Theology: The Doctrine of God

Should a Christian Seek the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Passages used to support this view actually teach that all believers in Christ receive the Holy Spirit at conversion.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Some churches teach that a person can receive Jesus Christ as Savior without receiving the Holy Spirit at the same time. This is a misreading of God's Word. Passages that are used to support this wrong view, when properly understood, actually support the teaching that all believers in Christ receive the Holy Spirit at conversion.

The Holy Spirit During the Old Covenant

Under the Old Covenant until the coming of Christ, the Holy Spirit was at work bringing people to saving faith, but the Holy Spirit did not indwell every believer. He came upon people for specific purposes such as building the tabernacle (Exodus 31:1-4); governing Israel in the wilderness (Numbers 11:24-30); judging Israel (Judges 3:10, 6:34, 11:29, 13:25, 14:6, 14:19); and prophesying (1 Samuel 10:6-10, 2 Chronicles 24:20, Ezekiel 11:5, Micah 3:8).

In some cases the Holy Spirit remained with individuals (e.g., Numbers 11:26, 2 Samuel 23:1-2). But the Holy Spirit was not permanently indwelling each believer for purposes such as guidance. Under the Old Covenant, as God spoke "in various times and in various ways" (Hebrews 1:1), guidance often came through means such as Spirit-led prophets (see references above); seers (1 Samuel 9:9-19; 2 Chronicles 16:7, 33:18, 35:15; Micah 3:7); casting lots (Leviticus 16:8; Numbers 26:55-56; Joshua 18:10; 1 Samuel 14:41-42; Proverbs 16:33, 18:18); and the use of Urim and Thummim (Exodus 28:30, Numbers 27:21, 1 Samuel 28:6, Ezra 2:63). Under the Old Covenant, the Holy Spirit was not indwelling all believers for the purpose of assurance of salvation. This assurance came through the belief expressed in the Redeemer foreshadowed by the types of the Old Testament sacrificial system, which covered sin for a time, but looked forward to full and final atonement at the coming of Messiah (Psalm 4:1-8, 13:5, 31:19, 34:22, 52:8-9; Nahum 1:7).

The Coming of Christ and the Time of Transition

During most of Jesus' earthly ministry, the apostles did not have the Holy Spirit because Jesus was with them personally. But He gave the promise that as He returned to the Father, He would send the Holy Spirit to abide with them forever (John 14:16-18, 15:26-27, 16:13). During one of His appearances to the apostles after His resurrection, Jesus "breathed on them, and said to them 'Receive the Holy Spirit' " (John 20:22) for a specific purpose; it is interesting to note that on this occasion only ten of the eleven remaining apostles were present, Thomas being absent (verse 24). Jesus also instructed the early believers to remain at Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:8-9), and this occurred at Pentecost (Acts 2).

Some of the workings of the Spirit that were typical of the Old Covenant continued into the early chapters of the book of Acts (e.g., 8:29, 8:39, 10:19, 11:28).

The Pattern for the Church Today

In Acts 19:1-7, on his third missionary journey (around 54 A.D.) the Apostle Paul came upon twelve men in Ephesus, who in verse 1 are called "disciples" (literally, learners). This term in the New Testament does not always indicate a true believer in Christ (see, for example, John 6:60-66).

In verse 2 of Acts 19, Paul asked these Ephesians, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" (The KJV has "since ye believed.") Some churches attempt to make this verse a proof text for a doctrine of receiving the Holy Spirit as a "second blessing" apart from receiving Christ.

Taken out of context, Paul's question could lead us to think that he was asking believers in Christ if they had received the Holy Spirit. But this is not that case, and this example underscores why context and language are so important in studying the Scriptures. In the original language of verse 2, the phrase translated "when (since) you believed" is a single word, pisteusantes. This is a past participle of the verb "to believe" and it means "having believed". So Paul's question is actually this: "Did you receive the Holy Spirit, having believed?"

It becomes clear in the verses that follow that the purpose of Paul's question was not to find out if they had received the Holy Spirit as a second blessing, but to find out if they had received Christ at all. In the rest of verse 2 and on into verse 3, it becomes clear that these men were not yet believers in Jesus Christ, but only disciples of John the Baptist. Their response to Paul's question was that they had no knowledge of the existence of the Holy Spirit, and they had only been baptized with John's baptism, which was a baptism of repentance in preparation for the coming of Christ. Paul, having now understood their true spiritual condition - that they were "learners" but not yet true believers - led them to Christ, and believing on Christ they received the Holy Spirit.

The proper understanding of this passage is reinforced by the fact that Paul wrote three epistles during this same time period where this doctrine is clearly stated - to Corinth (about A.D. 55), to Rome (about A.D. 56), and to Ephesus itself (around A.D. 60-62). In all three, Paul under Divine inspiration teaches that all believers receive the Holy Spirit at conversion:

"But 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 the Spirit of Christ, he is not His." (Romans 8:9)

"In Him you also 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)

"And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." (Ephesians 4:30)

"There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all." (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)

These Scriptures make it clear that those who are not indwelled by the Spirit are simply not believers. It is impossible, in the present dispensation, to receive Jesus Christ without receiving the Holy Spirit. David under the Old Covenant could pray, "Do not take Your Holy Spirit from me" (Psalm 51:11), but no New Covenant believer needs to ever ask this of God.

Receiving Versus Filling

Scripture does make a distinction between receiving the Spirit and being filled with the Spirit. Having received the Holy Spirit at their conversion, believers are instructed to "be filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18), to "walk in the Spirit" (Galatians 5:16), and to "grieve not the Spirit" (Ephesians 4:30) as marks of their sanctification and enabling them for service to God.

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