What are the conditions which must be fulfilled in the life of a person who desires to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit?
By Grace Through Faith
As we consider the teaching of Scripture on this subject, we shall find that there is one basic principle which applies to every provision made for man by the grace of God.
And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace (Rom. 11:6).
In this passage, as elsewhere in his epistles, Paul contrasts the expressions “grace” and “works.” By grace Paul means the free, unmerited favour and blessing of God bestowed upon the undeserving, and even upon the ill-deserving. By works Paul means anything that a man may do of his own ability to earn for himself the blessing and favour of God.
Paul states that these two ways of receiving from God are mutually exclusive; they can never be combined. Whatever a man receives from God by grace is not of works; whatever a man receives from God by works is not of grace. Wherever grace operates, works are of no avail; wherever works operate, grace is of no avail.
This leads to the further contrast between grace and law: “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Jesus” (John 1:17).
Under the law of Moses men sought to earn the blessing of God by what they did for themselves. Through Jesus Jesus the free, unmerited blessing and favor of God are now offered to all men on the basis of what Jesus has done on man’s behalf. This is grace.
All we receive in this way from God through Jesus Jesus is by grace; the means by which we receive this grace is not by works but by faith.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Eph. 2:8-9).
The basic principle laid down by Paul in this passage can be summed up in three successive phrases: by grace – through faith – not of works. It applies in the receiving of every provision made for man by the grace of God. Specifically, Paul applies the principle to the receiving of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus has redeemed us from the curse of the law . . . that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (Gal. 3:13-14).
Paul brings out two important and interrelated facts: 1) The gift of the Holy Spirit is made available to man through the redemptive work of Jesus upon the cross; it is part of the total provision made for man by the grace of God through Jesus Jesus. 2) This gift, like every other provision of God’s grace, is received through faith, not by works.
This question of how the gift of the Holy Spirit is received had apparently been raised among the Christians churches in Galatia, and Paul makes several references to it.
This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? (Gal. 3:2).
Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you . . . does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? (Gal. 3:5).
. . . that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (Gal. 3:14).
Three times, therefore, in these few verses Paul emphasizes that the receiving of the Spirit is by faith.
In other words, the essential preparation for believers to receive the Holy Spirit is that they be instructed out of the Scriptures on the nature of God’s provision for them and how they may claim this provision through faith in the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross. If this kind of scriptural instruction is first given and received with faith by those seeking the Holy Spirit, there should be no need for great effort or delay in their receiving the gift.
Paul’s epistle to the Galatians implies that the professing Christians there had originally received from him with faith the message of the gospel and the gift of the Holy Spirit, and had thus entered into the fullness of God’s provision for them. Later, however, through other teachers, they had become involved in a legalistic system superimposed upon this gospel foundation and had begun to lose their first vision of the receiving of God’s gift by grace through faith.
One main purpose of Paul’s epistle is to warn them of the dangers of this and to call them back to the original simplicity of their faith.
Groups of professing Christians in various places today are being threatened by the same kind of error against which Paul warned the Galatians. There is in many places today a tendency to impose some kind of system or technique upon those seeking the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The precise form of technique varies from group to group. In some places the emphasis is upon some particular posture or attitude. In other places the emphasis is rather upon some special form of words or the repetition of certain phrases.
Instruction along these lines to those seeking the Holy Spirit is not necessarily unscriptural, but the great danger is that the particular posture or form of words, instead of being merely a help to faith, may become a substitute for it. In this case the technique defeats its own ends. Instead of helping seekers to receive the Holy Spirit, it actually prevents them from doing so.
As a result of this kind of technique we often meet the chronic seekers who say, “I’ve tried everything! I’ve tried praise . . . I’ve said, ‘Hallelujah’ . . . I’ve lifted my hands in the air . . . I’ve shouted . . . I’ve done everything, but it just doesn’t work.” Without realizing it, they are making the same error that the Galatians were slipping into: They are substituting works for faith, a technique for the simple hearing of God’s Word.
What is the remedy? Just what Paul proposes to the Galatians: to return to the hearing of faith. Chronic seekers like these do not need more praise, more shouting or more lifting up of their hands. They need fresh instruction from God’s Word on the free provisions of God’s grace.
As a general principle, wherever people are seeking the gift of the Holy Spirit, a period of instruction from God’s Word should always precede any period of prayer. For my own part, if I were allotted thirty minutes to help believers seeking the gift of the Holy Spirit, I would spend at least half that time – the first fifteen minutes – giving scriptural instruction. The next fifteen minutes, devoted to prayer, would produce far more positive results than a full thirty minutes given to prayer without any instruction beforehand.
We see, then, that the basic requirement for receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit is defined by Paul as the hearing of faith.
We must be careful, however, to guard against a false interpretation of what is meant by faith. Faith is not a substitute for obedience. On the contrary, true faith is always manifested in obedience. Thus obedience becomes both the test and the evidence of faith. This applies as much to the receiving of the Holy Spirit as in any other area of God’s grace.
In his defense to the Jewish council, Peter focuses upon obedience as the proper expression of faith.
And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32).
In speaking of the gift of the Holy Spirit, Paul stresses faith, while Peter stresses obedience. There is, however, no conflict between the two. True faith is always linked with obedience. Complete faith results in complete obedience. Peter says here that when our obedience is complete, the gift of the Holy Spirit is ours.
Six Steps of Faith
In seeking the gift of the Holy Spirit, how should complete obedience be expressed? We find six steps set forth in Scripture which mark the pathway of obedience leading to the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Repentance and Baptism
The first two steps are stated by Peter.
