Has Every Believer received the Holy Spirit?
It is quite clear from John 7: 39 that before the Lord’s death, when He was here on earth, believers had not then received the Holy Spirit and that neither had He then taken up a permanent residence within them. It is equally clear from the same verse that the divine intention was that after the Lord was glorified, they should receive the Spirit. However, the question we face is, has every believer got the Holy Spirit now?
Where shall we find an answer to such a question? Shall our spiritual experiences, (or the lack of them), provide the answer? Some claim that until a believer has the experience of speaking with tongues, he has not received the Holy Spirit. Indeed they say that speaking with tongues is the divinely given evidence that a believer has received the gift of the Spirit quoting Acts 10: 45, 46 as proof! Yet is this so? Is experience the proof? Experience is a very unreliable yardstick. Suppose I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but my so doing is not God–given, (and it does not have to be), then where is the proof? Where is the certainty in the matter? There is only one way to answer this question with absolute, unshakeable certainty, and that is from the Word of God. My answer must come from the Bible.
In the early days of Christianity we read of Peter preaching “Repent, and be baptised, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for remission of sins, and ye will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”, (Acts 2: 38). Now according to this verse there are two essential things required before the gift of the Spirit is received. One is repentance and the other is baptism. Reading a little further on in Acts 8: 15, 16 I find Peter and John sent down from Jerusalem to Samaria where they “prayed for them that they might receive [the] Holy Spirit; for he was not yet fallen upon any of them, only they were baptised to the name of the Lord Jesus”. This time, although they had received the Word of God and had been baptised, it was not enough: the apostles, must lay their hands upon them before the Holy Spirit could be received. Further on in Acts 19: 1–7, a similar incident is recorded in which the question of the apostle Paul “Did ye receive [the] Holy Spirit when ye had believed?” clearly shows another group of disciples who had believed but had not as yet received the Holy Spirit.
From the incidents quoted above it might seem that not only are there many believers who have not got the Holy Spirit, but that in order to secure this gift they must repent, believe, be baptised, and be identified with an apostle by the laying on of hands! However if I look in Acts 10: 44 I read a different story: “While Peter was yet speaking these words the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were hearing the word”. Here the Holy Spirit was received before baptism and without any laying on of hands! Well, if I am now uncertain as to where I stand, perhaps I should ask for this gift as the Lord instructed some in Luke 11: 13: “How much rather shall the Father who is of heaven give [the] Holy Spirit to them that ask him?”.
If the above seems confusing, it is not surprising! We must not merely notice what is said in Scripture, but to whom it is said. It is of paramount importance to cut “in a straight line the word of truth”, (2 Tim. 2: 15). We must not just pick out a verse or two here and there without any reference to the context. We must notice not only what God says, but to whom God says it.
Let us pursue this important point in more detail. In the four Gospels, for example, the Lord Jesus said many things to His disciples. Some things were said to them personally, other things were said to them representatively. An example of the former is Matt 16: 17: “And Jesus answering said to him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar–jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed [it] to thee, but my Father who is in the heavens”. This was said to Peter personally and applies to him and to no–one else. An example of the latter would be in Matt. 24: 15 “When therefore ye shall see the abomination of desolation, which is spoken of through Daniel the prophet...”. This clearly does not apply to the disciples personally but as representatives of others. Who are the others? Clearly in this example, as in many others, they do not represent Christians, but Jews. Likewise Luke 11: 13, already quoted, was never said to Christians but to Jewish disciples. They were to ask the Father who is in heaven. You can go through every one of the NT epistles and you will never find the expression “heavenly Father” or “your Father who is in heaven” once. It does not belong to this dispensation even though many Christians use the expression in prayer. Likewise there is not a single example in the Acts of anyone asking God for the gift of the Holy Spirit, nor is there any parallel exhortation to do so in the epistles. We must always remember that when the Lord Jesus was here His mission was primarily to the Jews: “I have not been sent save to the lost sheep of Israel’s house”, (Matt. 15: 24). Others may have been blessed as well, but that was incidental: “Suffer the children to be first filled; for it is not right to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs”, (Mark 7: 27). Applying everything in the Gospels to Christians is mischievous; it muddles up Christianity and Judaism, confuses law with grace.
