Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Did You Receive the Holy Spirit?

It is unfortunate that the idea that one can be born again and yet have not received the Holy Spirit in His fullness still circulates in Christianity. It is even more unfortunate that such proponents of a "second blessing" cause otherwise faithful Christians to feel as if they are "missing something." I do not believe that the inability to babble incoherent phrases with a straight face is anything to be ashamed of.

One of the proof texts for such theology comes from Acts 19:1-6. Here's the text:

And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" So they said to him, "We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." And he said to them, "Into what then were you baptized?" So they said, "Into John's Baptism." Then Paul said, "John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus." When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophecied.

Far from teaching a second blessing or a subsequent, new type of anointing of the Holy Spirit, I believe that this text teaches that, upon belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ, the believer receives the Holy Spirit. But that's not exactly the angle I want to take with this post. What I want to affirm to the Christian who may be worried that they are missing something by not speaking in an unknown tongue is that they are certainly recipients of the Holy Spirit already if they believe the gospel. And secondly, a believer ought to know that he is filled with the Holy Spirit.

I do not believe that the entirety of Paul's conversation with these disciples of John is recorded for us here. It seems that during the course of conversation, Paul realized that the testimony of these guys was not exactly accurate with the gospel. (If you look back at the preceding verses in chapter 18, you will find that Apollos had a similar problem corrected by the mentorship of Aquila and Priscila.) So Paul asks them if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed. I will draw two conclusions from this:

1. Paul assumes that when people believe the gospel, they receive the Holy Spirit.
2. Paul assumes that when a person receives the Holy Spirit, they realize it happened.
3. The ultimate spiritual gift of God is the Holy Spirit, and that is a gift of grace.

Let me deal with point #1 first. Let's take a couple of Scriptural quotations that should settle this once and for all:

"In Him you 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" (Ephesians 1:13). This follows the order of Paul's statement in Acts. We trust in Jesus Christ after hearing the gospel, and when we hear and believe the gospel, we are sealed "with" the Holy Spirit. Not just "by" Him, but "with" Him. The Spirit Himself is the seal on our hearts. It follows that if we believe, we must necessarily be sealed (and I add filled) with the Holy Spirit.

"You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have Spirit of Christ, he is not His" (Romans 8:9). Could it be any more evident that if a person does not have the Holy Spirit he is not simply missing a blessing? A person devoid of the Spirit is simply not saved.

It is important to note that, having ascertained that these men had not received the Holy Spirit, Paul immediately moves to the gospel. He does not say, "Ask God, and He will give you the Holy Spirit. Ask and don't doubt!" Or, "Just start moving your lips and mouth. Say the first thing that comes to mind. You can do it! Do it, and you will receive the gift of tongues!" Pointedly, Paul begins to share that these men must believe on the one who John the Baptist longed for, Jesus Christ. Once they believe in the Messiah, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is assured.

Secondly, Paul assumes that if one receives the Holy Spirit, one ought to realize that something has happened. Paul's question to the disciples of John the Baptist makes no sense if these men could have receieved the Holy Spirit unawares. Here is where we must be cautious. In this case, these men spoke in tongues (which I regard to be known languages, as did 2,000 years of Church History until the Azusa Street revival) and they prophecied. Clearly, they did this because they received the Holy Spirit. But is this the only way to know if one has the Spirit of God?

We have already seen that the Holy Spirit is received by promise. He is ever and always indwelling those who believe in Jesus Christ. But there are other tests given in Scripture to see if one has the gift of the Holy Spirit. John, the beloved disciple, gives us many ways to test to see if we have fellowship with the Spirit of God:

"He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him" (1 John 1:10).

"Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that He has promised us--eternal life" (1 John 2:24-25).

"We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren" (1 John 3:14).

1 John is a manifesto on fellowship. John's points are that if we have fellowship with the Son, then we have fellowship with the Father. If we have fellowship with the Son and the Father, then we are filled with the one who is "greater than He who is in the world." If we have the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then we will love and long to be with our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is the test to see if we have the Holy Spirit. Do we walk in love for God and the brethren? Do we walk in righteousness and truth? We do not love Christ without the Holy Spirit, and we certainly do not love His church without the Holy Spirit. And if we love Christ Jesus, the only-begotten Son of the Father, then we will love the Church of Christ and in this we may assured that we have the Holy Spirit.

