Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance. For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. (Acts 26:19–21 NKJV)
"Elephant in the room" or "Elephant in the living room" is an English metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth that is either being ignored or going unaddressed. The idiomatic expression also applies to an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the first recorded use of the phrase, as a simile, as The New York Times on June 20, 1959: "Financing schools has become a problem about equal to having an elephant in the living room. It's so big you just can't ignore it." (wiki) Nevertheless, for over 100 years the reality of Acts 26:19-21 has been largely, if not completely, ignored. When it's not being ignored the passage is being wrested by those who cannot handle its implications. Why did Paul preach John the Baptist "type" repentance? Stephen gives the answer in Acts 7 when he concluded his sermon with, "You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you." (Acts 7:51 NKJV)
When we read Stephen's word " resist " it is natural to conclude that this is a simple non-compliance. However, this is not the case. Stephen employs a rare Greek word (antipiptō) used once in the New Testament. It means to "run against" or "to fall upon." This is an allusion to Numbers 23 and Isaiah 63 in which God had done everything in His power to bring about His purposes for His people — nevertheless; they provoked (vexed) His Holy Spirit — who is not easily provoked (1 Cor. 13:5). This phenomenon could also be seen in the fact that the prophets' words could not be resisted, but the prophets themselves could be, so they "ran upon" them as they soon did with Stephen.
Repentance is vital to the Gospel because it addresses the issues of resisting the Holy Spirit head-on. There is no way to get by on some lesser thing. The resistance and rebellion against God must be brought to an end and the person come into a right attitude towards their Creator. The old timers used to say that people need to "get right with God." This language is from Acts 8 when Peter told Simon that his heart was not "right" with the Lord. Nevertheless, multitudes of ministers and Christians search for ways to avoid this. In fact, the subject is rarely even brought up in discussion it is so detested. However, it is folly to invent doctrines and theologies that sidestep this need. The tragedy is that theologians and Bible teachers are often better at teaching people what a verse does not mean than what it truly means. In modern times clever theologians have tried to reduce repentance to a mere change of mind towards sin; but in practice the teaching is a dead forgery. Their is no expectation that the person with actually demonstrate a change of mind. The strategy is to address the passages in question so as to appear theologically correct; however, the verses are made of no effect. This is what happens when men become theologians who themselves are resisting the Holy Spirit.
It is interesting to consider just how long man has been actively resisting God's authority. Our passage in Genesis 6:3 is a subtle commentary on the days of Noah; this would have been roughly 2800 BC, or nearly 5000 years ago. When we arrive at Acts 7:51 we have the same diagnoses, You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. In the 21st Century we have the same pattern of behavior. God is trying to establish His authority in the hearts of men and women and they do always "strive" or "resist." I suggest that "always resisting the Holy Spirit" is the single greatest problem in mankind, and summarizes the relationship between God and unbelievers. Unfortunately, it is also the case in the lives of many professed believers.
In Genesis 6:3 we have the word "strive." The context is found with Noah a preacher of righteousness, bringing forth a message of salvation. This is God striving with people outwardly. In this way, God had used men as His means of striving with man since the prophet Abel in Genesis 4:8 (compare Luke 11:50-51). Just as Cain rose up to snuff-out his witness to the truth of obedience to God, the response of the masses has rarely altered course. Inwardly, the people would feel the sting of their conscience, and the many strong impressions made upon them by the Spirit of God. The scripture is replete with men who quenched, grieved, resisted, vexed, and even blasphemed God's Holy Spirit (Isaiah 63:10, 1 Thess. 5:19, Ephesians 4:30, Matthew 12:24-32). This is the message of Stephen to the religious leaders, "You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you." (Acts 7:51 NKJV)
The very people who prided themselves as instructors of the foolish, and teachers of babes — men who had the form of knowledge and truth in the law (Romans 2:20 NKJV) — did always resist the Holy Spirit. In fact, Stephen added, as your fathers did, so do you. It had been a tradition in families for generations. Stephen went on to ask them which of the prophets did their fathers not persecute? He then went on to show that Jesus Christ, the anti type of all who had gone before Him, was given the most hideous treatment of all. The one who was the greatest representation of God was the one most persecuted by the rebellious. The treatment of a man was proportional to His capacity to represent God in striving with men. In other words, the more godly he or she was, the worse they were treated. This is the record.
I once attended a meeting where several men were speaking on the topic of the end-times. One man took the pulpit and opened his address with this unforgettable question, "How are we going to talk about 666 when we can't even turn off HBO?" It was his way of saying that we love to speak about all kinds of topics that divert our attention away from unpleasant issues. In the late 19th and early 20th century a methodology for "getting saved" was invented that allowed people to continue to resist the Holy Spirit and anyone who preached a "book of Acts" type Gospel and still call themselves "saved." This is the pink elephant in modern evangelicalism. A person can be actively resisting the Holy Spirit and be told "you are saved and don't let the devil lie to you and tell you anything different!" And if they go on and try to receive the Holy Spirit they can say a few unintelligible sentences and be told "You got it! You got the Holy Ghost!" Wow. A thousand times, wow!
If obstetricians were as reckless with childbirth as many ministers are with new birth we would have an infant mortality rate in the land that is unprecedented in world history. People have to be born of the Spirit and there is a right way to preach in order to see that reality come about. Becoming a Christian means we align ourselves with God and His holy word.The Holy Spirit and the word of God agree. If a person does not agree with God's word — in reality — they are resisting Him no matter what they profess. Jesus asked the simple question , "and why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do the things I say?" As if He would ask, "why do you make my word of no effect by your traditions? Why do you keep doing things that are contrary to God's word, just as your fathers did?" Answer, because once someone is bold enough to trample on a precept others are emboldened to follow. Soon everyone is doing it (well, not everyone). This is how we have veered off course so bad in the last 100 years. None now live that even remember how repentance and receiving the Holy Spirit is supposed to be.
Ours is the generation that can change all this. A person may have preached a soft Gospel for 75 years, but if they are sensitive to God they can still change. Others will go to their graves doing the same old thing that is not working. Meanwhile the churches fill up with people who have no real desire to comply with God's will. it's as if a whole new religion has been created to serve the people who never stopped resisting the Holy Spirit. Environments use music to forge the presence of God while the people keep on resisting. These and many type elixirs numb the conscience enabling people to read their bible and just skip past the verses they don't like or agree with. This is the tragedy of our times. Nevertheless, there is hope for anyone who will hear the voice of God and truly repent. They can leave of resisting the Holy Spirit and finally receive the Holy Spirit in the genuine article. They can become the real thing — not a forgery. They can begin in the Spirit and live a life that agrees with God and longs to do His will.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon