincerely that their testimony is a raging bonfire when it really is little more than the faint flickering of a candle. Their faithfulness has more to do with habit than holiness.” When habit or tradition governs the behavior of a member of the Church, he or she has lost the liberty of living the gospel with pure intent. The gospel becomes a burden to be carried rather than a means of liberating the soul. In such a person, the fire of the Holy Ghost has little place. Without that fire, the natural man begins to take over what it has lost when the recipient was first converted to the gospel. Therefore, Elder Wirthlin states, “their pursuit of personal righteousness almost always takes a back seat to their pursuit of personal interests and pleasure. ” [vi] [vi]
With this in mind, Paul taught, “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” He stated further, “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (5:16-17).
Paul describes the fruit of living after the manner of the flesh as, “Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like.” Not a happy list! Paul states clearly, “they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (5:19-21).
In contrast to the appalling fruits of living after the manner of the natural man, Paul cites the fruits of the living after the manner of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” He concluded, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (5:22-25).
“Walk in the Spirit”
What does it mean to “walk in the Spirit”?
First, it means to subdue the natural man. Of this, Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated: “To worship the Lord is to walk in the Spirit, to rise above carnal things, to bridle our passions, and to overcome the world.” [vii] [vii] This is precisely what the Savior taught. Said he, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Likewise, Moroni urged that if we “come unto Christ” we must “deny [ourselves] of all ungodliness” (Moroni 10:31).
This means, as Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, overcoming “both large and small sins. While boulders surely block our way, loose gravel slows discipleship, too. Even a small stone can become a stumbling block.” [viii] [viii]
Second, to walk in the Spirit means to take the sacrament with pure intent, having examined ourselves regarding the covenant made at baptism to keep ALL of God’s commandments (see 1 Cor. 11:28). The promise of taking the sacrament worthily is that we will “always have his Spirit to be with” us (D&C 20:77, 79). Therefore, to walk in the Spirit means to keep all of God’s commandments, not just some. We cannot pick and choose which commandments we want to keep.
In the October 1973 General Conference, Elder Theodore M. Burton spoke of the commitment which should have towards the gospel in these words:
When I speak then of total commitment, I do not refer to a momentary dedication which comes from being filled with the Spirit of God only on certain occasions such as in this conference. I refer to a daily or continuing spirit of devotion and dedication which comes from keeping all the commandments of God every day. We must not pick and choose which commandment of God we will or will not obey. Every one is important. [ix] [ix]
Third, to walk in the Spirit means to come to know the word of God as taught in the scriptures and from His servants and then apply those words to our lives rather than try to find exception to their teachings. Such application of teachings properly comes through the Holy Ghost.
In General Conference, Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught:
When we teach gospel doctrine and principles, we can qualify for the witness and guidance of the Spirit to reinforce our teaching, and we enlist the faith of our students in seeking the guidance of that same Spirit in applying those teachings in their personal lives. [x] [x]
Fourth, to walk in the Spirit is to strive to become one with God and Christ. It is, as Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught, “to take the Lord’s side on every issue. It is to vote as he would vote. It is to think what he thinks, to believe what he believes, to say what he would say and do what he would do in the same situation. It is to have the mind of Christ and be one with him as he is one with his Father.” [xi] [xi]
Fifth, to walk in the Spirit means to be loyal to God and His prophets at all times and in all circumstances. Loyalty is one of the great tests of mortality. President George Q. Cannon once stated:
We have got to be watchful, for I tell you God has sent us here to test us and to prove us. We were true in keeping our first estate. The people that are here today stood loyally by God and by Jesus, and they did not flinch. If you had flinched then, you would not be here with the Priesthood upon you. The evidence that you were loyal, that you were true and that you did not waver is to be found in the fact that you have received the Gospel and the everlasting Priesthood.
Now you are in your second estate, and you are going to be tested again. Will you be true and loyal to God with the curtain drawn between you and Him, shut out from His presence, and in the midst of darkness and temptation, with Satan and his invisible hosts all around you, bringing all manner of evil influences to bear upon you? The men and the women that will be loyal under these circumstances God will exalt, because it will be the highest test to which they can be subjected. [xii] [xii]
The blessing of such loyalty is an outpouring of the Spirit. Elder Loren C. Dunn taught:
We keep the commandments because they are the laws that govern the Spirit. The Spirit in turn will sanctify us, condition us spiritually, and eventually prepare us to live in the kingdom where God is. Hence the scripture: “They who are not sanctified through the law which I have given unto you, even the law of Christ, must inherit another kingdom” (D&C 88:21). The laws that govern the Spirit are nothing more nor less than the laws that govern the Church. In addition, there is also an outpouring of the Spirit for those loyal to and willing to uphold the prophet and others who have been called to preside. [xiii][xiii]
You Reap What You Sow
Paul taught the Galatians, “For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (6:7). Essential to reaping the fruits of the Spirit is the necessity of enduring to the end. By nature, the fruits of the harvest come only after the long season of growth. The farmer that is steadfast in watering, nurturing, and weeding his crops will eventually reap the harvest. Without such patient endurance, all is lost.