Repent, and let every one of you be baptised in the name of Jesus Jesus for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
The two steps here stated by Peter are repent and be baptised.
Repentance is an inward change of heart and attitude toward God that opens the way for the sinner to be reconciled with God. Thereafter, baptism is an outward act by which the believer testifies to the inward change wrought by God’s grace in his heart.
The third step to the fullness of the Holy Spirit is stated by Jesus.
If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water (John 7:37-38).
In the next verse John explains that this promise of Jesus refers to the gift of the Holy Spirit. This agrees with what Jesus says also:
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled (Matt. 5:6).
One essential condition for receiving the fullness of the Holy Spirit is to be hungry and thirsty. God does not squander His blessings on those who feel no need for them. Many professing professing Christians who lead good, respectable lives never receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit simply because they feel no need for it. They are satisfied without this blessing, and God leaves them that way.
From the human point of view, it sometimes happens that those who seem least deserving receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and those who seem most deserving do not. This is explained by the Scripture.
He [God] has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty (Luke 1:53).
God responds to our sincere inner longings, but He is not impressed by our religious profession.
Jesus also presents the fourth step to receiving the Holy Spirit.
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).
Here Jesus places upon God’s children an obligation to ask their heavenly Father for the gift of the Holy Spirit. We sometimes hear professing Christians make some such remark as this: “If God wants me to have the Holy Spirit, He will give it to me. I don’t need to ask Him for it.” This attitude is not scriptural. Jesus plainly teaches that God’s children should ask their heavenly Father for this special gift of the Holy Spirit.
After asking, the next step is receiving. Jesus calls this drinking, for He says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink” (John 7:37).
“Drinking” represents an active process of receiving. The infilling of the Holy Spirit cannot be received by a negative or passive attitude. No one can drink except of his own active volition, and no one can drink with a closed mouth. As it is in the natural, so it is in the spiritual. The Lord says, “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it” (Ps. 81:10).
God cannot fill a closed mouth. Simple though it may seem, there are those who fail to receive the fullness of the Spirit simply because they fail to open their mouths.
After drinking, the sixth and last step to receiving the Holy Spirit is yielding. Paul speaks to professing Christians of a twofold surrender to God.
But present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God (Rom. 6:13).
Two successive stages are here set before us as professing Christians. The first surrender is of yourselves – the surrender of the will and the personality. However, this is not all. There is a further degree of surrender of our physical members.
To surrender our physical members requires a much greater measure of confidence in God. In yielding ourselves – our wills – we yield obedience to the revealed will of God, but we still retain the exercise of our own understanding. We are willing to do what God asks of us, provided that we first understand what is asked.
However, in yielding our physical members we go beyond this. We no longer seek even to understand intellectually what God asks of us. We merely hand over unreserved control of our physical members and allow God to use them according to His own will and purpose without demanding to understand what God is doing or why He is doing it.
It is only as we make this second surrender that we come to the place of total, unconditional yieldedness. And it is just at this very point that the Holy Spirit comes in His fullness and takes control of our members.
The particular member He takes full control of is that unruly member which no man can tame – the tongue. Thus the yielding of our tongue to the Spirit marks the climax of yieldedness, of surrender, of complete obedience. It is by this that we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
We have outlined the six successive steps to receiving the fullness of the Holy Spirit:
The question will naturally arise: Is it necessarily true that every person who receives the gift of the Holy Spirit has completely followed through all six steps?
The answer to this question is no. God’s grace is sovereign. Wherever God sees fit, He is free to reach out in grace to needy souls beyond the conditions set forth in His Word. God’s grace is not limited by the conditions He imposes. But, on the other hand, wherever those conditions are fully met, God’s faithfulness will never withhold the blessing He has promised.
Of the steps just outlined, some are omitted by people who nevertheless do receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. In particular, the gift of the Holy Spirit is at times granted to people who have not been baptised and who have never specifically asked God for this gift.
This happened in my own experience. I received the gift of the Holy Spirit before I was baptised and without ever specifically asking for it. In these two points, God reached out to me in His free and sovereign grace beyond the conditions actually imposed in His Word. I realize, however, that this now makes me just so much the more a debtor to God’s grace. It certainly opens no door to me for pride, carelessness or disobedience.
It would seem, however, that God never bestows the gift of the Holy Spirit where the other four conditions are not fulfilled. That is, God never bestows the Holy Spirit where there is not first of all repentance and then a spiritual thirst and willingness both to receive and to yield.
In concluding these studies on the baptism in the Holy Spirit, it is appropriate to emphasize once again the close connection between the fullness of the Holy Spirit and obedience. As Peter says, the gift of the Holy Spirit is for those who obey God. Even where God in His grace bestows this gift upon those who have not yet fully met the conditions of His Word, this still leaves no room for carelessness or disobedience.
As Peter preached in the house of Cornelius, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard his word (see Acts 10). However, it is clear that this demonstration of God’s grace was in no sense to be interpreted as a substitute for obedience to God’s Word, for we read:
He [Peter] commanded them to be baptised (Acts 10:48).
Even for those who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, the ordinance of baptism in water still remains a commandment of God’s Word that may not be set aside.
Above all, in this realm of spiritual gifts we need to be continually on our guard against spiritual pride. The more richly we receive of the gifts of God’s grace, the greater is our obligation to be obedient and faithful in the exercise and stewardship of those gifts.
This principle of responsibility for grace received is summed up by Jesus’ teaching on stewardship.
For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more (Luke 12:48).
The more abundantly we receive of God’s gifts and graces through Jesus Jesus, the greater becomes our obligation to humility, to consecration and to unfailing obedience.