On Eagles Wings Ministries
Receive The Holy Spirit
A number of objections are often raised against our conclusion that the manifestation of speaking with tongues is the accepted New Testament evidence that a person has received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. For the sake of clarity and thoroughness, therefore, let us consider some of the most common objections.
One standard objection takes the following form: Every Christians automatically received the Holy Spirit at conversion and therefore does not need any further experience or any other evidence to have the assurance of having received the Holy Spirit.
Much confusion and controversy will be avoided once we establish one important, scriptural fact: The New Testament depicts two separate experiences, both of which are described as “receiving the Holy Spirit.” This means it is possible for a Christians to have “received the Holy Spirit” in one use of the expression but not in the other.
The Pattern of the Apostles
A simple way to distinguish these two experiences is to compare the events of two Sundays, each uniquely important in the history of the Christians church. The first is resurrection Sunday; the second is Pentecost Sunday.
On resurrection Sunday Jesus appeared to the apostles in a group for the first time after His resurrection.
He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22).
Jesus’ breathing on the apostles was suited to the words which accompanied it: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In Greek the same word pneuma means both “spirit” and “breath.” The words of Jesus could therefore be translated, “Receive holy breath.” Furthermore, the tense of the imperative form “receive” indicates that the receiving was a single, complete experience which took place as Jesus uttered the word. It is therefore an incontestable, scriptural fact that at that moment the apostles did actually “receive the Holy Spirit.”
In this first encounter with the resurrected Jesus, the apostles passed from “Old Testament salvation” to “New Testament salvation.” Up to that time the believers of the Old Testament had looked forward, by faith, through prophecies and types and shadows to a redemptive act which had not yet taken place. Those who enter into “New Testament salvation,” on the other hand, look back to a single historical event: the death and resurrection of Jesus. Their salvation is complete.
There are two requirements for receiving this New Testament salvation.
If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom. 10:9).
The two requirements are to confess Jesus as Lord and to believe that God raised Him from the dead. Prior to resurrection Sunday the apostles had already confessed Jesus as Lord. But now, for the first time, they also believed that God raised Him from the dead. Thus their salvation was completed.
This was the point at which they experienced the new birth. The Holy Spirit, breathed into them by Jesus, imparted to them a totally new kind of life – eternal life – which had triumphed over sin and Satan, over death and the grave.
This experience of the apostles stands as a pattern for all who enter into the new birth. It contains two essential elements: a direct, personal revelation of the resurrected Jesus and the receiving of the Holy Spirit as divine, eternal life. This agrees with the words of Paul, “the Spirit is life because of righteousness”; that is, the righteousness imputed to all who believe in Jesus’s death and resurrection (Rom. 8:10).
Yet even after this wonderful encounter Jesus made it plain to the apostles that their experience of the Holy Spirit was still incomplete. In His final words to them before His ascension He commanded them not to go out and preach immediately, but to go back to Jerusalem and wait there until they were baptized in the Holy Spirit and thus endued with power from on high for effective witness and service.
Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high (Luke 24:49).
For John truly baptised with water, but you shall be baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days from now (Acts 1:5).
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me (Acts 1:8).
Almost all interpreters of the Bible agree that this promise of being baptised in the Holy Spirit was fulfilled on Pentecost Sunday.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:4).
It was on resurrection Sunday that the apostles received the inbreathed Spirit from Jesus and thus entered into salvation and the new birth. Yet it was not until Pentecost Sunday, seven weeks later, that they were baptised in – or filled with – the Holy Spirit. This shows that salvation, or the new birth, is a distinct and separate experience from the baptism in the Holy Spirit, although each is described as “receiving the Holy Spirit.”
Later on Pentecost Sunday Peter explained that it was Jesus, after His ascension, who had poured out the Holy Spirit on the waiting disciples.
Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear (Acts 2:33).
We can then sum up the differences between the two experiences of receiving the Holy Spirit.
On resurrection Sunday it was:
- the resurrected Jesus
- the inbreathed Spirit
- the result: life.
On Pentecost Sunday it was:
- the ascended Jesus
- the outpoured Spirit
- the result: power.
The experience of the apostles demonstrates that salvation, or the new birth, and the baptism in the Holy Spirit are two distinct and separate experiences. The apostles received the first of these experiences on resurrection Sunday; the second, seven weeks later on Pentecost Sunday.
