In Acts 19, we have a controversial encounter between Paul, the Holy Spirit, and some believers in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7). One side claims it proves the Holy Spirit can, and will, come upon believers after salvation, thus justifying much of the fringe charismatic movement. The other side, just as dogmatic, claims this encounter proves nothing more than the fact these “disciples” (Acts 19:1) were lost until Paul preached Christ to them even though the Scriptures state they “believed” (Acts 19:2). The question at the heart of this controversy is this: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:2).
And your answer, or on what side of this great theological chasm you choose to land, will have a critical effect on whether you experience the Higher Christian Life. Let me explain.
The account in Acts shows Paul coming to a group of “disciples” (a key word) in Ephesus and obviously noticing something different, something missing in their Christian life. We are not told what he saw or what prompted his question, but nevertheless, the first words recorded out of Paul’s mouth were “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” Strange. Why would he begin this conversation with them this way?
Note, the book of Acts calls them “disciples” and Paul asked about something they did, or didn’t, receive after they “believed.” Paul never shared the Gospel with them or made any indication they were less than fellow believers. So the inference is they were believers, Christians, but were obviously missing something, some power or intimacy, something expected and assumed for believers back then. Not so much expected today, but then we sadly live in different, more apathetic, lukewarm times.
So let’s answer the question, Do believers receive the Holy Spirit when they believe? And do they receive the Spirit Immediately? Instantaneously?
In a word, absolutely. On this, there is no debate. Consider the following statements from Scripture.
In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, (when) having believed, (what) you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory – Ephesians 1:13-14.
The Holy Spirit is our security, proof, pledge, the guarantee of our redemption. And we are sealed in Him “having believed.”
But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His (or is lost) – Romans 8:9.
This is more direct. No Holy Spirit, no salvation. Therefore, a believer must receive the Holy Spirit as soon as they are saved, or they are not truly saved.
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free— and have all been made to drink into one Spirit – 1 Corinthians 12:13.
The Holy Spirit is the common bond that brings all people groups together in Christ and makes us one. And this obviously only happens after salvation.
This brings us back to the reason Paul asked the question of these believers in Ephesus, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:2). As we will discover in this message, it is not how much of the Holy Spirit we received when we believed. But how much of ourselves are we giving to the Holy Spirit? How much of us is He receiving on a daily basis?
This is what makes the Higher Christian Life so appealing. It is more of Him possessing more of us, to be used to bear the Father’s fruit and bring glory to Jesus.
Join us as we unpack this amazing truth.