The receiving of the Holy Spirit comes with believing the gospel. And just as the gospel is a total and free gift of grace, so is the gift of the Holy Spirit. I want to devote the next post to the sovereign gracious gifting of the Spirit of God. I hope you stay tuned.


wanna be said...

This post comes at a great time, when I have fellow seminarians struggling with this. As if Christ is not enough, they say, "I feel like there is something more." Thanks agian for the post

Daniel said...

I was saved out of catholicism. All I knew about Jesus was that he was God and the Son of God, that he died on a cross, and that he did so to save people somehow. With just about that much knowledge, I presumed that in order to get to heaven you needed to be a baptized catholic, and you needed to be more righteous than you were wicked (even 50.000001 % would suffice), and after burning for a while in purgatory, you would eventually get to heaven.

I didn't really have any spiritual interests, but I did have a share of dread about going to hell.

So the day I heard the gospel, I can say with authority that I was quite ignorant of the scriptures. I mean, very ignorant - but in the very moment that the gospel made sense to me - my heart opened wide - I knew I held in my thoughts in that moment the only key to life eternal - to trust Christ and Christ only as my righteousness - here and now - or to go to hell, there was no in between. I wanted to trust Christ, but frankly, I knew that I did =NOT= want to give up sin, not even a little bit of it. Yet somehow, my heart melted in that moment - and I cast myself upon the gospel, upon Christ - and I tell you Brad, the very instant I did something tangible and utterly alien to normative "reality" happened.

No - not tongues. Pheh. Definitely not tongues...

But something very real happened to me - something alien and utterly and absolutely unexpected. It wasn't as if I had even enough knowledge to know that anything could or would happen - I was that clueless, yet in the moment I surrendered myself to Christ with all my being I felt like a screen door through which the "Niagra-falls of holiness" was flowing. I felt myself to be suddenly cleaner than clean, and I felt as though God's presence was suddenly real - as though the world had not had a God in it ten seconds earlier, and now the Majesty Divine was undeniable and eternally present - as though the light switch was suddenly "on" and there where previously there had been only darkness now stood God, in all his radiant glory. Not that I saw anything with my eyes, I didn't, and it was not some emotional thing, nor some hallucinatory thing - I don't know what it was - but one thing, I will never, ever be able to deny that it happened, or the way in which it happened.

I was baptized in God's spirit and I *knew* something profound had just happened. I have never had an experience like that ever since.

I mention all this by way of saying this one thing - that even having such a powerful, undeniable, memory - a clear testimony specific to me, that is, God testifying to me personally that I am his child in a way that no man could ever do, no feeling could ever imitate, and no substitute could ever persuade - even having what I consider a genuine and very personal witness to my own adoption if you will - yet if I could not find in myself a love for God's people, for the gospel, for truth, and for God... I would be a fool to conclude I was a believer.

Spiritual experiences --can-- be counterfeited, but love cannot. My hope is in the truth I find in scripture - it was the truth of scripture that taught me to believe, and I would be a fool to put my trust in something new after the fact. Scripture does not teach tongues as mandatory, not then not now. Though I do believe there is a distinction between a spirit filled believer, and one who is not spirit filled - but I used the word filled in the way scripture does - meaning filled like a sail as opposed to a glass of water - that is, driven along by the spirit as opposed to being a vessel that can hold "more of" the spirit. We get all there is to get the moment we are saved, and that is all - not because God is chintzy, but because God is so generous He gave us everything there is to get right up front. But we can walk in a way that doesn't allow our sails to be filled with that Holy wind, for it it were not possible, we would not be commanded to be being kept filled with God's spirit.

Great post Brad.

Anonymous said...


I have been pondering this subject for a while now and I think you are right. I like your take on this scripture. What would you say about Acts:8 where Peter and John must come lay hands on the Samaritans because they had not yet received the Holy Spirit. I think it is clearer that Philip preached the gospel of Christ to them. I am not sure what to conclude from that yet.