Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? (Acts 19:2).
Paul encountered in Ephesus a group of disciples who believed in Jesus, but they had not received the Holy Spirit. Today’s conventional teaching on the reception of the Holy Spirit and salvation in Jesus’s name rests on the assumption that both are bestowed when one believes in Jesus. Luke treats the Ephesians as genuine believers in Jesus, yet they lacked the Holy Spirit. If today’s conventional teaching is true, how is this possible? It is my belief Paul’s Ephesian encounter exposes a fatal flaw in today’s conventional teaching. A quick examination of the Scripture demonstrates that the bestowal of the Holy Spirit involves much more than some would have us believe.
Let’s begin with the words of Jesus:
If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever– the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you (John 14:15-18).
The Counselor or Spirit of truth promised by the Lord refers to the Holy Spirit (see verse 26 to confirm). Jesus forecasts a day when He would dwell in His disciples through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Lord predicates the reception of the Holy Spirit upon one’s obedience to His commands. In other words, if one obeys Jesus, the Father will dispatch the Spirit to dwell in them. Peter later confirms this when addressing the Sanhedrin, “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him” (Acts 5:32). In both instances, the bestowal of the Holy Spirit rests upon one’s obedience to the Lord.
In addition to obedience, repentance is necessary in order to receive the Holy Spirit. Peter pleads in Acts 3:19-20:
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you–even Jesus.
Earlier in John we noticed how Jesus comes to His disciples in the form of the Holy Spirit. Here in Acts, Peter taps into an identical thought: the Father sends the Christ to those who turn to Him. Lest we be mistaken, this does not refer to the second appearance of Jesus (see verse 21). No, this must refer to the indwelling of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. In this case, Peter predicates the indwelling of the Spirit upon repentance. If you repent God will forgive your sins, renew you, and send Jesus to dwell in you.
Along with belief, obedience, and repentance, baptism in the name of Jesus is necessary in order to receive the Spirit. Although the Ephesians were believers, they had not even heard of the Holy Spirit much less received Him in any form. Paul immediately corrects this by baptizing them in the name of Jesus. If belief was sufficient, why take this additional step? This conclusion agrees with Peter’s teaching in Acts 2:38, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Scripture does not teach that belief in Jesus excludes obedience, repentance, or baptism in the name of Christ as necessary for the reception of the Spirit. In fact, quite the opposite is true. To be truly converted to Jesus, one must believe in Jesus, obey the Lord’s commands, change their life to walk in righteousness, and unite with the Lord in baptism. Those who do so receive the promise of the Spirit.