When do people receive the Holy Spirit? If it’s when you’re baptized, what about the people in Acts that had been baptized in the name of Jesus, but didn’t receive the Holy Spirit until the Apostles laid hands on them?
Excellent question! You know your Bible too! Let’s start by just talking about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the 3rd person of the Trinity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit or some say the Holy Ghost. We see all three persons all throughout the Bible – Old and New Testament.
This question refers to people today so that’s where we’ll start. People receive the indwelling or gift of the Holy Spirit when they are baptized, immersed, according to Acts 2:38. Acts 2:39 said it would be perpetuated to all generations. This is what the Bible teaches and this is what we practice.
The confusion comes when we look at the historical account in Acts and read about how the Holy Spirit acted upon early believers and in the early church.
There are two places in Acts where Apostles laid their hands on people and they successively received the Holy Spirit. Let’s look at both of them.
Acts 8:14-19 – Simon the Sorcerer
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
And again in Acts 19:1-7 – Paul in Ephesus
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when[a] you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
4 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.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues[b] and prophesied.7 There were about twelve men in all.
So this is a departure from what Peter preached in Acts 2 when 3000 people came forward to be baptized. They were told in verse 38 that they would receive the “gift” of the Holy Spirit. Here we must note whose hands we’re talking about. The Apostles. The Apostles it seems could place their hands on people and they, in turn, would receive the Holy Spirit. I don’t think we should stand on one verse to the exclusion of another. So, let’s reconcile the verses regarding the Holy Spirit. In order to do that there is yet another “manifestation” of the Holy Spirit, we need to bring into the conversation.
Acts 2 and Acts 10 both have a story of the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit.”
1. Laying on of the Apostle’s hands – Imparts a measure of the Holy Spirit to perform Spiritual gifts
The laying on of the Apostle’s hands was to convey spiritual gifts. These “signs and wonders’ confirmed the message these early disciples preached. Only the Apostle’s could pass on these spiritual gifts.
Stephen (Acts 6:8) and Philip (Acts 8:6) worked miracles. However, we see they were part of the 7 the Apostles had laid their hands upon in Acts 6:5,6.
They could not pass on the spiritual gifts to others. That is why even though Philip, who could do miracles, had to call the Apostles to come to Samaria in Acts 8:14-19 to impart spiritual gifts.
Acts 8:9-19 tells the story of Simon the Sorcerer who sought to buy the ability to lay his hands on people and give them the Holy Spirit or the Spiritual Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 19:6 Paul laid hands on 12 men who received the Holy Spirit.
This measure of the Holy Spirit enabled those receiving it to perform signs and wonders in order to give credence to their message and in essence launch churches all over the area.
2. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit
The Day of Pentecost – Acts 2 – Peter preached the first Gospel sermon with an invitation in 2:38 “Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
3000 accepted his message and were baptized! They were promised the “gift” of the Holy Spirit.” This can be termed the “indwelling of the Holy Spirit.” The indwelling of the Holy Spirit comes when a believer is baptized. The Holy Spirit of God comes and takes residence in you.
1 Corinthians 6:19 says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?”
So, we do receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit when we are baptized. The confusion arises when we read about the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit.”
The Christian receives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit for several reasons.
- Strengthens the inner man against sin – Eph 3:16; Gal. 5:17
- Transforms us into the nature of Christ – 2 Cor. 3:18
- Bears fruit in us – Gal. 5:22,23
- Assures us of sonship and eternal inheritance – 1 Jn. 4:13; Rom. 8:16
3. Baptism of the Holy Spirit
We only read about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit happening two times: Once on the day of Pentecost to the 12 Apostles (Acts 2:1-3)and again in Acts 10 to the House of Cornelius. (Acts 10:34, 44-48)
- Sound like the blowing of a violent wind
- Saw what seemed to be tongues of fire resting on each one of them
- Speaking in other tongues or languages
Everything looks cut and dried, but it’s not! You can’t put God in a box! You can’t put baby in a corner, right! Neither can you pigeonhole the Holy Spirit.
Because when we come to the story of Cornelius, we see the Holy Spirit is given by the laying on of the Apostle Paul’s hands. By the way, do you know why this household is so significant? Why is the household of Cornelius included in the Bible? Remember we’re up to a church of about 5000 men plus women and children! We could have included any family in the narrative, but God chose to include this household. Why? Because they were the first non-Jews or Gentiles that accepted the Gospel!
Apostles – Make them bold to share the message and confirm it with supernatural power.
House of Cornelius – Show that God also accepted the Gentiles into the church.