The principle in Scripture is the Jew first, and then the Gentile, (see Rom. 1: 16), hence the first great preaching was in Jerusalem to the very nation that had crucified their Messiah, (Acts 2). The offer to the “Men of Israel”, (Acts 3: 12), was “Repent therefore and be converted, for the blotting out of your sins, so that times of refreshing may come from [the] presence of the Lord, and he may send Jesus Christ, who was foreordained for you, whom heaven indeed must receive till [the] times of [the] restoring of all things”, (Acts 3: 19–21). If the nation had repented, Christ would then have returned, but they did not. Even Stephen’s testimony, a little later, only further moved them to demonstrate their hatred. There the Lord is presented as standing, (Acts 7: 56), ready to return. With Stephen’s martyrdom, Saul is arrested and converted and the word now is regarding him “to bear my name before both nations and kings and [the] sons of Israel”, (Acts 9: 15).
Thus in the book of Acts, even when the Assembly is here, much is transitional. The peculiar truth of Christianity, of Christ and the Assembly, awaits the Pauline epistles. For it is there that we generally have what is distinctive and permanent for the saints of the present time. So let us see what is said there regarding our question, and then return later to the Scriptures in Acts quoted previously.
Now the question of when a believer receives the Holy Spirit will have a defective answer unless we understand clearly why he receives the Holy Spirit. The reason why is given in Gal. 4: 6: “But because ye are sons, God has sent out the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father”. We have the Holy Spirit, not to make us sons, but because we are sons. However, you will now say that instead of giving an answer, that only changes the question from why do I receive the Holy Spirit to how do I become a son? True, but we have only to go back to Gal. 3: 26 for the answer. “ye are all God’s sons by faith in Christ Jesus”. How? By faith in Christ Jesus. Now note that the word is not by faith in “Jesus Christ” here but by faith in “Christ Jesus”. This term “Christ Jesus” is peculiarly Pauline. The twelve knew a “man called Jesus” and found Him to be the Christ—Jesus Christ. Paul knew of the Christ, the Messiah, but the revelation to him on the Damascus road in “the vision”, (Acts 26;19), the one who “appeared to” him, (v16), was one who said “I am Jesus” (v15). The Christ Paul knew of was identified to him in heavenly glory as Jesus—Christ Jesus. Thus it is not faith in an earthly Messiah, but faith in the Man in the glory who has completed the work of redemption. Not faith in a promised Messiah, but faith in a perfected Saviour, (Heb. 5: 9).
Now look at Eph. 1: 12–14. The first part is “We should be to the praise of his glory who have pre–trusted in the Christ:” Paul was a Jew and was appeared to as such “as an abortion”—one born out of due time, (1 Cor. 15: 8). The Jews who had believed had antedated the nation, of which Paul was the great example. The second part is “in whom ye”, (the Gentiles), “also [have trusted], having heard the word of the truth, the glad tidings of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, ye have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise”, (Eph. 1: 12–14). Now the gospel believed here is not the “glad tidings of the kingdom” that was preached by John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus, (Matt. 4: 23, 9: 35), a gospel never preached alone as such again once the Lord died. The kingdom was preached, (Acts 8: 12; 20: 25; 28: 23, 31), but the Gospel is far wider now and greater, no longer limited only to the thought of the coming kingdom. It is “the glad tidings of the grace of God”, (Acts 20: 24). It is not the gospel of a hoped for salvation but the “glad tidings of your, (that is the Gentiles), salvation”.
Someone might say that it does not say “when you believed” but “having believed” allowing time for an interval in between. It does not say “when” because it could not! The sealing is immediate, it has to be. For sealing denotes the satisfaction of him who puts his seal to the matter. Take an example to illustrate the point: When a man writes a letter and is perfectly satisfied with what he has written, he puts it in an envelope and seals the envelope. With a name and address on the front it is now ready for posting, but if a letter was to be placed in an envelope and left unsealed on the side, even though the envelope was stamped and addressed, the very fact that the envelope was unsealed would indicate that it was not yet ready for posting. Sealing is the mark of satisfaction. Now when God seals the believer with the Holy Spirit, with what is He satisfied? With the believer’s progress since conversion? If so the gift depends on my state and not on Christ’s work, it is no longer grace but debt! (Compare Rom. 4: 4). It is a striking thing that of all the various local companies addressed in the NT, the two worst sets were the Corinthians and Galatian assemblies. Yet again of all those companies the two sets of which it is confirmed beyond any doubt as to their possession of the gift of the Holy Spirit, were those two!
Well now if the Holy Spirit is given on believing the Gospel of my salvation, and that immediately, what about these verses quoted at the beginning in the book of Acts?
