By: Wes Anderson
What if I asked you the following question:
Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?
You might be thinking: what a bizarre question to ask a believer? Anyone who asks such a question is surely in deep theological error, because we all know that when we get born again we received the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, it would be an insult to the Lord to ask for something that we have already have…..right?
But what if the Apostle Paul, who wrote a large portion of the New Testament, just met you, thought you were a believer, and proceeded to ask you this question. What would be your answer? This scenario actually took place with some people he met while traveling:
Acts 19:1 (NASB)
It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.”3And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying.
Background and Context of Acts 19
Paul was on one of his missionary journeys. Apollos, a ministry partner and teacher, had stayed behind at Corinth teaching and exhorting the believers there. As Paul passed through the high inland plateau of Asia Minor, he came to Ephesus, a roman province in Asia. Coming across some “disciples”, the first question out of his mouth was the one we just read:
“Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed”?
Paul’s question revealed his suspicion that these “disciples”, as born again believers in Christ, had not actually received the Holy Spirit. At least not in the sense that he had defined it. He discerned that the presence of the Spirit of God was missing in their lives and in their interaction with each other. Their response was interesting. “We have never even heard of the name Holy Spirit. Who is he”? Paul, still thinking and assuming they are believers, was thinking surely you had at least heard His name, Holy Spirit, when you were baptized. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? He proceeded to drill deeper and asked, “unto what then were you baptized?” In other words, if you didn’t hear about the Holy Spirit at baptism, you were obviously not baptized in the name of Jesus. It must have been unto someone else. They then stated that they were baptized unto John’s baptism, which revealed that they were actually leftover disciples of John the Baptist. They were not even believers! Paul proclaims the gospel to them, and they get water baptized.
Now that these Ephesians were born again, Paul, with the tenaciousness of a bulldog, goes back full circle to his original question about receiving the Holy Spirit. He then proceeds to lay his hands on them, and as he does the Holy Spirits comes on them. Immediately they begin speaking in tongues and prophesying, just like on the day of Pentecost.
The fact that this was the very first question out of his mouth indicates how important it was to Paul for believers to receive.
Paul, years later wrote to them (the book of Ephesians) and reminded them of their experience of salvation and when the Holy Spirit came upon them:
Ephesians 1:13 (NASB)
In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.
Later on in his letter he instructs them to continue being filled. He did not want them to think that their initial experience with the Holy Spirit after he laid his hands on them was sufficient for their entire Christian walk:
Ephesians 5:18 (ISV)
Stop getting drunk with wine, which leads to wild living, but keep on being filled with the Spirit.
Many translations will say “but be filled with the Spirit”. In the original text however it translates ‘keep on being filled’, or ‘filling to be filled’. Implying an initial filling, and the need to keep it up.
Wait a minute, are you saying that as a believer I need to receive the Holy Spirit? Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. However, we must first define ‘receive’ and understand what it means, which we will do a bit later. But first, let’s look at some more examples where people received the Holy Spirit.
The Example of Jesus Himself
Jesus, being the Son of God, modeled aspects of His own life to demonstrate to us how we should live. In many respects, we are to walk as He walked. Below are several significant events which He modeled for us (in chronological order):
- Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit, signifying to us our need to be born of the Holy Spirit
- Jesus was water baptized, signifying our need to be water baptized also
- Jesus received the Holy Spirit, signifying our need to receive the Holy Spirit also
- Jesus started His ministry, signifying that we should walk in our own unique callings/ministry also after experiencing the new birth, water baptism, and the receiving of the Holy Spirit
Let’s review #2, #3, and #4:
Luke 3:22-23 (NASB)
Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized (#2),and while He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him (#3) in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry (#4).
He then left the Jordan river full of the Spirit of God, ready to begin His ministry and destiny.
Examples of New Covenant believers receiving
As we are about to see, this model Jesus left us was the very same one the early church used. Those three experiences Jesus modeled (born again, water baptism, and receiving the Holy Spirit) were the apostles’ primary objectives for others (as seen previously from Paul’s experience with the Ephesians). They had been given the authority (the keys of the kingdom) and the command (Matthew 28:20, Acts 1:4-5) from Jesus to help facilitate these experiences for people that desired them. The delivery of specific teachings to believers came after these took place (just like the book of Ephesians was written afterwards). With new believers in the church often doctrine is offered first, and experience is offered second. With the early church, it was the exact opposite; experience was offered first, and doctrine was offered second.
