The Holy Spirit: Receiving Him
The Holy Spirit not only serves and helps the Christian in understanding spiritual things, but He actually is indwelling a believer. Being holy, He could never dwell within someone who is less than perfect so His presence in us is further proof of the perfection of the Lord’s work on the cross. This study look at how and when the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us (also known as ‘receiving the Spirit’).
There are four occasions in the Bible where receiving the Holy Spirit is described:
The Day of Pentecost
“And there appeared to them parted tongues, as of fire, and it sat upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave to them to speak forth” (Acts 2v3-4).
“And Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptised, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for remission of sins, and ye will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2v38).
The disciples were waiting for the Holy Spirit and while in the upper room the Holy Spirit came upon them with the sign of the tongues of fire and a rushing noise. They were immediately able to spread the gospel in power and presumably went out into the street where the Holy Spirit enabled these uneducated men to overcome the language difficulties and gave them the ability to speak to everyone who was present. The news of this spread and many came to see this phenomenon. They each were able to hear the gospel in their own language, either because the disciples were given the ability to speak it or because the Holy Spirit changed the sounds so that the gospel was told in several languages at once. About 15 different areas are mentioned and the languages used were the home languages of each person, not simply a common language like Latin or Greek (Acts 2v8).
Some were quick to criticise claiming the disciples were drunk so the Holy Spirit gives Peter the opportunity to defend the testimony and preach to all that are gathered there. They were then to be baptised, showing that they completely rejected and repented of their part in the Jewish nation in crucifying the Lord Jesus. Having publicly rejected their previous evaluation of the Lord (i.e. “Crucify him”) the Holy Spirit was able to enter them. It couldn’t be said that the Holy Spirit would be content to dwell in those who had not publicly repented of their part in the Lord’s crucifixion. For the Jews, baptism was not only them ‘putting on Christ’ but also a complete rejection of their Jewish nation, traditions and religious system.
“And the apostles who were in Jerusalem, having heard that Samaria had received the word of God, sent to them Peter and John; who, having come down, prayed for them that they might receive [the] Holy Spirit; for he was not yet fallen upon any of them, only they were baptised to the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 8v14-16).
The Samaritans were a hybrid people, part Jew and part Gentile. This resulted from the removal of the Northern Kingdom of Israel by the king of Assyria and the introduction of Gentiles into the land (see 2 Kings 17). They set up their own religion including not only the service of God but also other gods. In the time of the Lord the Samaritans were still opposed to the Jews and refused to accept the Lord when He was going to Jerusalem (see Luke 9v51-53). In John 4 the woman at Sychar’s well told the Lord the root of the problem that “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain, and ye say that in Jerusalem is the place where one must worship.” The Samaritans refused to accept that Jerusalem was the centre of God’s thoughts and the place where He had set His name (see 2 Kings 21v7 and 2 Chronicles 33v7). They wanted to worship God on their own terms in their own place and maintain the division that existed between Jew and Samaritans.
Philip’s evangelist mission brought the gospel to the Samaritans and many put their trust in the Lord being baptised to His name. God in his wisdom did not give His Holy Spirit immediately as that would have perpetuated the division. Instead, by sending Peter and John, the Samaritans would have to accept that Jerusalem was the centre of God’s operations and the apostles (who were Jews) were the instruments of presenting that salvation to the world. The Lord Himself said “for salvation is of the Jews“(see also Romans 11). The gentiles have been brought into the blessing intended for “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” by great mercy. There was to be no division in the early Church.
The House of Cornelius
“To him all the prophets bear witness that every one that believes on him will receive through his name remission of sins. While Peter was yet speaking these words the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were hearing the word. And the faithful of the circumcision were astonished, as many as came with Peter, that upon the nations also the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out” (Acts 10v43-45).
“Can any one forbid water that these should not be baptised, who have received the Holy Spirit as we also did?” (Acts 10v47).
