Receiving the Holy Spirit—or baptism in the Holy Spirit, as it's often called—is
the final part of the package-deal of salvation (Acts 2:38), along with repentance
and faith, and baptism in water as a believer in Jesus.
The Holy Spirit gives you spiritual power so that you can not only cope with life
in general but also be an effective messenger in transmitting the gospel to others.
It is the risen Lord Jesus who pours out his Spirit in this way (John 1:32-33).
Acts 1:8 'You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will
be my witnesses.'
Is this for all believers or just a few high-flyers?
It's for all Christians, not just a select few. God promised: 'I will pour out my
Spirit on all people' (Acts 2:17). Concerning the gift of the Holy Spirit, Peter
proclaimed: 'The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for
all whom the Lord our God will call' (Acts 2:39). That means it's for you!
Besides, if all God's children are to be his witnesses, and if they can't be effective
witnesses without receiving the Holy Spirit, then all God's children should expect
to receive him.
To send out a new believer to face a sinful world without the power received in this
way is like sending out a new recruit into battle with no weapons. God gives the
Holy Spirit to equip you, his soldier in the spiritual battle.
What other blessings does receiving the Holy Spirit bring?
You are enabled to pray in the Spirit and sing praise in the Spirit (in tongues)
as distinct from normal prayer and praise expressed in ordinary language (Romans
8:26-27; 1 Corinthians 14:15).
Your spiritual ears become sensitive to the voice of God's Spirit (Acts 13:2; Mark
13:11; Acts 1:1-2).
You become eligible for the gifts of the Spirit and a new level of God's power in
your life (1 Corinthians 14:1; 1 Corinthians 1:5-7; Acts 1:8).
You begin to live your daily life in the Spirit and gradually produce the character-fruit
and graces he brings forth in you (Galatians 5:16-23, 25).
Don't all Christians have the Holy Spirit?
Yes, in one sense they do. No-one can repent and believe in Jesus in the first place
without the work of the Spirit within them. You were 'born of the Spirit' (John 3:5),
and Paul tells us that 'if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not
belong to Christ' (Romans 8:9).
But his work within you up to this point is often quiet and in the background. God
intends you, in addition, to have a conscious experience of the Holy Spirit coming
on you. This often happens when a person comes up from the water at their baptism.
Ideally, repentance and faith, being baptised, and receiving the Holy Spirit belong
together—part and parcel of the single business of becoming a Christian. Unfortunately,
incomplete teaching has meant that many people enter into their full inheritance
in bits and pieces. But better late than never!
How do you receive the Holy Spirit?
Sometimes the Lord baptises believers in the Spirit by a sovereign act. This is what
happened to the disciples on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), and to the household
of Cornelius in Acts 10. At other times, it happens through the laying on of hands,
as in Samaria (Acts 8).
Looking at it from the seeker's point of view, however, you receive the Holy Spirit
in the same way as you receive all the blessings of God: by faith. The following
steps may be helpful.
You need to ask the Lord to cleanse you from all outstanding sin so that you can
approach him with confidence. In other words, you need to clear your conscience (Acts
Then it's important to ask him for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said:
Luke 11:13 'If you . . . though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your
children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those
who ask him!'
Having prayed, and believing God has heard your prayer, begin to praise God and worship
him with thanksgiving. Do it out loud. This is a powerful means of drawing near to
his presence to receive the Holy Spirit: 'Come near to God and he will come near
to you' (James 4:8).
Reach out in love and worship to the Lord, speaking or singing your praise to him.
At this point, a fellow-Christian may lay hands on you to impart the Holy Spirit,
just as 'when Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they
spoke in tongues and prophesied' (Acts 19:6).
Expect to feel the Lord's presence in a new and powerful way. No-one in the Bible
ever received the Holy Spirit and didn't know it.
Speaking in tongues
Receiving the Holy Spirit will normally cause you to speak in tongues. This isn't
a language you've learnt, like school French. It's a spiritual language that expresses
what's in your heart. As such, it isn't a function of the mind. In fact you don't
understand what you're saying; it sounds like nonsense syllables.
Some ask, 'Do I have to speak in tongues when I receive the Holy Spirit?' That's
the wrong question! You don't have to speak in tongues, but when the Lord baptises
you in the Holy Spirit you can, and will, provided you don't let prejudice and fear
hinder the Spirit.
So what's the point of it? The tongue is the hardest part of the body to tame (James
3:7-8). God wants to demonstrate his mighty power in you by tackling the toughest
part first. So expect to speak in tongues when you receive the Holy Spirit.
When the Spirit comes upon you, he will prompt you to speak strange syllables or
words as you yield to his direction. Your own natural words will seem inadequate
to praise God the way you'd like to. The Holy Spirit will then lead you and encourage
you (but never force you) to speak out in tongues.
Once you begin, you should expect the language to start flowing naturally. You won't
understand the words you're saying, nor should you expect to, 'for anyone who speaks
in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no-one understands him; he
utters mysteries with his spirit' (1 Corinthians 14:2).
In this way you'll experience for yourself what happened at the beginning at Pentecost,
when 'all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues
as the Spirit enabled them' (Acts 2:4). Henceforth there will be no doubts as to
whether or not you have received the Spirit!
When you have experienced the full package-deal of repentance, faith in Jesus, baptism
and receiving the Holy Spirit, the foundation of your Christian life has been laid
and you can go on to build a mature life in God.
Continually filled with the Holy Spirit
Receiving the Holy Spirit is the gateway to a life of being continually filled with
the Spirit. We are to 'live by the Spirit' (Galatians 5:16).
The initial receiving of the Spirit, or baptism in the Spirit, is a once-for-all
experience, whereas being filled with the Spirit is meant to be something ongoing—a
way of life. The apostle Paul said:
Ephesians 5:18 'Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be
filled with the Spirit.'
Literally, his statement is, 'Go on being filled with the Spirit.' How can you experience
Paul gives us a clue in the way he contrasts the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives
with the influence of alcoholic drink. While the two are utterly different, there
are parallels, too. The drunkard is a habitual drinker who becomes controlled by
drink. Every aspect of his life is influenced by it—his behaviour, his family life,
his job, his driving, his finances. In a similar way, the Spirit-filled person is
dominated by the influence of God's Holy Spirit in every area of life.
How does a drunkard stay drunk? He keeps drinking! And you will stay filled with
the Spirit by being every day alert to his presence and letting him fill your life.
You yield to his influence by feeding on God's Word, the Bible, by prayer, speaking
in tongues, thanksgiving, worship, and fellowship with other Christians.
Alcoholism dulls the senses and drags its victim down. But living filled with the
Spirit enhances every aspect of life, lifting the Christian to a higher level of
everyday fulfilment and usefulness to God. Are you living this way?
Learn by heart
Ephesians 5:18'Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be
filled with the Spirit.'