Note: As we will see, sometimes people received the Holy Spirit before water baptism. So, the order between these two experiences can vary.
Example #1: The believers and apostles in Jerusalem
Acts 2:1-4 (NASB)
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance
These were saved disciples receiving a subsequent experience with the Holy Spirit. Jesus described this to them in advance as receiving the promise of the Father for power for the ministries they had been given. They received several days (at least 10) after being born again. See John 20:22 for the record of when the apostles got saved. This example is somewhat unique from the others listed below because the Lord waited until the day of Pentecost had fully come before He sent the promise of the Spirit to them (for prophetic implications). This waiting period isn’t required for new believers, as you will shortly see.
Example #2: The believers in Samaria
Acts 8:14-16 (NASB)
Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He had not yet fallen upon any of them…
Philip preached and Samaritans believed. Peter and John from the apostolic community visits them for one sole purpose: To pray for them and lay hands on them to receive the Holy Spirit, because He had not fallen on any of them. Notice they had already received the word of God (they believed). The most important thing to the apostolic community was ensuring these new believers receive the fullness of Holy Spirit. They received perhaps several days after they believed and were water baptized.
Examples #3: Paul in Damascus
Acts 9:17 (NASB)
Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Saul (Paul) has a visitation by Jesus Christ Himself. He is converted and becomes blind. Ananias receives a vision by night and was sent to Saul (Paul) for two reasons:
- To regain sight
- To be filled with the Holy Spirit
Note that Ananias addressed Paul as a “brother” (a believer). Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit three days later at a house in Damascus following his encounter with Jesus on the road.
Example #4: The seekers/believers in Caesarea
Acts 10:44 (NASB)
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message.
Peter goes to Cornelius’ house to preach by divine coordination. The Spirit of God fell on those that heard and believed. This occurred during their salvation. Peter, a chapter later, describes the event to the Jerusalem Council as the gentiles receiving the baptism of the Spirit just as he himself did (see Acts 11:16-17).
Example #5: Timothy
2 Timothy 1:6 (NASB)
For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.
Just like Paul reminded the Ephesians of their experience, he does so again here with Timothy. We know that Paul was talking to Timothy about receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit and not some specific spiritual gift because in the next verse He says “For God has not given us a Spirit of…”. Making reference that the gift Timothy received was indeed the Spirit Himself.
Summary of Examples
Here we have five instances in scripture where the Holy Spirit came upon or fell upon believers after they became born again. Only in one instance did it occur during/around the same time the gospel was being preached. This was at Cornelius’ house. From the scriptural examples above, as well as numerous other biblical passages not referenced, we can conclude the following:
- Helping and praying for people to receive the Holy Spirit was the main priority of the apostles and others (e.g. Ananias helping Paul) immediately after they received Jesus Christ.
- The phrases received, filled, baptized, & fallen upon are all used to describe the same event.
- Receiving the Holy Spirit is a specific and memorable event in the life of believer. It is also necessary to achieve maximum effectiveness in ministry.
- The Lord often (but not always) transfers this gift to believers through the hands of someone having spiritual authority.
- The Father desires that each individual believer today receive His promise of the Holy Spirit.
- Receiving the fullness of Holy Spirit often results immediately in some external manifestation.
- The early church desired that each person has all three experiences (born again, water baptism, and receiving the Holy Spirit) with the shortest amount of time between each one as possible.
What does it mean to receive the Holy Spirit as a born-again believer?
Here is the million-dollar question. We do not have to intentionally receive the Holy Spirit or even have knowledge of His existence to be born again. We do however have to willfully and intentionally receive Jesus Christ to be born again. When we believe in Jesus, the Spirit of God automatically does several things for us:
- He regenerates us, causing us to be born of Him
- He causes us to immediately partake of what Jesus died for on the cross (the forgiveness of our sins)
- He plunges (baptizes) us into the Body of Christ like a fish is plunged into the sea
- He raises us to life
- He takes up residence in us
- …Much more but we cannot cover it all in this teaching
All of these things are automatically done by the work of the Holy Spirit, requiring no effort on our part when we intentionally receive and welcome the person of Jesus into our lives.
