HAVE YOU RECEIVED THE SPIRIT SINCE YOU BELIEVED?
Acts 19:1-4 is another passage where we find the presence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It is a strong example that gives evidence to the need for the baptism following conversion to Christ. However, for those who staunchly advocate that there isn’t a separate event of the filling of the Spirit they need to explain this passage. Ask folks who sit on either sit of the position and you’ll find that this story can be controversial, depending on how you interrupt one key element.
The story goes that the Apostle Paul entered into the town of Ephesus and found certain “disciples” who neither had the Spirit nor even heard of it. That much is agreed. The controversy lies in whether or not you believe these folks were already full-fledged believers in Jesus or just people that were close, but not yet true followers of Jesus. If you assert that they are believers then one would be forced to conclude that the indwelling of the Spirit is in fact, as I’ve been arguing, a secondary event. If you assert that they were not quite yet full-fledged believers it allows a way out of the second event viewpoint. Here is the passage for reference:
“And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? ”So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism. ”Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. Now the men were about twelve in all. – (Acts 19:1-4)
Paul asks these disciples flat out if they had “received the Spirit”. But notice what Paul tagged onto the end of that question – when you’ve believed. We’ll, you’ve got to ask the question, believed in what? What was Paul taking about?
When Paul asks, “when you believed” it makes sense to concede that everyone in the group of disciples having this conversation knew in what context Paul meant ”believed”. It seems obvious that he meant since they believed on Jesus – what other topic would Paul be asking about? I can’t think of any.
These disciples may not have had all of their facts straight about proper water baptism in the name of Jesus or the promise of the gift of the Spirit, but I believe they were following Jesus and received salvation in following Him to the best they knew how.
I think this passage is best understood just as it simply reads – Paul found some disciples, some followers of Jesus, and asked if they received the Spirit yet. This makes total sense when we remember what we saw in Act 8 with Phillip and Samaritans – who undeniably didn’t receive the Spirit when they first believed. Paul was just addressing the same circumstance that took place in Acts 8. Maybe word got out after the Samaria event that some believers weren’t receiving the Spirit as they should. So this might have been a natural question to ask disciple whom one didn’t know. Or maybe Paul spent some time with them and felt like something was off in their walk with Christ.
Either way, it doesn’t look like Paul felt the need to preach salvation anew or share the good news of Jesus with them. He knew they were believers. Upon knowing this he just simply asked if they received the Spirit yet. Again, if you take Acts 8 in account this doesn’t make for an odd question at all! In fact, Paul was know for helping churches receive spirit gifts as he visited them (Romans 1:11). I think Paul was experienced enough to be able to size up a group of people and know if they were following Jesus or not. He was an expert in building churches.
These believers didn’t need to receive Jesus. Instead, Paul just gave them information about God’s gift of the Spirit. They were water baptized again, but this time specifically into Jesus’s name (since their first baptism was botched or done with incorrect/outdated information). This time the water baptism included afterward the laying on of hands to which assisted the new believers in the receiving of the Spirit – just as the apostles laid there hands on believers in Acts 8. This seems like a much simpler explanation rather than taking the opposite explanation and declaring that these folks weren’t yet believers.
IT DOESN’T MATTER IF THEY WERE BELIEVERS OR NOT ANYWAYS
Ok, just for fun let’s say for a minute that these folks were NOT believers when Paul first met them. Lets accept that as a fact for a minute and entertain that conclusion:
In that case then according to evangelicalism, all that the disciples would have needed to do was to just believe in Jesus and they would have received the Holy Spirit just like that – right?
If the Spirit comes automatically at the time one gives their life to Jesus what was the purpose of Paul, after their baptism and after their confession of faith, laying hands on them to receive the Spirit?
If Paul thought like an evangelical does today he would have been out of place to lay hands on them for the Spirit. Why? Because evangelicals believe that you already receive the Spirit when you just believe and put faith in Jesus.
But yet Paul DID lay hands on them to RECEIVE it. Which indicated that Paul believed that laying hands on them was integral part of the process for them to receive the Spirit – a process that is most often left out when we see the traditional altar calls for people to receive Jesus.
So really, either way you look at it that fact remains that the Spirit didn’t automatically come when they believed – despite if they were believers beforehand not. The Spirit only came through Paul’s laying on of hands. The baptism of the Spirit is still a separate event subsequent to first believing in Jesus.
INTO WHAT WERE YOU BAPTIZED?
