Do we receive the Holy Spirit as a result of faith, or faith plus baptism?
Also includes at end: What Does the Holy Spirit Do in the Believer’s Life Today?
Cornelius and His Household
In the example of Cornelius and his household (Acts 10), they listened to Peter preach to them about Jesus and that He was who all the prophets spoke of–His life, death and resurrection–and that whoever believes in Him shall receive remission of sins. (Acts 10:43) The passage recounts how, before Peter could even baptize them, they all received the Holy Spirit after believing. (Acts 10:44) However, there are some who challenge that by saying, “Well, they were ‘immediately’ baptized.” Would God have removed His Spirit from them if the baptism had been performed hours or days later? No. The Holy Spirit is an abiding presence. (John 14:16)
The timing was important here for several reasons. The Mosaic Law had been a wall between Jews and Gentiles, but that wall had been broken down at the cross. The “Judaizers” contended that the Gentiles had to be circumcised and keep the Law in order to be accepted by God and come into the church. At the council at Jerusalem (Acts 15), it was brought out that none of these things were required of the Gentile converts; the Gentiles had heard the Gospel from Peter’s mouth, they had believed and they were saved by grace through faith, not by the works of the Law, such as circumcision. (Acts. 15:7-9) We see that the giving of the Spirit was not dependent on any physical requirement of the Law, including the physical act of baptism. Cornelius and his household did, after all, receive the Holy Spirit prior to baptism.
So this incident shows that it wasn’t baptism that saved Cornelius and his household (or what caused them to receive or keep the Holy Spirit). Their baptism that followed only gave evidence that they had already been baptized by the Holy Spirit and were saved.
Samaritans Who Believed
Why did those Samaritans who believed and were baptized in an outward ceremony (Acts 8:12) not receive the Holy Spirit? When the apostles heard that they received the Word of God, they sent Peter and John unto them, to pray for them, “that they might receive the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-16)
These Samaritans did not receive the Spirit when they were baptized because God wanted the Samaritan believers to be united with the original Jewish church in Jerusalem. It served the purpose of confirming Philip’s teaching among the Samaritans and authenticated their work to the apostles in Jerusalem. There is a transition in the book of Acts from the Jews to the Samaritans to the Gentiles.
Laying on of Hands
Laying on of hands was an Old Testament ritual.
Today it is not required, but when performed by a Christian minister, it is simply has to do with identification and setting one aside for service or consecration. It has nothing to do with “making sure” one receives the Holy Spirit.
In Acts 19:1-2 when Paul ministered to those in Ephesus he came across certain ones who had only heard of the baptism of John. Did Paul baptize them again and lay hands on them because they had already been saved, but just didn’t receive the Holy Spirit yet? No. When Paul baptized them and laid his hands upon them, they began to speak with tongues. They could now speak the gospel in other languages that could be understood. (By the way, this is the only place in the N. T. that mentions anyone being re-baptized.)
The Ethiopian Eunuch
Back in chapter 8 of Acts, Philip (v.26) is led to the Ethiopian Eunuch. Philip heard him reading Isaiah 53 and, after asking him if he understood what he was reading, began to preach unto him Jesus. Then as they came to some water, the Ethiopian requested to be baptized. Philip replies that if he will believe with all his heart, he can, and the Ethiopian answers that he believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. So they stop, go down into the water and Philip baptizes him. But what happens immediately after the baptism? Philip is carried off by the Spirit to minister elsewhere. Did the Ethiopian have hands laid on him by Philip in order to receive the Holy Spirit? No. Professing his belief was all that was necessary.
Repentance and Baptism
Many have taken Acts 2:38 out of context. We must understand this verse in its historical context. Peter was speaking to a 100% Jewish congregation. There were no Gentiles present. Peter is speaking this before Acts 11 when the church realized that a Gentile could be saved without first becoming a Jew. The Pharisees had established the ritual of baptism as a means of converting a Gentile to Judaism. But when John the Baptist baptized Jews he was showing that a Jew was just as unclean as a Gentile. (See Note at end of this article.)
In referring to the early church, Acts 2:44 speaks of “all who believed” not all who were baptized. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, all who believed Peter’s message clearly received the Holy Spirit before they were baptized. (Acts 10:47)
Obedience and Baptism
In regard to Acts 5:32, we “obey Him” by having faith in Christ Jesus as our personal Savior. As a result of that “act of obedience,” we then receive and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth;” (Roman 1:17)
The gift of the Holy Spirit is not contingent on baptism.
Baptized With the Holy Spirit
John stated that Jesus would baptize with the Spirit (not with water).
“…the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost” (John 1:33).
Then at the beginning of Acts we read these words of Jesus:
“For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” (Acts 1:5).
But it wasn’t until chapter 11 that Peter remembered and understood the words of Jesus:
“Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 11:16).
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is real baptism that saves an individual.
How Do We Receive the Holy Spirit Today?
When the Holy Spirit convicts us and draws us to Christ, and we place our faith in Him as our personal Savior, it is at that moment that the Holy Spirit indwells us, regenerates us, and seals us (John 14:17; Ephesians 1:13).
The book of John never mentions baptism as a condition for receiving the Holy Spirit. Instead, he mentions over and over again that all we need do is believe (trust; have faith in).
“But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31).
“Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God…” (I John 5:1).
“These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (I John 5:13).
Also see: John 3:15-16; John 11:25-26; Romans 10:9-10; I John 3:23.
- Makes Christ real
- Makes the Word of God real
- Brings revival
- Distributes gifts
- Produces good fruit
- Imparts the mind of Christ
- Guides into truth
- Gives out of the abundance of Christ
- Seals and delivers
- Intercedes for us
Jesus comes to us through the Holy Spirit:
“And I will pray the Father; and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; Even the Spirit of truth; …he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you” (John 14:18)
Since there are many false teachers today that put an overemphasis on the Holy Spirit, it is good to remember that the Holy Spirit will never draw attention to Himself, but will always show us the things concerning Christ. (John 16:13-14)
As the late J. Vernon McGee once said,
The Holy Spirit is a like a sweet dove that reveals the loveliness of Christ to us.”
By D. M. Williams
Exit & Support Network™
Note: The ritual of baptism actually started with the Pharisees as a means of converting a Gentile to Judaism. To learn more about this, listen to: The History and Purpose of Baptism. These MP3 messages go into much more detail about the subject of baptism than we are able to cover in this article. (Acts 2:38 is covered in “Acts 2, The Birth of the Church” in his MP3 messages on Verse by Verse Teaching Through the Book of Acts.) [free downloads; offsite links]