September 27, 2019
Acts 19:1-7 (NIV)
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.
Here’s the question we should ask more often, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And we should begin by asking the question of ourselves.
O.K., I’ll go first. For me, the answer is yes . . . and no.
I was baptized as a baby, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and I am certain I received the Holy Spirit and yet I had no idea of it. I believe the Holy Spirit protected and preserved and prepared me for the day when I could claim faith for myself. At the age of twelve I was baptized again. Whether my records slipped through the ecclesiological cracks or the pastor adjudged that my first baptism didn’t “take,” I do not know. Did I receive the Holy Spirit again? I’m not sure.
The confusing thing about today’s text surrounds whether these “disciples” were actually “Christians” or not. They had John’s baptism, which was not Christian baptism, yet they “believed.” I’m just not sure how to sort this. Here’s a shot. A person is not saved by baptism but by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Baptism publicly seals faith with an outward sign of an inward grace. Frankly, I don’t think a person can “believe” in Jesus Christ without the active working of the Holy Spirit. So whether a true “believer” has “heard” about the Holy Spirit or not, they have in point of fact received the Holy Spirit if they have indeed exercised saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Back to my twelve year old self. I suppose by then I had heard of the Holy Spirit, but that was about the extent of it. So again, for me the answer to the question, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed,” was yes . . . and no. In retrospect, I survived junior high, high school, and most of college doing my best to be a Christian while living a fairly compromised life without any real sense that this “Gift of God” was apparently lying dormant in my soul.
I can’t speak for the Ephesians in today’s text, but for me the issue was not baptism but discipleship. No one ever really taught me about the Holy Spirit. I don’t blame them, because I have become convinced that no one really taught them about the Holy Spirit.
Near the end of college I began studying the Bible that I had been reading daily for all these years. I read about receiving the Holy Spirit and being filled by the Holy Spirit and about the fruit of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit and grieving the Holy Spirit and quenching the Holy Spirit. I remember reading that the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead actually dwelled in my “mortal” body.
In those days I probably asked no less than a dozen ordained ministers what it meant to “be filled with the Holy Spirit.” None of them had any real idea of what I was asking them. They told me I “got” the Holy Spirit when I was baptized and that was about it. I knew there had to be more.
I made it all the way to seminary before an aging gentleman by the name of J.T. Seamands took me on as a protoge and discipled me into the awareness, attentiveness, and living experience of the indwelling Holy Spirit. I’ve been on that journey ever since.
Looking back, for all practical purposes, I was a functional Ephesian. I had heard of the Holy Spirit, but I had no idea of who He was.
In my humble yet considered judgment, next to a Christian understanding of the Word of God, the greatest need of the people of God today is to be deeply discipled into the fullness of the Holy Spirit. It’s why every day, I close these readings with these three words:
COME HOLY SPIRIT!
How about you? What’s your Holy Spirit story?
For the Awakening,
P. S. – Our recent release Wildfire by Rica McRoy helps Christians struggling with this exact issue. If you’d like to own your own story with the Holy Spirit, get a copy from our store here (or several, and lead a Bible study!)