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Do We Receive the Holy Spirit Today?

There is a doctrine being put forth by some brethren in the church of Christ that concludes that the Bible does not teach that Christians receive the gift of the Holy Spirit at baptism. This doctrine affirms that in Acts 2:38 when Peter said on the Day of Pentecost, “Repent and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” he was referring to the miraculous endowment of the Holy Spirit that was given by the laying on of the apostles’ hands (Acts 8:18; see also Romans 1:9-11). The proponents of the doctrine claim, therefore, that when the apostles baptized the “about three thousand” they must have also laid hands on them so as to impart to them “the Holy Spirit” so that they could perform the various miracles (tongue speaking, healing, prophesy, etc.).

The brothers who are proponents of this doctrine claim that this interpretation better fits the context of Acts 2 and in particular the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy quoted by Peter in verses 16-21. Joel prophesied that “It shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy. I will show wonders in heaven above and signs in the earth beneath: Blood and fire and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:17-21; Joel 2:28-32).

Support is also drawn for their theory by going to Acts 8. After the Samaritans had heard the Gospel and were baptized, Peter and John came down from Jerusalem, “Who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:9-17). In the next verse (v. 18) Simon the sorcerer notices that “through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given.”

It is therefore assumed that since the miraculous endowment of the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostle’s hands that that is the only way the Holy Spirit can be given.
Acts 10 is also referenced to further perpetuate this doctrine. In Peter’s sermon to the Gentiles he never promised them that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit when they were baptized into Christ. The Holy Spirit interrupted him before the command to repent and be baptized was given. “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell on 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” (Acts 10:44-46). Following this endorsement by the Holy Spirit, Peter commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord (v.48). The language here seems to indicate that Peter did not need to promise them the gift of the Holy Spirit because they had already received it when the Holy Spirit “fell upon” them.

They also refer to Acts 19 where Paul arrives in Ephesus to find twelve men who had been baptized into John’s baptism. Paul asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit when they were baptized to which they replied that they had not. He preached Christ to them and they were “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” After they were baptized into Christ, Paul laid hands on them, and the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied (Acts 19:1-7). In this passage Paul asked these men if they had received the Holy Spirit to which they replied that they had not. Then later, in order to impart the Holy Spirit to them, Paul laid hands on them. It is assumed here that since it does not say that they received the gift of the Holy Spirit when they were baptized that they must not have received it until Paul laid hands on them.

A few other passages have been referred to in support of this doctrine but the passages listed above are sufficient to show the apparent validity of this doctrine. Let us now turn our attention to some apparent flaws in this doctrine.

A major flaw in this doctrine is that it does damage to the Biblical doctrine of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We know that Christians receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit. He said, “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17). Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:9-11). To the Galatia churches Paul wrote about the “fruits of the Spirit,” then he wrote, “Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24-25). To the Ephesians He wrote, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14; see also 2Corinthians 5:5). To the Corinthians Paul wrote, “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God” (1Corinthians 6:19). Notice that these passages (along with many others) speak of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the lives of all Christians not just a selected few.

Jesus promised the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and inspired New Testament writers confirmed the fulfillment of the promise. If the promise was given and fulfilled but the gift of the Holy Spirit is not given at baptism, as proposed by this doctrine, when and how do we receive the gift of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? Clearly, before we obey the gospel we do not have the Holy Spirit living/dwelling in us and after we become Christians the Holy Spirit dwells in us. We must logically conclude, therefore, that we receive the gift of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit when we are baptized into Christ.

Another problem with the doctrine comes from the idea of the laying on of the apostle’s hands. We know, particularly from the example of Acts 8:18, that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit were given through the laying on of the apostle’s hands. We also know that the gift of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit cannot be given through the laying on of hands. But here we have a problem when it comes to Saul of Tarsus (later known as the apostle Paul). Luke wrote, “Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized” (Acts 9:17-18). Notice, first that Jesus sent Ananias, who was not an apostle, to Saul so that he could “be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Notice also that Ananias laid his hands on Saul (Acts 9:12). This was clearly for the healing of his blindness and not for the imparting of the Holy Spirit, leaving us to conclude that Saul must have been filled with the Holy Spirit when he was baptized.


On the Day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2, Peter said to them, “Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39). God was offering complete forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit not only to all of those who gladly received the word and were baptized on that day but also to everyone who would obey the Gospel from that day forward.


In Acts chapters eight and nineteen we find two cases where, in the discussion of this subject, the wording is difficult to understand. In Acts 8 after Philip had preached the Gospel in Samaria multitudes of both men and women in that city were baptized. Luke wrote, “Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. And when Simon saw that through the laying on the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying ‘Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit. But Peter said to him, ‘Your money perish with you because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money” (Acts 8:14-20).


In the similar case in Acts 19 the apostle Paul entered the city of Ephesus where he found 12 men who had been baptized into John’s baptism and therefore had not received the Holy Spirit. “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” (Acts 19:4-6).


We should resist the temptation to interpret these passages outside of the greater context of the New Testament. We know that when the apostles laid hands on the people of Samaria and the twelve men from Ephesus they received a miraculous endowment of the Holy Spirit. This in no way proves that when they were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ they did not receive the gift of the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit that has been promised to everyone who obeys the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


In conclusion, we know that everyone who repents of their sins and is baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of their sins receives the gift of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The New Testament confirms this many times. The Holy Spirit of God dwells, as promised, in every person who has obeyed God (Acts 5:32). The Spirit dwells in us as a guarantee of our inheritance until our redemption is complete. The Spirit dwells in us as an ever present reminder that we are not our own but that we belong to God. The Holy Spirit serves as an intermediary between God and us. When we pray the Holy Spirit helps us in our weaknesses to relay to God the true intent of our hearts (Romans 8:26-27). The Spirit does not dwell in us to control our thoughts and actions; but rather to be the presence of good in our lives and the voice of God in our hearts. To the Galatians Paul wrote, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-25). Paul was saying that not only does the Spirit dwell in us we should also strive to dwell in the Spirit. And finally as Paul admonished the Christians in Thessalonica, “Do not quench the Spirit” (1Thessalonians 5:19), let every Christian always remember that God is with us

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