Receiving The Holy Spirit (Baptism in the Holy Spirit)
Robert Wurtz II
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:38, 41 KJV)
Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. (Acts 8:14-17)
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. (Acts 10:44–48 NKJV)
There are multitudes of people who attend church faithfully who have never consciously received the Holy Spirit. Most have been told that they received the Holy Spirit when they believed; unlike Paul who asked the Ephesians if they received when they believed. (Acts 19:2) Therefore, they do not seek the Lord for the Spirit. What happens? They realize that something is lacking so they search earnestly for what the lack might be. And because they believe they have already received the Spirit, they never think about their condition rightly.
Struggling to Be a Christian
Tragically, many well intended believers end up compensating for not having received the Spirit with everything from asceticism to legalism. In some cases liberalism* and mysticism. In other words, these ideologies become an empty substitute for the reality of being Spirit-filled. This entry is written with a view to helping people, who, as I once did, struggle to understand and experience the reality of the Spirit-filled life.
Regretfully, for fifteen years (age 8-22) I was an “in and out” and “off and on” Christian. I called myself a Christian at times; while others my life was so bad I was ashamed to be around Christians. I still cringe thinking about some of the sins I committed back then. Often I would be what is commonly called “backslidden.” If I saw a preacher coming, I would go the other way. There were extended periods when I tried really hard to do the Christian life. I responded to more altar calls than I care to remember. I must have said the sinners prayer more times than anyone on earth (one of the reasons I have no confidence in it). In time I came to think that this was an acceptable way of living the Christian life.
There was one thing I need to mention; even though I attended mainly Pentecostal type churches, I had never received the Holy Spirit. In the back of my mind I always wondered if this was my problem. In some ways I was afraid of the Holy Spirit, because I didn’t want to commit blasphemy. When I was a child people still had the fear of God. People didn’t handle the things of God flippantly. I knew receiving the Holy Spirit would mean I would have to get serious with God.
It was not until a tragic accident left me temporarily unable to use my left hand that God got my undivided attention and began dealing strongly with me. My career came to a halt and I came face to face with God. Similar to what the Puritans used to call, “preparationism” God led me to prepare myself to receive the Holy Spirit. If God was truly going to come and live inside me — I needed to get right with Him. In time, as I read the bible and God dealt with me, I realized that God wanted to establish His authority in my life. Once I truly submitted my whole life and will to God, I received the Holy Spirit without any fuss. It was as simple as in the book of Acts.
This entry does not answer all the questions. No entry could do that. Nevertheless, for all its shortcomings I trust it will help someone who is earnestly seeking the Lord to receive the Holy Spirit. If it helps just one person it was worth the time to write it.
Having Begun in the Spirit
Paul asked the Galatians that if a person has “begun in the Spirit” can they be made perfect by the flesh? (Galatians 3:3) Obviously, the answer is no. The whole of the Christian life is made possible when we receive the life of God through the Holy Spirit. We may have had many starting points, but we have not “begun” in the New Covenant sense of the word until we “begin in the Spirit.” (Galatians 3:2) The question is, have you and I begun in the Spirit or did we have some other lesser beginning? This question is utterly important because there is no replacement for consciously receiving the Holy Spirit.
The First Experiences
In the first century (before theologians worked for hundreds of years to muddy the waters), becoming a Christian was a very straight-forward process. People genuinely repented of their sins, received Christ, were baptized in water, and received the Holy Spirit. That was the basic package. the result was a “world turned upside down” with the Gospel being preached to the far flung regions of the world. Today most people repeat a prayer and are then told by a well intended “counselor” that they are eternally secure — sealed by the Holy Spirit. Their pastor, mentor, or discipleship leader then works tirelessly to make sure they don’t backslide.
People generally adjust their theology to fit their experiences. If they struggle with sin, they believe (and teach) that people will always struggle with sin. If they find no fruit in their life, they find a “theological” reason for it. Generally they quote Paul’s pre-regeneration experience from Romans 7:18-19. Nevertheless, if they began in the flesh they will continue in the flesh. It can be no other. However, when a person truly begins in the Spirit… a radical work of God takes place.
Judea, Samaria, Uttermost Parts of the Earth
I have chosen the three passages at the beginning of this entry to illustrate our topic of receiving the Holy Spirit in regards to the Jews, Samaritans, and the Gentiles. The emphasis in each passage is different, but the result is the same. In fact, the Gentiles received the word with such readiness — that the Holy Spirit fell upon the people while Peter was still speaking! We then observe that water baptism and Spirit baptism can be reversed in terms of their chronological order. What remains in all three cases is the receiving of the word of God as it was preached to them.
Repent? I Already Did that!