Cornelius and his house were Gentiles. The position of a gentile before salvation is very different from a Jew. The Jews have all the word and the law of God yet they rejected Christ. A gentile's position is “having no hope, and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2v12). They have no link with God. When the gospel was preached they turned from “serving idols to God”. At that point they became a new creation in Christ and the Holy Spirit fell upon them. There was an immediate difference seen and there was no national sin that needed to be rejected. They were baptised to publicly show that they had ‘put on Christ’. The Holy Spirit came immediately upon them at their salvation and they immediately started spreading the gospel to many people with different languages; the same signs as were seen as at Jerusalem. They were then baptised to show to the world how their lives had already changed.
Ephesus and the Disciples of John
“And it came to pass, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul, having passed through the upper districts, came to Ephesus, and finding certain disciples, he said to them, Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye had believed? And they said to him, We did not even hear if the Holy Spirit was come. And he said, To what then were ye baptised? And they said, To the baptism of John. And Paul said, John indeed baptised with the baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on him that was coming after him, that is, on Jesus. And when they heard that, they were baptised to the name of the Lord Jesus. And Paul having laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.” (Acts 19v1-6).
Paul came upon a group of Jewish disciples in Ephesus. Realising these people did not have the Holy Spirit he asked them as to what had they been baptised. They had repented of their sins, rejecting their place in the Jewish religious system but they had not put their trust in the Lord Jesus having never heard anything of Him. They had repented and were awaiting the messiah, standing on the same ground as many of the Old Testament saints. Now Paul was able to bring them into the greater blessing of being a part of the Church and knowing the presence of the Holy Spirit in themselves but also in the doctrine of the apostles.
These disciples had repented and were awaiting their messiah, but now they put their trust in the Lord Jesus accepting that He was not only messiah but also their saviour. Paul now completed the process by laying hands on them (symbolically showing that they had moved from Judaism to the Church, accepting also that Paul was God's apostle with authority to teach them) and thus they received the Holy Spirit.
The Gift of the Spirit
“And Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptised, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for remission of sins, and ye will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (1 Peter 2v38). See also Acts 1v45 and Luke 11v13.
“He therefore that in this disregards his brother, disregards, not man, but God, who has given also his Holy Spirit to you.” (1 Thessalonians 4v8).
The Holy Spirit is a gift, indeed He is the ultimate gift which God delights to give to men who have been washed in Christ’s blood, who have crucified the old man becoming “new creation”. He is not given on the basis of our own merits or withheld from us as a result of our failures, but is poured out on those whom God has been pleased to cleanse and redeem for Himself. “For he whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives not the Spirit by measure” (John 3v34). This is God's sovereign act.
When do Christian’s receive the Holy Spirit today?
“In whom ye also have trusted, having heard the word of the truth, the glad tidings of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, ye have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1v13).
Having believed we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit.
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which ye have been sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4v30).
“Keep, by the Holy Spirit which dwells in us, the good deposit entrusted” (2 Timothy 1v14).
The Holy Spirit dwells in a believer.
“Not on the principle of works which [have been done] in righteousness which we had done, but according to his own mercy he saved us through [the] washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3v5).
We were saved by the regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.
“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except any one be born of water and of Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3v5-6).
We are born again by the Holy Spirit. His work in us begins before conversion to draw us to the Lord Jesus. At the moment we are saved it can truly be said that the new creation in us has been ‘born of the Spirit’.
We are born of the Spirit meaning that, just as in real birth, He begins to work in us before we are saved. He completes His work of regeneration in us at the moment we ask the Lord to save us. We become a new creation, a new man; with the old being crucified in Christ. It is His work and is not based on any action or merit of our own. The Holy Spirit then dwells in the believer (he could not before because of our sin) because we are now perfect in Christ and our sins are not just covered but gone. He then seals us for God with His presence within us. It’s up to us then to recognise His presence and help within us. He continues to teach us and help us to grow in the things of God, leading us ultimately into the presence of the Father in worship. It is possible for us to grieve the Spirit by our actions but not lose Him because He is the seal of God’s work in us.
It would seem that Gentiles (which includes most of us as believers) can expect the same experience as occurred in the House of Cornelius. There the Holy Spirit fell upon the newly saved Gentiles and was the immediate evidence of the fact that they were a part of God’s blessing to be included in the Church/Assembly.