On the other hand, when we receive the Holy Spirit we intentionally focus on welcoming Him as another unique person of the Godhead (in addition to Jesus) into our lives. We do not ask Him to take up residence, since He has already done so. Rather, we ask him to take over the residence! We do not ask Him to reside in us. We ask Him to rule over us.
How to receive Him
To receive the Spirit of God after being born again is like welcoming someone of royalty into your home. You open the door for them, acknowledge their presence, and humbly welcome them to come and take over your home as they see fit. When we receive Him and He fills us, we partake of a wonderful heavenly gift. This initial receiving or infilling empowers us, allows us to taste of His love in an intimate way, and causes us to walk in an effective manner in the calling and destiny He has for us.
Just like receiving Jesus, the promise of the Holy Spirit is received by believing and being fully convinced that the Father desires for us (who are already redeemed) to have this blessing. We simply receive by faith. This is what Paul meant when he said:
He redeemed us so that the blessing promised to Abraham would come to the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
Notice that he says so that we who have been redeemed might receive the promise of the Spirit. It is fully contingent on us believing that this promise and blessing is for us today. Paul states this again with an emphasis on receiving the Spirit by faith (note that He is not talking about receiving Jesus by faith here, but the ‘promise’ as referenced in the scripture above):
I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?
The book of Galatians was clearly written to believers who had already received the Father’s promise, just like many other recipients of Paul’s letters. Once we read the New Testament letters with this in mind, many passages suddenly become very clear.
When the Holy Spirit comes upon us it will result in such a life changing experience that if someone were to ask us if we have received, we would be able to answer without hesitation “Yes!”. Paul understood this in Acts 19 when he asked the question to the disciples in Ephesus. He would not have asked it if the experience of receiving the Holy Spirit was not a profound, real, memorable, and life changing event in their lives. Therefore, if you are not sure if you have received, then it is highly likely they have not. It may or may not result in any outward manifestation, but you will see a dramatic difference in your spiritual life and know that you have indeed tasted and experienced it. And if you have received, continue receiving by stiring up the gift inside you and keep on being filled.
Not that this is some formula, but below is some practical advice which has helped many others in the Body receive:
- Believe that Jesus Christ actually desires for you to receive the Holy Spirit in fullness and that it is a gift for you personally
- Close your eyes, and simply focus on Jesus Christ seated at the right hand of the Father
- Begin to open your mouth and ask Jesus for the promise, and that He would clothe you with the Holy Spirit and with power. Feel free to lift your hands up to heaven, signifying your openness to receive and welcome the gift.
- Give a little time for the Lord to work. Do not rush it. Then, with full surrender begin to receive, opening up yourself to the Holy Spirit, and allowing Him to do whatever He wants to do in you and upon you.
- Begin thanking Him and giving Him praise.
- Take your time. Receive by faith, not feeling.
- If necessary, find someone who has received and ask for their guidance.
Have YOU received the Holy Spirit since YOU believed? If not, why wait any longer?
- “Being filled with the Holy Spirit was just for the early church”. No. It’s offered to every born-again child of God.
- “I received when I got saved”. My response to this is, how do you know?
- “Doesn’t the bible say we have all been baptized by the Holy Spirit?” No. 1 Corinthians 12:13 says we have all be baptized into the body by Him. Meaning, all believers were submerged into the family of God when they believed.
- “The bible says I have received all things pertaining to life and every spiritual blessing in Christ so there is nothing more for me to receive”. The authors (Peter and Paul) were talking to people they knew had already received the promise of the Father and tasted of the heavenly gift. If Paul believed every believer receives every single spiritual blessing when they get born again then he would have never asked the question “have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed” to folks he thought were believers.
If you are having difficulty with this teaching and need some additional guidance, I am available by email and will be glad to help in any way I can. firstname.lastname@example.org