Did You Receive the Holy Spirit?
“Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” I remember as a new Christian being faced with that question. It was the question that the apostle Paul asked a group of disciples he met in Ephesus (Acts 19:2). What would my response be? I certainly believed that I had the Holy Spirit in me. I knew from scripture that I could not have believed and put my faith in God without him. He had convicted me of my sinfulness and opened my eyes to the truth of Jesus as Savior. As I came up through the waters of baptism, I knew I was born again, a new man! But had I also been filled with the Spirit? Paul’s question would not make sense if I had received everything when I believed. There was obviously something more, something that the Ephesian disciples were lacking.
Paul himself was filled with the Spirit when Ananias laid hands on him following his Damascus Road conversion. (Acts 9:17) It was what Jesus had promised his disciples when he said they would receive power to be his witnesses (Acts 1:8). But had I received that?
I read biographies of men like DL Moody and Charles Finney, both of whom were believers when they testified to receiving powerful in-fillings of God’s Spirit where they were overwhelmed by an experience of God’s love. I wanted this more than anything. I knew God loved me, but I certainly didn’t feel ‘waves and waves of liquid love...shed abroad in my heart’ (Finney).
And yet all my reading had convinced me that the baptism with the Holy Spirit was not only distinct from conversion, but was something that I could experience and testify to. Certainly that has been Terry Virgo’s teaching over the years, influenced greatly by the ministry of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It was primarily the outworking of this teaching that birthed the Newfrontiers family of churches and has fueled our apostolic advancement with hundreds of churches now all over the world. It is also why Newfrontiers is fairly unique in the West, being both ‘reformed’ and ‘charismatic’.
As with Terry, it is probably Lloyd-Jones who has influenced me the most with his teaching on the baptism with the Spirit. His careful exposition of scripture and his many examples drawn from church history have been thoroughly convincing and inspirational. It was Lloyd-Jones who helped me with my question. In his book, Joy Unspeakable, he says, ‘What, then are the marks, the signs and manifestations of baptism with the Holy Spirit? ...Obviously there are variations from case to case: that is common sense, for not all experiences are identical. They are identical in their character but not in their degree’ (p.84/85).
There can be degrees of experience. I realized that I had been expecting an overwhelming experience of God’s love like in the biographies I’d read, and that I was ignoring the other ‘signs and manifestations’ that are described in scripture. It is clear from the book of Acts that ‘speaking in tongues’ was one of the most common ‘signs’ that accompanied the baptism with the Holy Spirit. That was certainly the experience of the Ephesian disciples. We are told in Acts 19:6, ‘When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied’. I decided to ask Jesus to fill me with his Spirit and give me the gift of speaking in tongues to praise him with. I can still remember the moment I stepped out in faith and started praising God in a language that he had given me. It was exhilarating! Wonderful! I couldn’t stop! I can’t say I was overwhelmed by an experience of God’s love, but I was certainly filled with joy! I knew that I had been baptized with the Holy Spirit.
Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? Have you asked? Your experience may be different to mine - it is also subject to degrees. But it’s important that you know whether you have been filled or not. It’s also important to understand that while there is an initial ‘baptism’, there may be many subsequent infillings. The same disciples who were baptized with the Spirit on the day of Pentecost were filled again during a prayer meeting in Acts 4.
For myself, I have since known many times of infilling, some of them overwhelming. I have known times when my heart and soul have been literally flooded with the love of God. God’s purpose is to saturate us with his Presence. It’s not just an experience to be had; it’s a most intimate relationship to enjoy. This is what empowers us to be his witnesses in the world: we are so full of God we cannot help but to manifest his active Presence to the people around us.