Counsel from the Word

Gordon Cary

In formulating our beliefs on receiving the Spirit, it is important that we rely, not simply on a few “proof texts,” but on the whole tenor and teaching of Scripture — especially Luke, John, Acts, Romans. John 14-16 are all about Jesus’ predictions of the Holy Spirit’s coming and what He will do. Joel 2:28, John the Baptist in Matthew 3:11-12, and Jesus in Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:4-8 all pointed forward to Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Peter in Acts 11:15 and 15:8-9 and Paul in Acts 19:2 and Galatians 3:2 both pointed back to that experience as the norm. Nonetheless, here are some concise statements that bear on the subject:

Before Pentecost, men experienced the forgiveness of sins, but did not receive the Holy Spirit. Compare Mark 1:4 and John 7:39.

Even after Pentecost some men experienced the forgiveness of sins without receiving the Holy Spirit. Compare Acts 8:5-17 and Acts 19:1-7.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit was given as the apostles (or someone else) laid their hands on men. See Acts 8:17; 9:17; 19:6. Sometimes men received the Holy Spirit without the laying on of hands. See Acts 10:44.

Sometimes those who received the Holy Spirit spoke in tongues. (Acts 2, 10, 19) Sometimes they did not (Acts 4:31; 8:17; 9:17-18) or, if they did, it was not important enough to be mentioned. If the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians is the same as what happened at Pentecost, it is given, not to EVERY Christian, but only to those selected by the Spirit. (1 Cor 12:11.) Yet it is to be expected that every Christian should receive the Holy Spirit. See Acts 2:38 and Romans 8:9.

It is notable how frequently the reception of the Holy Spirit is associated with prayer — lots of prayer: Jesus’ prayer, John 14:16; the Christians’ prayers, Acts 1:14; the apostles’ prayers, Acts 8:15; Cornelius’ prayer, Acts10:4.

In Acts 10 and 11 several different terms are used to refer to the event at Pentecost, as it was repeated in the house of Cornelius: “the Holy Ghost fell” (10:44), “was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost” (10:45), “received the Holy Ghost” (10:47), “saved” (11:14), “the Holy Ghost fell” (11:15), “baptized with the Holy Ghost” (11:16), “gift” (11:17; see also Acts 15:9 – “giving”), “repentance unto life” (11:18).

Paul’s question in Acts 19:2 implies that we can know whether or not we have received the Holy Spirit. All of this leads to applying Paul’s question to twenty-first century converts, “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” (KJV) or “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (NIV) The Greek text actually says, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit believing?” This implies that the reception of the Spirit is tied to true saving faith.

Often receiving Him involves enough of a crisis or climax that we are aware of it at the time. However, there are other indications of His presence. The Holy Spirit manifests His presence by bearing witness with our spirits. See Romans 8:16. It is important to observe that this witness assures us of our relationship to God and enables us to call Him our Father (v 15). I believe that our ability to come to God feeling that He is our Father is closely related to the witness of the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit also manifests His presence by bearing His fruit (Gal 5), by directing and shaping our lives (Rom 8:14 and context), and by bestowing His gifts (1 Cor 12). Reading 1 Corinthians 12-14 makes it plain that Paul was NOT emphasizing gifts, and, just as plain, that he was not giving primary emphasis to the gift of speaking in tongues.

It is also important to observe that the witness is ours AS WE BELIEVE (not as we doubt). See 1 John 5:10. There are three texts which give conditions having to do with the Holy Spirit’s being given: “that they that believe on Him should receive” (John 7:39), “how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him (Luke 11:13), and “the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey Him” (Acts 5:32). I think “obey” can be taken in the most general sense, and in the most explicit and particular sense.

Because I didn't know what to recognize as the witness of the Spirit, I quit trusting and professing and started seeking again— and got into horrible darkness. At last, I discovered that I couldn't expect to have the witness of the Spirit while I was doubting, for, according to 1 John 5:10, "He that BELIEVETH hath the witness." An interesting facet is the relationship between "believing" and "having the witness." I doubt that the believing itself IS the witness, but they are apparently very closely associated. Believing the promises surely seems to secure a sense of assurance. I don't think we "believe that we are saved," rather, we believe His promise to forgive us and to save us. I used to sort of stare at a blank wall and try to believe it was black, and that didn't work. "Believing I am saved" doesn't make me saved, anymore than believing the wall is black makes it black. However, to have an inspired promise to believe in or on, does make a difference. There is lots of difference between "faith in our faith" and faith in God's promises.

Galatians 3:2-3 points out that the Holy Spirit is received “by the hearing of faith.” Incidentally, the text in Galatians shows that those who have received the Spirit may still need something more. (See also 1 Cor 1:7 and 3:1-3.) Paul uses that difficult word “perfect” again in Galatians 3:2-3 and Philippians 3:15 (KJV). The Spirit will do his perfecting work in those who have already received him.