Do We Only Receive the Holy Spirit
As a Result of Baptism?
Do we receive God's Spirit as a result of faith, or faith plus baptism?
Also includes at end: What Does the Holy Spirit Do in the Believer's Life Today?
Cornelius and His Household
In the example of Cornelius and his household (Acts 10), they listened to Peter preach to them about Jesus and that He was who all the prophets spoke of--His life, death and resurrection--and that whoever believes in Him shall receive remission of sins. (Acts 10:43) The passage recounts how, before Peter could even baptize them, they all received the Holy Spirit after believing. However, there are some who challenge that by saying, "Well, they were 'immediately' baptized." Would God have removed His Spirit from them if the baptism had been performed hours or days later? No. The Holy Spirit is an abiding presence.
The timing was important here for several reasons. The Mosaic Law had been a wall between Jews and Gentiles, but that wall had been broken down at the cross. The "Judaizers" contended that the Gentiles had to be circumcised and keep the Law in order to be accepted by God and come into the church. At the council at Jerusalem (Acts 15), it was brought out that none of these things were required of the Gentile converts; the Gentiles had heard the Gospel from Peter's mouth, they had believed and they were saved by grace through faith, not by the works of the Law, such as circumcision. (Acts. 15:7-9) We see that the giving of the Spirit was not dependent on any physical requirement of the Law, including the physical act of baptism. Cornelius and his household did, after all, receive God's Spirit prior to baptism.
So this incident shows that it wasn't baptism that saved Cornelius and his household (or what caused them to receive or keep the Holy Spirit). Their baptism that followed only gave evidence that they had already been baptized by the Holy Spirit and were saved.
Samaritans Who Believed
Why did those Samaritans who believed and were baptized in an outward ceremony (Acts 8:12) not receive the Holy Spirit? When the apostles heard that they received the Word of God, they sent Peter and John unto them, to pray for them, "that they might receive the Holy Spirit." (Acts 8:14-16)
The reason these Samaritans did not receive the Spirit when they were baptized was because God wanted the Samaritan believers to be united with the original Jewish church in Jerusalem. It served the purpose of confirming Philip's teaching among the Samaritans and authenticated their work to the apostles in Jerusalem. There appears to be a transition in the book of Acts from the Jews to the Samaritans to the Gentiles.
Laying on of Hands
Laying on of hands was an Old Testament ritual.
Today, when performed by a Christian minister, it simply has to do with identification and setting one aside for service or consecration, and it declares that we are partners with that one. It has nothing to do with "making sure" one receives the Holy Spirit.
In Acts 19:1-2 when Paul ministered to those in Ephesus he came across certain ones who had only heard of the baptism of John. Did Paul baptize them again and lay hands on them because they had already been saved, but just didn't receive the Holy Spirit yet? No. When Paul baptized them and laid his hands upon them, they began to speak with tongues. They could now speak the gospel in other languages that could be understood. (By the way, this is the only place in the N. T. that mentions anyone being re-baptized.)
The Ethiopian Eunuch
Back in chapter 8 of Acts, Philip (v.26) is led to the Ethiopian Eunuch. Philip heard him reading Isaiah 53 and, after asking him if he understood what he was reading, began to preach unto him Jesus. Then as they came to some water, the Ethiopian requested to be baptized. Philip replies that if he will believe with all his heart, he can, and the Ethiopian answers that he believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. So they stop, go down into the water and Philip baptizes him. But what happens immediately after the baptism? Philip is carried off by the Spirit to minister elsewhere. Did the Ethiopian have hands laid on him by Philip in order to receive the Holy Spirit? No. Professing his belief was all that was necessary.
Repentance and Baptism
Acts 2:38: "...Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." Many have taken this verse out of its context. Peter was speaking to a 100% Jewish congregation. There were no Gentiles there. Israel had all kinds of washings and baptisms that they performed in the ritual of the temple. Peter now tells these Jews (who had rejected Jesus Christ) that they are to be baptized in His name. But we can't say it is essential for us today, or we are misinterpreting Scripture. There are no magic words to be baptized in.
