One of the most frequent questions I receive by email from people who read this blog has to do with receiving the Holy Spirit. The questions usually go along the lines of, how do you receive the Holy Spirit or how do you know if you have the Holy Spirit.
There is a lot of information in the New Testament in relation to this subject, especially in the book of acts where we see the expansion and growth of the early church. And because the gift of the Holy Spirit was one of the important promises given by both the early prophets and Jesus Christ, it is important to understand these things.
This section of scripture is an excellent introduction to answer these questions about receiving the Holy Spirit and also understanding how you will know if you have received the spirit. So let us look at what the scripture has to say about this important matter.
How do you receive the Holy Spirit?
In this section of scripture we see that Philip, who was one of the seven appointed by the apostles to serve the church, was in the region of Samaria and was preaching the word. Many signs were done at his hands and many people had believed and been baptised in water in the name of Jesus Christ. But at that time no one had received the Holy Spirit.
This fact alone destroys one of the first myths about receiving the Holy Spirit. I have heard it said by many people that they believe they automatically receive the Holy Spirit either when they first believe and accept Jesus Christ, or when they are baptised in water. But the bible says in this scripture that this is incorrect. Note the following words and in particular verse 16.
14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John,
15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit,
16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
The word is quite clear here that the people had not yet received the Holy Spirit and that is the reason why the apostles and elders of the church in Jerusalem sent down Peter and John to pray for the people to receive the Holy Spirit.
So here we see the first requirement to receiving the Holy Spirit. First the people needed to have the elders of the church come down and pray that they would receive the Holy Spirit. Philip was not an elder of the church and that is why Peter and John were sent to pray for the people of Samaria to receive the Holy Spirit.
The second requirement to receive the Holy Spirit follows in the next few verses 17-19.
17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.
18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money,
19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
The second key is that after the elders had prayed for the people they laid their hands on them to receive the Holy Spirit.
There is a third key requirement that is not mentioned in this section of scripture but which we see in Luke 11:13 which says,
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
The third key is that the person who is seeking to receive the Holy Spirit needs to also pray and ask God to give them this gift.
And that is all that is required to be able to receive the Holy Spirit. The three key requirements once again are:
- The elders of the church should pray for the person to,receive the Holy Spirit
- The elders should lay their hands on the person to receive the Holy Spirit
- The person seeking the Holy Spirit should pray and ask God to give them this gift
Now having said all of that there is another way that a person can also receive the Holy Spirit and this was the method that occurred both at Pentecost and also when the Gentiles first received the Holy Spirit. God may just give it to them without any of the conditions above taking place.
The difference between these two approaches is that at Pentecost the giving of the Holy Spirit was initiated by God. But in the other approach as discussed in this section of Acts 8 it is the person seeking to receive the Holy Spirit who initiates the process. It is the laying on of hands process that is most common and it is my opinion that every person who receives the Holy Spirit should go through this process in obedience to the word of God even if they believe that they have already received the Holy Spirit. But as I say, that is just my opinion.
How do you know you have received the Holy Spirit?
And this brings us to the next question. There will always be something that proves that a person has received the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:7,
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
Every person who receives the Holy Spirit is given some manifestation of the spirit to show that they have received the Holy Spirit. The most common and most important manifestation of the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues. And we see this manifestation of the Holy Spirit in nearly every instance where the Holy Spirit was received or given in the New Testament. Look at these scriptures as examples when the various people received the Holy Spirit.
“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
(Acts 2:4 at Pentecost when the apostles received the Holy Spirit)
“44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.
45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.
46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God.
(Acts 10:44-46 when the Gentiles first received the Holy Spirit)
“2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.”
4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.”
5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.
(Acts 19:2-6 when the Ephesian church first received the Holy Spirit)
The last of these examples is also interesting as it again shows that these disciples did not receive the Holy Spirit when they first believed or when they were baptised in water by Paul. They had to have hands laid on them in order to receive the Holy Spirit and then the manifestation of the Holy Spirit through speaking in tongues and/or prophesying occurred.
Jesus also made the point that you would recognise that a person who was born of the Holy Spirit by hearing the voice of the spirit. And both speaking in tongues and prophesy are voice gifts that can be heard. Note the words of Jesus regarding this in John 3:6-8.
6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’
8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
How did Jesus say you would know if you or someone else was born again of the spirit? You would hear the “sound” of the spirit just as we hear the sound of the wind even though we cannot see the wind.
Why do you need to receive the Holy Spirit?
Finally it is critical that every Christian receives the Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit is to teach, guide, counsel, comfort and intercede for the person who has received the Holy Spirit. And the purpose of all this work of the spirit is seen in the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18.
17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
It is the primary work of the Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of The Lord one degree or one step at a time. We are on a journey as Christians as we walk with The Lord and the Holy Spirit is guiding us individually along the pathway to life, transforming us into the image of Christ as we go.
That is why it is critical for all Christians to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in accordance with what the bible tells us to do. For if we do not receive the Holy Spirit, we do not have the gift that will guide us into the fullness of the maturity of Jesus Christ. And that is not a place we want to be.
Please feel free to ask any questions either in email or the comments section of this post if you would like to know more as this is just a brief overview of this critical topic.
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