Holy Spirit

Question: Can we say that anyone who believes has received the Holy Spirit?

Ephesians 1:13 says, “…having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” Can we say that anyone who believes has received the Holy Spirit?

➠ The correct interpretation of Ephesians 1:13 must be based on Acts 19:1-7, where it tells us exactly how the Ephesians received the Holy Spirit. They did not receive the Holy Spirit when they believed. They did not receive the Holy Spirit when they were baptized. The disciples in Ephesus had not even heard of the Holy Spirit. It was not until Paul placed his hands on them that the Holy Spirit came upon them. So the Ephesians wouldn’t have taken Paul’s letter to mean receiving the Holy Spirit instantaneously upon belief.

➠ A person must believe in “the word of truth, the gospel of salvation” in order to receive the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13). If a person believes in a false gospel, he would not be able to receive the Holy Spirit.

➠ The verse “Having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” means that every believer of the true gospel will receive the Holy Spirit, but it does not mean that he receives the Holy Spirit the moment he confesses Jesus as Lord.

➠ Those who listened to Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost were told to “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” before they could receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). True faith consists of following the commands of the Lord Jesus (Jas 2:17, 22).

➠ Paul was writing to the churches in Galatia and Ephesus, which were established by the Holy Spirit and have believed in the truth. The word “you” in both passages do not refer to all present-day professed Christians.

➠ In 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, Paul is stressing the unity and oneness of the believers, who are members of Christ’s body and have received the same Spirit (v. 13). Again, verse 13 does not refer to all modern day churches.

➠ It is not true that anyone who believes automatically receives the Holy Spirit the moment he believes. The sign of receiving the Holy Spirit is speaking of tongues (Acts 10:44-46; 19:6; 2:4).

Take note of three words in this verse : “heard”, “believed”, and “received”. They are each independent of the other two, which must not be confused. “Hearing” does not mean “believing”, nor does “believing” mean “receiving”. Not all who hear the gospel, immediately believe in Jesus. So, not anyone who believes have the Holy Spirit. Some, even by the time they are baptised, still do not have the Holy Spirit. This fact is clearly indicated in Acts 8:14-17.

We must acknowledge that believers who decide to receive water baptism have already been changed and guided by the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, they would not have the desire for baptism (1 Cor 12:3). Receiving baptism of the promised Holy Spirit is another matter. Therefore, for some, baptism of the Spirit precedes water baptism (Acts 10:47-48). For others, the reverse is true (Acts 8:16-17). Biblical records make distinction between the two.

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As for what is said in Ephesians 1:13, the statement does not mean that anyone who believes are immediately baptised with the Holy Spirit. It means that believers will be sealed with the Holy Spirit as a seal, which may not take place until after water baptism. When Paul was in Ephesus, he asked the believers there, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:2) This is sufficient evidence that Paul did not say whoever believes receives the Spirit at once.

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