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.” on hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. and when paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. there were about twelve men in all. [acts 19:4-7]
this passage is easy to get caught up in and make the focus on the wrong thing. so let’s simplify. the point of this passage is Jesus. we see that the only way to salvation is through God’s Son Jesus, and faith in the work he has accomplished, clinging to who he is for the forgiveness of our sins and adoption into the family of God. this belief will be demonstrated by following him, internally and publicly, accompanied by obedience of his words. all of this is a work of the Holy Spirit, who gives us ears to hear, eyes to Jesus for who he is, hearts to believe, and the power to obey!
and since the question paul had posed, “did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” is being answered here, let’s look at some aspects of receiving the Holy Spirit addressed in these verses.
- to receive the Holy Spirit, the gospel must be heard: paul came across these disciples with incorrect thinking and misplaced faith. they had heard john’s message of repentance (or perhaps apollos’ message of repentance), and been soft to it. they wanted to make straight the paths of the Lord. they wanted to prepare the way in their hearts for the Messiah. but they had missed the Messiah! this is the most important aspect of this passage, for this is the gospel message being preached and heard! the good news of Jesus must be heard!
- to receive the Holy Spirit, the gospel must be believed: when paul had made the message clear, when the name of Jesus was proclaimed, they believed. how do we know? because they demonstrated it with the public proclamation of baptism in the name of Jesus. it was not the baptism that allowed the receiving of the Holy Spirit, and it was not the baptism that brought about salvation, but it was the baptism that showed their faith. the good news of Jesus must be believed!
- receiving the Holy Spirit will produce community: paul laid his hands on these new brothers. this is not a requirement to receive the Holy Spirit and his power. this was not the reason they were able to receive him. there are many instances in scripture where the Holy Spirit is received without the laying on of hands. but what paul is demonstrating here is the brotherhood of which they are now a part. the unity in the Spirit is stronger than blood, and the body of Christ plays a major role in the building of faith and the sanctification that prepares the saints for eternity!
- receiving the Holy Spirit will produce power and spiritual gifts: before we talk about what this means, let’s talk about what it does not mean.
- it does not mean we will have a mind blowing experience the moment we believe. everyone’s experience of conversion is different, and sometimes a believer’s growth in the Spirit will be slower and more subtle than another’s. sometimes his presence is seen in an immediate visual sign, and sometimes his presence is seen in a still small voice. [1 kings 19:11-12]
- it does not mean we will speak in tongues or prophecy. these gifts are the manifestation of the Spirit’s presence in these men, but not all believers receive the same gifts. paul says in 1 corinthians 12 that not all speak in tongues, because not all receive the same gifts. he does say each will receive his own manifestation of the Spirit in vs 4-7, but those gifts will look different for each believer. tongues is not a requirement or guarantee of salvation.
- but what it does mean is that we will experience and be able to perceive the power of the Spirit working in and through us. to think that the person of the Holy Spirit is someone to be believed but not experienced is just as equally wrong. so what will we experience?
- fruit: when we are in step with the Spirit, the very character of God will pour out from us in rivers of life. as he fills us, his fruit is what will come out. not all at once, of course, the growth may be fast or the growth may be slow. but we are promised this fruit will come from the power of the Spirit working in our lives.
- praise: the Spirit in us is the one who causes us to cry out, “Abba, Father!” he is the one who makes the truth of Jesus as Lord clear and beautiful to us. when we walk in the Spirit, his beauty will continually be brought to mind and remembered with thanksgiving and praise.
- obedience: before we knew Christ, we did not have the ability to obey him from a true heart. when we were in the flesh, we could not please God. [romans 8:8] now, through the power of the Spirit, we have been given a heart of flesh rather than a heart of stone. our hearts now delight in his ways, although still fighting against our flesh, our old self, we will find satisfaction in obedience to him.
- power over sin: this is perhaps one of the hardest pieces to truly believe. some of us struggle hard against sin, with discouragement around every corner. but he who is in us is greater than he who is in the world, and he is fighting the battle for us. keep crying out for deliverance! don’t lose heart! fight the good fight of the faith!
- gifts: we each are promised manifestations of the Spirit for the purpose of building up the body of Christ. again, these gifts are different for each believer, but we are all called to practice and strengthen these gifts. are you being faithful to serve the body with the gifts of the Spirit?
so let’s return to the point. Jesus. faith in the name of Jesus is what brings salvation. this will turn your life around. you will receive power that produces a new creation. your old self, your old ways, your old desires will pass away, and behold the new self, the new way, the new purpose, the new desires, the new family, and the new name in Christ will come. turn to him! proclaim him as Lord! receive his power from on high and live a new life full of the glory of God!
~ arwen eastman