Likewise, the fruits of the Spirit come from patient continuance in righteous living. Those who stumble along the way will lose the beneficial fruits of the harvest of spiritual gifts. An important part of walking in the Spirit is to help others walk in the Spirit.
Paul urged the Galatian saints to help any who has stumbled to be restored to the faith. “Brethren,” he wrote, “if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual [i.e., live and walk in the Spirit], restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (6:1).
He warned that if one does not repent of their sinful condition, they will reap an unfortunate future. Said he: “For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” He concluded, “let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (6:7-9).
What Luke and Paul have taught regarding the necessity of the keeping and maintaining the Spirit has been given in our day by living prophets. President Ezra Taft Benson taught the Church: “One sure way we can determine whether we are on the strait and narrow path is that we will possess the Spirit of the Lord in our lives.” He then said, “Having the Holy Ghost brings forth certain fruits. The Apostle Paul said that ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance.’ (Gal. 5:22–23).”
President Benson gave counsel as to how to get and retain the Spirit:
Ponder the significance of the responsibility the Lord has given to us. The Lord has counseled, ‘Let the solemnities of eternity rest upon your minds.’ (D&C 43:34.) You cannot do that when your minds are preoccupied with the cares of the world. Read and study the scriptures. The scriptures should be studied in the home with fathers and mothers taking the lead and setting the example. The scriptures are to be comprehended by the power of the Holy Ghost, for the Lord has given this promise to His faithful and obedient: “Thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things” (D&C 42:61).
Then quoting President Spencer W. Kimball, President Benson said:
The following statement by President Spencer W. Kimball illustrates how we may develop more spirituality in our lives: “I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away. If I immerse myself in the scriptures the distance narrows and the spirituality returns. I find myself loving more intensely those whom I must love with all my heart and mind and strength, and loving them more, I find it easier to abide their counsel.”
President Benson concluded, “That is great counsel which I know by experience to be true.” [xiv] [xiv]
I testify that keeping and maintaining the Spirit of the Lord in our lives is essential for true happiness. Living and walking in the Spirit brings a joy and contentment found in no other way. May God bless you in your endeavor to walk in the Spirit the rest of the days of your mortal probation.
[i] [i]. Ezra Taft Benson, “Seek the Spirit of the Lord,” Ensign, Apr. 1988, p. 2.
[ii] [ii]. Dallin H. Oaks, “The Aaronic Priesthood and the Sacrament,” Ensign, Nov. 1998, p. 38.
[iii] [iii]. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints (Edited by B. H. Roberts. 2nd ed., rev. 7 vols. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1980), 4:42.
[iv] [iv]. Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, (The Messiah Series, vols. 2‑5. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1979‑1982), Book 1:475).
[v] [v]. James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ (15th ed., rev. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints, 1977), p.123.
[vi] [vi]. Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Spiritual Bonfires of Testimony,” Ensign, Nov. 1992, p. 34.
[vii] [vii]. Bruce R. McConkie, “How to Worship,” Ensign, Dec. 1971, p. 130.
[viii] [viii]. Neal A. Maxwell, “Deny Yourselves of All Ungodliness,” Ensign, May 1995, pp. 66–67.
[ix] [ix]. Theodore M. Burton, “The Need for Total Commitment,” Ensign, Jan. 1974, p. 115.
[x] [x]. Dallin H. Oaks, “Gospel Teaching,” Ensign, Nov. 1999, pp.79–80; emphasis added.
[xi] [xi]. Bruce R. McConkie, “Be Valiant in the Fight of Faith,” Ensign, Nov. 1974, p. 35.
[xii] [xii]. George Q Cannon,. Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of President George Q. Cannon, First Counselor to Presidents John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff and Lorenzo Snow (1880‑1901), (Compiled by Jerreld L. Newquist. Volume 1. Salt Lake City: Zion’s Book Store, 1957), p. 7.
[xiii] [xiii]. Loren C. Dunn, “The Spirit Giveth Life,” Ensign, May 1979, pp. 70–71; emphasis added.
[xiv] [xiv]. Ezra Taft Benson, “Seek the Spirit of the Lord,” Ensign, Apr. 1988, p. 2.