LIFE IN THE SPIRIT: Acts—Week 4 (Practices and Perceptions)

Acts 4:32-5:16

We are in a study of the book of Acts, focusing on the Person of the Holy Spirit—a co-equal Member of the Godhead with the Father and the Son—and how He empowered, inspired, led, and molded ordinary men and women into a movement that turned the world upside down, and how He continues to do so today.  Last week we examined the work of the Holy Spirit in planting God’s truth in our hearts. The planting of that truth empowered the disciples to share the gospel with boldness and conviction, even in the face of opposition from the religious leaders in Jerusalem, and it enables us to do the same today.  This week we’ll examine how the continuing work of sanctification by the Holy Spirit transforms our practices (how we conduct our lives), which, in turn, changes the perceptions of others, furthering the impact of the gospel.

No discussion of the work and Person of the Holy Spirit would be complete without diving into the concept of sanctification.  Sanctification is the process by which something or someone is set apart for holy use. In John 17:17, Jesus specifically prays for the Father to sanctify us in His truth.  According to 1 Cor. 6:11, this transformative process is a specific ministry of the Holy Spirit.  It is the Spirit who works in us to transform our wills and our desires so that what we do is pleasing to God (Phil. 2:13). Yet, this transformative process is a cooperative one—we have a role to play.  As Paul tells us in Rom. 12:1-2, we have the responsibility of presenting, or surrendering, ourselves to this work of the Holy Spirit so that we can be transformed.  Further, we have the active responsibility of resisting the call of the culture to conform, instead daily seeking the renewal of our minds by the Holy Spirit.  Jerry Bridges has called this cooperative work of sanctification dependent responsibility:  we are completely dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit in this process, but we have the responsibility to actively cooperate with His transformative work. “Let go and let God” is not enough.

This week’s passage is a beautiful picture of what happens when the people of God fully engage with the Holy Spirit in this process of sanctification.  It is important to note that this description of the early Church is not just speaking of the 12 apostles and the others who were in the upper room when the Spirit of God fell on Pentecost.  Given the years they had spent with Jesus and what they had experienced in the upper room, we would expect them to be of one heart and soul.  But we are talking of literally thousands of new believers, many of whom were from other parts of the world, living in unity and with singularity of purpose.  They were living in a spirit of grace and generosity we struggle to comprehend, for they were even going so far as to sell land and homes for the benefit of those in need among them.  Such actions were more than mere generosity for a Jew; it was a cultural statement.  From the time of Joshua, Jewish identity was tied to the land.  Many of these families would have been able to trace their interest in the land they were selling back for generations.  By selling this land, they were staking a claim to a new inheritance and identity in Christ.

Such unity, purpose, love, and generosity are the natural outflows of a heart transformed by and committed to the gospel.  As history has shown us, it is something this world and its priorities can never manufacture on its own.  It is a work of the Holy Spirit, and when we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in this way, it necessarily changes how the world views us.  Acts 5:13 pictures how such transformation in practice changes how we are perceived by the culture—it says that while the community dared not associate with them for fear of the ramifications, they nevertheless held the believers in high esteem.  In fact, though they didn’t want to be associated with them, they still looked to the Church for healing.  Oh, that the same could be said of the Church today!


  1. Many of us struggle with sanctification.  We either lean more towards “let go and let God”, or we try to manufacture spiritual transformation through our work.  Which side of the equation do you tend to struggle with?  Why is it important for sanctification to be a cooperative process?  
  2. Read Phil. 2:1-11.  How was the attitude of Christ illustrated in the lives of these early believers?  What might living like this look like in a modern context?  What sorts of attitudes and priorities might be involved in such a transformation
  3. How is the Church perceived in our culture?  Would you say it is esteemed?  How can we cooperate with each other and the Holy Spirit to change that perception?