Further study in the book of Acts discloses that the two experiences are normally separate. Furthermore, from Pentecost Sunday onward the term “to receive the Holy Spirit” is applied always and only to the second experience – the baptism in the Holy Spirit. It is never again used to describe the new birth.
Further Outpourings of the Spirit
There are three other occasions subsequent to Pentecost where Scripture describes what took place when people were baptised in the Holy Spirit. These were in Samaria, in Ephesus and in the household of Cornelius. We will examine each of these in turn.
The ministry of Philip in Samaria is introduced in Acts 8:5.
Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Jesus to them.
But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Jesus, both men and women were baptised (Acts 8:12).
These people had now heard the truth of Jesus preached to them by Philip; they had believed; they had been baptised. It would be unreasonable and unscriptural to deny that these people were saved.
Consider the words of Jesus as He commissioned His disciples to preach the gospel.
And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptised will be saved: but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).
The people of Samaria had heard the gospel preached, they had believed, and they had been baptised. Therefore we know, on the authority of Jesus’s own words, that they were saved. Yet these same people up to this time had not received the Holy Spirit.
Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17).
We see that the people of Samaria received salvation through the ministry of Philip; they received the Holy Spirit through the ministry of Peter and John. Their receiving the Holy Spirit was a separate experience, subsequent to their receiving salvation. Here, then, is a second scriptural example which indicates it is possible for people to have become genuine professing Christians but not yet to have received the Holy Spirit in the sense in which this phrase is used from Pentecost onward.
It is interesting to notice that, in the passage in Acts 8, we find two different forms of speech used. One speaks of “receiving the Holy Spirit”; the other speaks of “the Holy Spirit falling upon them.” However, the context makes it plain that these are not two different experiences but two different aspects of one and the same experience.
When Paul came to Ephesus and met there certain people described as “disciples,” the first question he asked was “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:2).
It is plain that Paul had been given the impression that these people were disciples of Jesus. Obviously, if they were not professing Christians at all, there could have been no question of their having received the Holy Spirit, since this is received only through faith in Jesus. However, by further questioning Paul discovered they were not disciples of Jesus at all but only of John the Baptist, and so he preached to them the full gospel of Jesus.
One fact emerges clearly from this incident so far. Obviously, if people always received the Holy Spirit automatically as an immediate consequence of believing in Jesus, it would be illogical and foolish for Paul to ask the question: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” The mere fact that Paul asked this question makes it clear that he recognised the possibility of people having become disciples or believers in Jesus without having received the Holy Spirit.
This is confirmed by the record of events that occurred after Paul had explained the gospel of Jesus to these people.
When they heard this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 19:5).
These people had now heard and believed the gospel, and they had been baptised. As we have already shown in connection with the people of Samaria, on the authority of Jesus’s own words, people who have fulfilled the two conditions of believing and being baptised are thereby saved. Nevertheless, these people in Ephesus, just like those in Samaria, had not yet received the Holy Spirit. In Ephesus, just as in Samaria, this came as a separate and subsequent experience.
And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied (Acts 19:6).
Here, then, is a third scriptural example which indicates it is possible for people to have been converted to Jesus, but not yet to have received the Holy Spirit.
This conclusion drawn from the book of Acts is further confirmed by what Paul says in his epistle to the Ephesians. We must bear in mind that this group of disciples to whom Paul ministered in Ephesus were among the Ephesian professing Christians to whom he later wrote his epistle.
In his letter Paul reminds these people of the successive stages in which they were originally converted and received the Holy Spirit. Speaking of their coming to believe in Jesus, he says:
In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise (Eph. 1:13).
Here Paul indicates that there were three separate, successive stages in their experience: 1) they heard the gospel; 2) they believed in Jesus; 3) they were sealed with the Holy Spirit. This agrees exactly with the historical record in Acts 19, which states that these people first heard the gospel, then believed and were baptised. Finally, when Paul laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them.
In both accounts alike – in Acts and in Ephesians – it is absolutely clear that the people received the Holy Spirit, not simultaneously with conversion, but as a separate and subsequent experience after conversion.
For a fourth example, of a different kind, we shall now consider briefly the sermon Peter preached in the house of Cornelius and its results (see Acts 10:34-48).
The Scripture seems to indicate that as soon as Cornelius and his household heard the gospel and put their faith in Jesus, they immediately received the Holy Spirit and spoke with tongues. However, we must add that, although in this instance these two experiences happened together, they still remain two quite distinct experiences.