Paul’s next question “Into what then were you baptized” is also a revealing side note. Paul equates the time at which a person is water baptized synonymous with when one ought to receive the Holy Spirit. This is evident because we see that when the disciples then answered “no” to having the Spirit Paul then immediately brings up water baptism. As if the two were connected.
Doesn’t it seem strange that Paul brings up water baptism when asking whether they received the Holy Spirit yet?
When the disciples said that they hadn’t yet received the Spirit Paul’s reasoning was probably something like this, “Oh, these guy didn’t receive the Spirit when they believed? That’s strange. When you believe in Jesus you get water baptized and we lay hands on you to receive the Holy Spirit. If they didn’t get the Holy Spirit when they were water baptized then I wonder what was their baptism like. Because when we apostles baptize with water we always pray for the Holy Spirit to come as well. I’ll ask them for clarification on their water baptism…’Hey guys, into what then were you baptized?’
In my opinion, I believe that the normal order of conversion and coming into faith in Jesus was originally as followed: people heard the word of Jesus, they repented (had a change of heart toward God) and believed in Jesus being raised from the dead, were cleansed from their sins, were water baptized, and then had laid hands on to receive the promised gift of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. All happened within the same day. Not like today where we push out water baptism by weeks, months, and like in my case, years.
DID THE FOOD GO DOWN WHEN YOU SWALLOWED?
And lastly, if a believer automatically receives the Spirit when one believes then why did Paul even ask the question, “Did you receive the Spirit when you believed?”
That’s like asking someone, “Did the food go down your throat and into your stomach when you swallowed?” Wouldn’t that be a dumb question to ask someone? Obviously yes, because when you swallow your food automatically goes down your throat and into the stomach.
But, isn’t this exactly the same type of question that Paul would be asking to the disciples in Ephesus? Remember, the evangelical approach says that when you receive Jesus you get the Spirit automatically, every time, without asking, by just of default in believing in Jesus.
So, if evangelical thought is correct and this is indeed the case, why then is Paul asking if they received something that automatically comes with following Jesus?
To take the position that Spirit automatically comes at the same time you believe goes against the very question Paul first asked these disciples. It goes against all logic to ask that question if you believe the baptism of the Spirit is an automated process that requires no extra step or awareness on the part of the believer. Paul would not have even asked that question if there wasn’t a possibly that believers can be saved and still yet not have the Spirit. He knew there was, just as the case in Acts 8, so that is why he asked the question.
When Paul came to Ephesus he met disciples who were already believers in our wonderful Messiah. They had not yet experienced the depths of the Holy Spirit. When asked, the disciples said they had never even heard that there was a Spirit. Paul helped the disciples enter into the fullness of the Gospel by assisting in the baptism of promised gift of the Spirit. The disciple manifested the baptism of the Spirit by speaking in tongues and declaring the wonders of God.
Acts 19:1-4 further endorses the need for all Christians to filled with the Spirit subsequent to believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior.
A FEW QUESTIONS FOR LATER
If you come from a Protestant/evangelical background, and were lucky enough to get some teaching on the subject of the Spirit, then some of the things I shared might go against what is usually been taught. Some of those objections are:
- But doesn’t the scripture say that “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.”? (Romans 8:9) And if I don’t have the baptism of the Spirit are you saying I don’t belong to Christ? Are you saying I am not a Christian?
- The way we see the Spirit come upon people in the early New Testament in such dramatic ways were only intended for a short period. They were one-offs. God doesn’t work like that anymore.
- God only gave the outward gifts of the Spirit, like praying tongues, because the early believers did not have a New Testament. It wasn’t written yet. They needed the supernatural gifts in the early church to make sure they stayed on the right course course. Once the New Testament was written, and the the full Bible was completed, God stopped using supernatural gifts and His Spirit is no longer was received or manifested in that manner.
- The Bible says “Do all speak in tongues?” (I Corinthians 12:28), which is a rhetorical question. The answer Paul’s leads the reader to conclude is no. How do you explain that verse if you are saying that everyone should at least be able to speak in tongues as evidence of the baptism of the Spirit?
- I’ve heard that the Bible says that you can’t acknowledge Jesus as Lord without the Spirit. How can I confess that Jesus is Lord if you’re saying I don’t have the baptism of the Spirit.
I’ve answered some of these objections in the following posts:
*As always, I’d love to hear what’s on your mind so please drop your thoughts in the comment section below!