An important question has to be answered if we are to fully understand what it means to be baptised in the Holy Spirit. Does a believer receive the Holy Spirit at the moment of conversion? There have been heated arguments for and against the teaching that baptism in the Holy Spirit as a second work of grace. These disagreements are mainly the consequence of a misapplication of Scripture and a desire to hold onto denominational theories. Our guide in answering this question must always be the Scriptures, and allowing it to speak for itself.
Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?
The apostle Paul, on his missionary trip to Ephesus, asked twelve disciples of John the Baptist a question whose answer would dynamically transform their lives. “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” (Acts 19:2). The reply he received is remarkable and appears to cut right through modern theories about the Holy Spirit. They said, “We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost” (Acts 19:2). These believers were converted through John’s baptism (Acts 19:3). It is obvious that they had left Israel before the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ had begun, so therefore had no knowledge of Him or the coming of the Holy Spirit. This is proven by the fact that after they had heard Paul say, “John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus … they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:4-5). Then Paul “laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied” (Acts 19:6).
Some teach that this baptism was subsequent to their acceptance of Christ as Saviour, but the passage does not prove this to be so. They had received the baptism of repentance under John’s ministry, but because of incomplete teaching (see :4) they needed believer’s baptism. There is a momentary delay between them actually receiving Christ and being baptised in the Spirit, but this in itself does not mean that they had not been filled with the Spirit at conversion. If they did not receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit the moment they were saved then they were in fact not saved at all … “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Romans 8:9-11). But does the text not say that they were filled with the Holy Spirit after being saved? Let’s look again at the verse in question.
The Holy Ghost came upon them
“And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied” (Acts 19:6). There is a vast difference between being indwelt by the Holy Spirit and having Him come upon us. It is a false teaching that suggests that these Ephesian believers received the Holy Spirit in person at the laying on of hands. Paul’s initial question, “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” must be understood in term of the power rather than the person of the Spirit. Paul would not have meant nor done anything contrary to what was practiced by the Apostles of Jesus. Peter had previously laid hands on the Samaritan believers to receive the Holy Spirit, Simon the magician also wanted to receive the “power” (Acts 8:19). Once again the text says that the Holy Spirit came upon rather than indwelling them … “For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 8:16). To be saved they needed quickening presence of the Holy Spirit, but now they received what we term ‘the baptism in the Holy Spirit.’ Paul must have laid hands on the Ephesians for this reason to, otherwise he contradicts himself by writing, “No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (1 Corinthians 12:3). At conversion the Holy Spirit begins to abide in the believer, but a second work of grace follows which is known as being baptised in the Spirit. This second work, which can and should immediately follow salvation, empowers the believer for service.
Though the original apostles believed and were saved, they had to wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. In the upper room Jesus “breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (John 20:22), but just moments before His ascension He said to them, “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence … ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you” (Acts 1:5,8). Believers do not drink but immerse themselves in the water of baptism. In the same way, Pentecost was the disciple’s immersion in the Spirit rather than receiving Him in person. The text says that the Spirit would come “upon” the waiting believers. This is in full agreement with what Jesus promised … “Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). It must follow then, that baptism in the Spirit is actually receiving divine power. The “promise” (Luke 24:49) and the “gift” (Acts 8:20; 10:44) must be one and the same, that is, the endowment of power.
Acts 2:4 does tell us that on the Day of Pentecost “they were all filled with the Holy Ghost,” but the infilling must be understood in light of what all the Scriptures which relate to this text teach, otherwise there will be contradiction and confusion. Would Paul write to the Ephesian Christians, after he had already brought them to Christ, “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) if they were already indwelt by the Holy Spirit? Once again the “power” of the Spirit is being referred to. Instead of being filled with the power of intoxicating wine, all believers need the influencing power of the Spirit.
Why was the Holy Spirit given if the disciples already believed in Christ and must have had the life-changing power of the Spirit? Jesus taught, “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38), but “this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39). When compared with other Scriptures we clearly see that it is the power of the Holy Spirit that is being referred to. This divine power is for service – to make believers effective witnesses, exactly as Jesus indicated (ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 2:8), and exactly what happened on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).