Firstly Acts 2: Whom was Peter addressing on the day of Pentecost? V5: “Now there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews”, Jews not Gentiles were addressed. To them he says “ye by [the] hand of lawless [men], have crucified and slain. Whom God has raised up,” (vs 23, 24). Again “Let the whole house of Israel, (again Gentiles are not considered), therefore know assuredly that God has made him, this Jesus whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ”, (v36). Pricked in heart they ask “What shall we, do brethren?” And Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptised, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for remission of sins, and ye will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”. V40: “Be saved from this perverse generation”. Why baptism in addition to repentance? Because baptism always involves association and dissociation. Until they had dissociated themselves outwardly from the generation of that nation that had crucified Christ just seven weeks previously, God would not identify Himself with them. V39: “For to you is the promise and to your children, and to all who [are] afar off, as many as [the] Lord our God may call”. The call may extend beyond the borders of Israel, but to the generation that publicly crucified His Son, God insisted not only on an internal dissociation by repentance but in an external dissociation by baptism as well.
Acts 8: Here the Samaritans had believed and been baptised but had not received the gift of the Holy Spirit. It awaited the identification with the Apostles from Jerusalem before they could receive the gift. Why? Because they were Samaritans. If the Holy Spirit had been given without the laying on of the Apostles’ hands, the ancient rivalry would have remained between Jerusalem and Samaria. Samaria would have lifted up her head once more, and the very grace of the Gospel would have been a support to her false religious pretensions. Centuries of the false claims of Samaria are not passed over by God. They had claimed to be Israelites. “Art thou greater than our father Jacob?”, (John 4: 12). “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain, and ye say that in Jerusalem is the place where one must worship”, (John 4: 20). God will bless them with the gift of the Holy Spirit as He blessed Israel but only through the intercession of Peter and John, true Israelites. When this is submitted to, and Peter and John identify themselves with the Samaritans through the laying on of hands, then, and then only, do they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 19: These twelve had never heard the Gospel of the grace of God, and so they had never believed it and were not Christians! They had accepted the final testimony of the old dispensation. Why then the laying on of hands? There is obviously a link with Acts 8. Broadly speaking when Christianity was introduced, there were two companies in the world, Jew and Gentile. In neither case is there any thought of laying on of hands. The Samaritans of Acts 8 were neither one nor the other and as already explained there had to be that distinctive intervention by the Apostles with the laying on of hands. The twelve disciples of Ephesus are similar. No doubt they were Jews (although it does not actually say so) but the testimony that they had believed had been superseded. They were linked to the old dispensation by the testimony that they had accepted and yet, unknown to them, they were living in the new dispensation. Hence being in that way a peculiar case and being, as I suppose Jews, it needed the service of the Apostle to the Gentiles to identify himself with them so that they might secure the distinctive blessing of the current dispensation.
Acts 10, 11: This is really the pattern for the present time. This is the second major occasion on which Peter uses the keys of the kingdom, (See Matt. 16: 19), the first being the day of Pentecost. There is no thought of any delay here. No laying on of hands, and no demand of baptism first. To ensure that we understand that there is no delay on the one hand and that faith is the only ground on the other, the Holy Spirit does not even wait for Peter to finish what he is saying before He fell upon all those who were hearing the word, (Acts 10: 44): “While Peter was yet speaking these words the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were hearing the word.” Thus the gift of the Holy Spirit is given on believing and that immediately.
Finally what about the speaking with tongues as a proof that one has received the Holy Spirit? Was it meant as a proof to Cornelius and his band that they had received the Holy Spirit? Is it true as some affirm today that unless you speak with tongues, you cannot be sure that you have received the Holy Spirit? Acts 10: 45 reads “And the faithful of the circumcision were astonished, as many as came with Peter, that upon the nations also the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out: for they heard them speaking with tongues and magnifying God.” The faithful of the circumcision were Jews. It was they who needed the proof that the blessing of the Gospel was going beyond the borders of Israel, not the Gentiles who received the blessing. The gift of tongues was given as a sign to the Jews, first used on the day of Pentecost to establish in a most powerful way the truth of what Peter said to the nation, a sign to Jews and not Gentiles. So Paul says “So that tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers; but prophecy, not to unbelievers, but to those who believe”, (1 Cor. 14: 22). What is the Apostle’s ground for making that statement? Who are the unbelievers in Paul’s mind? Jews or Gentiles? Is. 28: 11, 12 which he quotes in the previous verse applies to Israel only, and none other.
Summing up then, the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a characteristic feature of Christianity and as such it is distinct from new birth which is essential in all dispensations. All who have believed the Gospel of their salvation are sons of God and as such are indwelt by the Spirit of God’s Son. Christianity is not a two–tier system with some believers indwelt and others not. The Holy Spirit is a gift and gifts are given, not earned by my spiritual state reaching some divinely–determined standard. He is given as the seal of my faith in what God has said concerning the work of Christ. To put the gift on any other basis is effectively to devalue the work of the Lord Jesus.