We’re in the season of giving gifts, and while the traditional Advent study focuses on God’s gift of His Son and our anticipation of His return, I wanted to look more closely at the gift He has given believers in the interim: His Holy Spirit.
My previous post, What is “the Gift of the Holy Spirit”?, describes many instances in scripture when the Holy Spirit was given to believers. Most of those instances occurred immediately after or very near the moment of water baptism, or baptism was at least an integral part of the story.
I don’t think this should be surprising. Luke is thought to be the author of both the gospel bearing his name and the one titled “The Acts of the Apostles.” The second one mirrors the first in many, many ways. That’s because the behavior of the believers intentionally mirrored the behavior of the Savior.
When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” ~ Luke 3:21-22 (See also Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:10, and the account of the Baptist’s prophecy surrounding the event in John 1:26-32.)
I’ve heard it argued that Acts 2:38-39 can’t mean that the Holy Spirit is given to believers at baptism because Paul put his hands on some to receive the Spirit in Acts 19:1-7. (This takes place immediately after they are baptized.) I suppose that a similar case could be made regarding Peter seeing the Holy Spirit’s gifts displayed by the household of Cornelius before they were baptized in Acts 10:44-48. In response, I’d propose that Acts 2 expresses a general principle; the other accounts express extraordinary circumstances.
- The twelve in Acts 19 had received only John’s baptism. They heard about Jesus, the Christ, and were baptized in His name.
- The gentile (non-Jewish) household of Cornelius received the Spirit before being baptized, perhaps because Peter needed further convincing that they should be baptized. That’s a guess; but the fact that the story is repeated twice more indicates that Jewish believers may have needed some convincing, too.
But I think most folks would have to agree that when there’s an account of someone receiving the Spirit in the book of Acts, it is almost always in close proximity to their baptism in water. The outstanding exception:
When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. ~ Acts 8:15-17
(This was the setting for the misunderstanding of Simon-Magus the sorcerer thinking that he could purchase that laying-on of hands.) It says “they had simply (or only) been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” The phrasing of that verse sounds like the situation was exceptional; they had “simply” been baptized into Jesus’ name (as if they had not also been immersed in the Holy Spirit? – John 1:33; Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Acts 1:5, 11:16; 1 Corinthians 12:13.)
You see, “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is a thoroughly scriptural concept; it’s the idea that it regularly occurs separately from water baptism among believers in Christ that isn’t found in scripture.
To be sure, the Holy Spirit was given at God’s discretion throughout Old Testament scripture – to the seventy elders (Numbers 11:25); to the prophet Balaam (Numbers 24:2); to tabernacle designer Bezalel (Exodus 31:3); to Othniel (Judges 3:10); to Gideon (Judges 6:34); to Jephthah (Judges 11:29); to Samson (Judges 14:6 and other passages); to King Saul (1 Samuel 19:23 and other passages); to King David (Psalm 51:11); to Azariah (2 Chronicles 15:1); to Jehaziel (2 Chronicles 20:14); to Zechariah son of Jehoida (2 Chronicles 24:20) … and this is not a comprehensive/complete list. (In many of these instances, one would have to conclude that the Spirit did not always come to stay, but came to pass. But that’s a subject for a whole different post.)
In the New Testament, Luke 11:13 notes that Jesus – after teaching on prayer and asking whether a father would give a son asking for bread a stone – says, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” John 20:21-23 records that the resurrected Jesus breathed on the sequestered disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” It would seem that the Holy Spirit is given, but on the condition of willingness to receive Him. With one exception of Saul being forcibly given a Spirit of prophecy which occupied him and spared David’s life from the king’s rage (1 Samuel 19:11-24), God does not generally seem to give the Holy Spirit to those who do not desire Him.
My conclusion is that the Holy Spirit is given at God’s discretion, and most often to believers in Christ at baptism – an act which demonstrates (along with many other rich, deep values) the believer’s desire to be like Jesus, fulfill all righteousness and receive His Holy Spirit.
What do you think?