When does a person receive the Holy Spirit?

There is perhaps no more discussed and debated subject among Christians today than exactly when does the Holy Spirit actually come to dwell in the life and person of a Christ Follower. Brilliant scholars have addressed the issue exhaustively. But does it take brilliance to find the answer?

The first two verses in the second chapter of Acts say, “they” (the disciples) “were all together in one place,” and that all of a sudden, a sound came from heaven that was like a mighty rushing wind.” The text says it: “filled the entire house where they were sitting.”

Imagine this scene with me. Jesus Christ, the one you have spent the last three years following, the one you have dedicated your life to, just ascended to heaven. You saw it with your own eyes. You and the people who have become as close as your own family are all gathered in Jerusalem in someone’s house waiting. You know that something is coming because Jesus told you about it. He said wait, but you don’t know exactly what (or in this case who) you are waiting for. Maybe you are getting tired of wondering how many more days before something (what, you have no idea) happens.

Suddenly, a sound fills the entire house. And then tongues of fire appear and come to rest on each person present. And then it happens. Verse four reads, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Now, these are the same disciples who were dedicated to following Jesus, no matter what, but scattered as soon as Jesus was arrested. And they were gathered together, no doubt confused about how they should proceed now that Jesus has ascended. Yet when the HS descended and indwelt them, a radical change occurred. From that point on, none of these disciples were ever the same. The book of Acts is a testament to that fact. We read of Stephen, the first martyr. We see Peter, a changed, courageous man. We see Paul, formerly Saul; go from killing Christ followers to becoming one and showing many others how to do so too. They were not longer timid or confused; they were bold and inspired and began to declare and live the gospel of Jesus Christ through the power of the HS. Think about what a huge moment this had to have been in the lives of these disciples.

A huge crowd of people had gathered, some estimates of over a million. Peter preached a powerful sermon, and as they heard his words, they were “cut to the heart “and asked how they should respond. Peter answered, “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 HS. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord your God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38-39) The text says that on that day around 3000 people were baptized into God’s kingdom and received the gift of the HS.

I think it is needless for us to debate about when the Holy Spirit becomes a part of someone’s life. Some think it is when a person raises their hand at the end of a service when the preacher says raise your hand if you would like to receive Christ and repeat after me this prayer? Or is it when someone gets baptized? Or when someone chooses to surrender their life fully to Jesus and actually develops a personal relationship with Him? Or could it be at a charismatic church service when they are instructed to come forward to “receive the Spirit?”

We can easily spend all our time fixating on the many answers offered and miss the simplicity of Peter’s message. Just listen to what the Bible says, if not you will allow all the opinions and voices to lead you to a great deal of confusion. The people were cut to their hearts and asked, what do we need to do? Peter said; don’t miss this, one more time. “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.” Peter then adds, in case you don’t get who I am speaking to let me make it clear, “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord your God calls to himself.”

 Question? Is this your response to the Word? Is it clear to you that you’re supposed to repent, be baptized and receive the HS? If so, have you done it? If not, what’s keeping you from doing it today?

Why do we sometimes feel that we need to debate this endlessly, running through every possible hypothetical situation and answering every theological question first? Why not simply respond to the truth we have heard and then work through our questions from there?

(For more in-depth discussion on the work of the Holy Spirit I recommend Francis Chan’s book, “Forgotten God.”)


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