It is not only those who speak in tongues that have the Holy Spirit. “Tongues” is just one gift of many. Paul asked rhetorically, “Do all speak with tongues?” (1 Corinthians 12:30). This question anticipates the answer – “no”. So, how and when does someone receive the Spirit? Let’s explore…
John the Baptist declared that Jesus would baptize people with the Spirit (Matthew 3:11). Jesus encouraged His disciples to ask God for the Spirit so that they could receive Him on the day of Pentecost (Luke 11:13). On the day of His resurrection, Jesus gave the ten apostles that were present a foretaste of the Spirit by breathing on them (John 20:22). After returning to heaven, Jesus poured out the Spirit on the disciples on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). Peter told the crowds that gathered, “Repent, and be baptized…. and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38 NRSV).
Peter’s words indicate that the Spirit is automatically given when someone repents and is baptized in water. Peter didn’t indicate that the believer needs to do anything else to receive the Spirit. Therefore, in Acts, the author normally doesn’t detail converts’ reception of the Spirit. It is assumed that those who repent and are baptized receive the Spirit. The author only details converts’ reception of the Spirit on the few occasions when the Spirit was not given automatically at baptism. He mentions these occasions because they were not normative.
The first of these occasions occurred in Samaria. The Spirit was withheld from the Samaritan believers until the apostles laid hands on them (Acts 8:14-17). It seems that this was to demonstrate the unique authority that the apostles had in that early foundational period of the church’s history. Paul taught that the apostles were the historic foundation upon which the church was built (Ephesians 2:20), and as such they were authenticated by special miraculous signs (2 Corinthians 12:12). The Samaritans were the first converts outside of Jerusalem. It seems that God withheld the Spirit from them until the apostles laid hands on them to demonstrate the status of the apostles as the foundation upon which the church is built.
The second of these occasions occurred when the gospel reached the Gentiles (Acts 10:44-48). The Jews considered the Gentiles to be ceremonially unclean. So when God gave them the Spirit even before they were baptized, it demonstrated beyond doubt that He had accepted the Gentiles as His people (Acts 10:44-48).
The third of these occasions occurred in Ephesus, where God withheld the gift of the Spirit until Paul laid hands on them (Acts 19:1-6). Interestingly, when Paul came across these Ephesian disciples and learned that they hadn’t received the Spirit, he immediately asked, “into what, then, were you baptized?” (Acts 19:3 NRSV). Paul knew that the Spirit is given through being baptized into Christ. Therefore, as these Ephesian disciples didn’t have the Spirit, they must not have received Christian baptism. It turned out that they had only received the baptism administered by John the Baptist, which was to get people ready for Christ. Paul then re-baptized them in Christ’s name, laid hands on them, and they received the Spirit. It seems to me that the bestowal of the Spirit upon the Ephesian disciples through Paul’s hands demonstrated that he had equal apostleship with the other apostles.
In his epistles, Paul also linked water baptism and being baptized in the Spirit. In Galatians 2:27, Paul referred to water baptism as being “baptized into Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Paul also taught that when we are baptized into Christ, we are also baptized in the Spirit: “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13 NRSV). In other words, when we are baptized into Christ through water baptism, we are also baptized in the Spirit.
In Galatians 3:26-27, Paul used “faith” and “baptized into Christ” interchangeably. For Paul, being baptized is part of what it means to put one’s faith in Jesus. Because baptism is part of what it means to believe in Jesus, the Spirit is also said to be received “through faith” in Jesus (Galatians 3:14). All who have been baptized into Christ have the Spirit, whether they speak in tongues or not (Romans 8:9).
For a more detailed discussion, please see my short book, “Receiving the Holy Spirit”, which is available at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.
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