Over the years I have met many people who claim they have sought the Lord to receive the Holy Spirit and have come up empty. Generally I tell them that the key to receiving the Holy Spirit is true, bible-based repentance. This almost always angers the person. They would have me to believe that the problem was on God’s end. However, God is more willing to give us His Holy Spirit than a good parent is willing to feed their children. Many times I have held my peace and watched the person(s) who have not received. Generally time reveals what the problem was. I have had young men say they had “surrendered all” to God only to have them admit later that they were going to strip clubs. That’s right. I have had women pretend they repented and later on they endorse all kinds of questionable behaviors up to and including full-blown homosexuality. They have a hidden attitude that “nobody is going to tell me what to do!” In other words, their rebellion surfaces. It eventually will. It’s only a matter of time. They never fooled me for a second; and they definitely never fooled God.
1. A lack of Genuine Repentance
I wish to first draw attention to the fact that in both of our passages the people “received the word.” In fact, the people in Acts 2:38 “gladly received the word.” What was this word? Again, Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Repentance has to do with coming into full agreement with God when He tells us something in His word.
If God calls a particular behavior “sin” it is sin. In fact, everyone knows deep down inside whether or not their behavior is sin. God has made us this way. The word of God merely throws extra light on things we already have a basic knowledge of. Repentance means we stop rebelling against what we know is right and wrong — because God is the one we are rebelling against — not anyone or anything else (even if they are a secondary offended party in our behavior.) When we realize that our sin is against God, alone, we are on our way to true repentance. (Psalm 51:4)
2. Unwillingness to Get Alone with God
In the 21st century multitudes are suffering from a couple of very effective strategies of the enemy that are hindering them from truly receiving the Holy Spirit. Sadly, most have no clue it’s happening. First, Satan employs the “divide and conquer the mind” strategy. This is particularly effective in modern times. Multitudes have their attention divided into so many places, that they cant give their undivided attention to anything or anyone. Do you recall grammar school when your teacher would say, “Now look up here class… give me your undivided attention!” If you were toying around with something else while she/he were talking, you were liable to get called down. Why? Some things require our undivided attention — our complete focus of mind and heart.
What is dividing your attention? Is it a hand-held device? Is it a loyalty to a hobby? Is it a favorite ball team or television program? Is it your career? What is dividing your attention to the point that you cannot get alone with God and give Him your undivided attention. Generally, church is not a good place to get alone with God. Sound blasphemous? Not really. There is too much going on. Sadly, when there is an altar service most musicians are so bent on “being heard” that they distract the people in the altar area from doing any real business with God. Add to that the fact that most altar workers have no idea how to counsel a person who is trying to get through to God and we find church as one of the last places some people will ever get focused on God and His dealings in such a way that they can receive the Holy Spirit.
3. They Refuse to Stop Resisting
You stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom you have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. (Acts 7:51-54)
In Acts 2 the people were said to have “gladly received the word” and as a consequence were baptized. However, in Acts chapter 7, the people resisted instead of receiving. When a person resists God’s word they are consequently resisting His Holy Spirit. Moreover, they are resisting God’s authority. The Holy Spirit and the word of God agree. The people resisted Stephen’s preaching and they resisted the Holy Spirit. God was trying to establish His authority in their lives, but they closed their eyes and stopped their ears. We have this passage in Isaiah:
That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the LORD hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it. (Isaiah 41:20)
You will recall that part of Paul’s commission was to “open their eyes” so as to turn the people from darkness to light. Paul preached so that “they may see, and know, and understand, and consider…” This is what Stephen had done. At first Paul (Saul) resisted the message and refused to consider. Nevertheless, in time Paul did see and understand. In fact, when we get to Acts 28 he thoroughly explains the process by another reference to Isaiah:
And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Isaiah the prophet unto our fathers, Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. (Acts 28:25-27)
Will you notice, “their eyes they have closed.” This is an obstinate refusal to recognize the truth of what is preached. Their heart had “waxed gross” or in the language of Hebrews, they had an evil heart of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:12) This means that their heart refused to receive what was said and consider it. No matter how much evidence was brought to bear, the people still refused to believe. They needed to be healed of their backsliding and rebellion, but they resisted the one who wanted to come in to them and do the work. One cannot receive the Holy Spirit without agreeing with God’s word and believing on Him. We simply cannot receive and resist at the same time.
4. They Rebel Against God’s Authority
And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.
(Acts 5:32 NKJV)
Many people want to receive the Holy Spirit, but they don’t want to submit to God’s authority. They fail to understand that Satan and a third of the angels were cast out of Heaven because of their rebellion. God wants His will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven. This is possible in the life of a true born again believer.
However, Acts 5:32 implies that obedience is something that must happen prior to receiving the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is given to those who obey God. This is the plain sense of the text. The Greek word for obey is pitharchousin and it is in the present active. Notice the word in the middle pitharchousin. The “arche” signifies obeying someone who is in authority. It is the same word used a few verses before when Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29 KJV) How people receive what is preached is out of the minister’s control. It is not our responsibility to force people. We lay out the message and the response is between the hearer and God.
* I mean here “liberal” in the sense of being open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values: they have more liberal views toward marriage and divorce than some people.