While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul took a route through the interior and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you came to believe?” They replied, “We’ve not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “What baptism did you receive, then?” They answered, “John’s baptism.” Paul explained, “John baptized with a baptism by which people showed they were changing their hearts and lives. It was a baptism that told people about the one who was coming after him. This is the one in whom they were to believe. This one is Jesus.” After they listened to Paul, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in other languages and prophesying. Altogether, there were about twelve people. ~Acts 19:1-7 (CEB)

What was the difference between John’s teaching and Jesus’ teaching? The accounts of the preaching of John (Matthew 3:7-12; Luke 3:3-11) reveal one radical difference between the preaching of John and Jesus. The preaching of John was a threat; the preaching of Jesus was good news. John was just a stage on the way. He was well aware that he was just to point the way to the one still to come. (Matt 3:11; Luke 3:16) It amazes me how humble John was never taking any glory for himself, always pointing to the true glory to come.

John’s preaching was a necessary stage because there are two stages in religious life. First there is the stage where we awaken to our own inadequacies, short comings and sins. This stage is closely allied to an endeavor to do better that inevitably fails because we try in our own strength. This is the try-hard stage. The second stage is when we come to see that no matter how we may want to be better that our strength is not enough. This is the stage where we come to realize that through the grace of Jesus Christ our condemnation may be taken away. Here is the point where we find that all our efforts to do better are strengthened by the work of the Holy Spirit, through whom we can do what we never could do own our own.

These incomplete Christians in Acts 19:1-7 knew the condemnation and the moral duty to do-better but they had not learned the grace of Christ and the help of the Holy Spirit.  Because they had not learned the second stage of Christianity their religion was inevitably a thing of struggle and had not reached the stage of being a thing of peace.

So often we get stuck in the first stage and don’t move on to the second stage of our religious life. I have heard this referred to as the two sides of the cross. One side is the realization to do better, the other side is the grace that helps us to be better. Even when we see the error of our ways and repent and determine to change them we can never make the change without the help which the Spirit alone can give.

Heavenly Father, I thank You for Jesus coming into to the world bringing me grace and strength beyond my want to simple want to be better. I thank You for the Holy Spirit that helps me to be more than I am on my own. I thank You the freedom to breath. Amen.

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