Furthermore, the evidence that Cornelius and his household had received the Holy Spirit was not the fact that they had put their faith in Jesus, but the fact that, under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, they spoke with tongues.
In the account of what happened in the household of Cornelius, the following three different phrases are all used to describe the same experience: “the Holy Spirit fell upon” them; “the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on” them; and they “received the Holy Spirit.” Where Peter describes the same incident a second time, he uses the following three phrases: “the Holy Spirit fell upon them”; they were “baptised with [in] the Holy Spirit”; “God gave them the same gift [of the Holy Spirit]” (Acts 11:15-17).
Earlier, two similar phrases were used concerning the Samaritans: the Holy Spirit “had fallen upon none of them”; and “they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:16-17).
Putting these passages together, we find that a total of five different phrases are used to describe this one experience: “the Holy Spirit fell upon” them; “the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on” them; they “received the Holy Spirit”; they were “baptised with [in] the Holy Spirit”; and “God gave them the gift” of the Holy Spirit.
Some modern interpreters would suggest that these different phrases refer to different experiences. However, this is not in line with the usage of the apostles in the New Testament. According to the apostles, these different phrases all denote one single experience – although they describe it from different aspects. It is the same thing for a person to receive the Holy Spirit or receive the gift of the Holy Spirit as it is to be baptised in the Holy Spirit, or for the Holy Spirit to fall upon that person, or for the Holy Spirit to be poured out on that person.
We have now carefully considered four different groups of people portrayed in the New Testament: 1) the apostles, 2) the people of Samaria, 3) the disciples at Ephesus, 4) Cornelius and his household. Of these four groups, we have seen clearly that the first three – the apostles, the people of Samaria, the disciples at Ephesus – had all been converted before they received the Holy Spirit. Their receiving the Holy Spirit was a separate and subsequent experience following their conversion.
There is no other instance recorded, apart from Cornelius and his household, in which people received the Holy Spirit at the same time they believed in Jesus. We are therefore justified in concluding that the experience of Cornelius and his household is the exception rather than the rule.
On the basis of this careful examination of the New Testament record, we may now set forth the following conclusions.
- It is normal for a Christians to receive the Holy Spirit as a separate and subsequent experience, following conversion.
- Even if a person receives the Holy Spirit at conversion, receiving the Holy Spirit still remains, logically, a distinct experience from being converted.
- Whether a person receives the Holy Spirit at conversion or after conversion, the evidence that that person has received the Holy Spirit still remains the same: The person speaks with tongues as the Holy Spirit gives utterance.
- The fact that a person has been genuinely converted does not by itself constitute evidence that that person has received the Holy Spirit.
The Teaching of Jesus
This conclusion concerning the relationship between conversion and receiving the Holy Spirit has been based mainly on a study of the book of Acts. However, it is in full accord with the teaching of Jesus Himself in the Gospels. Jesus told His disciples:
If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him! (Luke 11:13).
The teaching of this verse – reinforced by the examples which precede it, of a son asking his father for bread, for a fish and for an egg – is that God, as a heavenly Father, is willing to give the Holy Spirit to His believing children if they will ask for it. However, a person must first put his faith in Jesus to become a child of God.
Plainly, therefore, Jesus teaches not that the Holy Spirit is received at conversion, but rather that it is a gift which every converted believer has a right to ask for, as a child from his or her Father. Furthermore, Jesus definitely places an obligation upon the children of God to ask their heavenly Father specifically for this gift of the Holy Spirit. It is therefore not scriptural for a Christians to assume, or to assert, that he automatically received the gift of the Holy Spirit at conversion without asking for it.
Again, in John 7:38 Jesus says:
He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.
In the first half of the next verse these “rivers of living water” are interpreted by the writer of the Gospel as referring to the Holy Spirit, for he says:
But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive (John 7:39).
In both these verses it is clear that the gift of the Holy Spirit, bringing forth rivers of living water from within, is to be received by those who are already believers in Jesus. It is something which they should go on to receive after believing in Jesus.
Jesus teaches the same truth again in John 14:15-17, where He says:
If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.
In this passage the Helper and the Spirit of truth are two different designations of the Holy Spirit. Jesus teaches here that the gift of the Holy Spirit is not for the unbelieving people of this world, but for Jesus’s own disciples who love and obey Him. This confirms, therefore, that it is the privilege of God’s believing children, Jesus’s disciples, to go on to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit as they meet God’s conditions. These may be summed up in one all-important requirement: loving obedience to Jesus.