Those in controlling religious groups are made to believe that this verse is saying that we cannot receive the Holy Spirit unless we are baptized first. If this is what this verse is saying, it appears to contradict other verses where the Apostle Paul made it clear that baptism is not part of the Gospel, and that we are saved by faith, not works:
"For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect" (I Cor. 1:17).
"Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness " (Rom 4:4-5).
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9).
When we understand the meaning of being baptized "for" the remission of sins in light of how it is used in this passage, it can be resolved.
The word "for" (eis) can mean "with a view to" or "because of." In the passage mentioned, water baptism was undertaken because they had been saved, not in order to be saved.
We are saved by receiving God's word about Christ being the Savior. Acts 2:41:
"Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: ..."
In referring to the early church, verse 44 speaks of "all who believed" not all who were baptized. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, all who believed Peter's message clearly received the Holy Spirit before they were baptized:
"Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?" (Acts 10:47).
It is the Gospel which saves us, not baptism.
"Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3:5).
In light of all this, Acts 2:28 could be understood as "Repent and be baptized with a view to the forgiveness of sins." The context of the passage and other Scriptures in the Bible make it clear that this view looked back to one's sins as already being forgiven. Baptism followed repentance, but it was not a part of their receiving the Holy Spirit.
"That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Romans 10:9-10).
There is nothing wrong with being baptized after one has professed their faith in Christ as personal Savior; however, we must be careful about choosing one verse out of the Bible in contrast to others, or taking passages out of their historical context, in order to say water baptism is "necessary for salvation." It is the Holy Spirit that baptizes us, not a ritual, and it is the Gospel which saves us, not baptism. There are many Christians in the world who are not able to partake of water baptism, yet they are secure in their salvation and know that Christ, through His Spirit, has given them eternal life and now lives in them.
John stated that Jesus would baptize with the Spirit (not with water).
"...the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him,the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost" (John 1:33).
Receiving of the Holy Spirit in Acts
The Holy Spirit coming into people's lives did not follow any set pattern in the book of Acts. We find in Acts that the Spirit came into believers before baptism, at the time of their baptism, after baptism, and by the Apostles laying on hands. The book of Acts is not meant to be used as a doctrinal source on how to receive the Holy Spirit.
At the beginning of Acts we read these words of Jesus:
"For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence" (Acts 1:5).
It wasn't until chapter 11 that Peter remembered and understood the words of Jesus:
"Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost" (Acts 11:16).
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is real baptism that saves an individual.
How Do We Receive the Holy Spirit Today?
After the Holy Spirit convicts us and draws us to Christ, and after we place our faith in Him as personal Savior, we then receive the Holy Spirit within, whether we are baptized or not. The Holy Spirit immediately indwells us, regenerates us, and seals us. There is no magic in baptism. The act itself is physical, but has symbolic meaning--the death of the old man and the rising of the new. The apostle Paul uses it to explain how a Christian dies to the Law (just as we died to the flesh, Romans 6:1-10), but when we have trusted Christ as our personal Savior, the Holy Spirit puts us in Christ and imparts to us His righteousness. (II Corinthians 5:21) We now share His life and serve Him in newness of life. (See Romans 4: 5-6; 7:6)
The book of John never mentions baptism as a condition for receiving the Holy Spirit. Instead, he mentions over and over again that all we need do is believe (which includes trusting).
"But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name" (John 20:31).
"Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God..." (I John 5:1).
"These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God" (I John 5:13).
Also see: John 3:15-16; John 11:25-26; I John 3:23.
- Makes Christ real
- Makes the Word of God real
- Brings revival
- Distributes gifts
- Produces fruit
- Imparts the mind of Christ
- Guides into truth
- Gives out of the abundance of Christ
- Seals and delivers
- Intercedes for us
Jesus comes to us through the Holy Spirit:
"And I will pray the Father; and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; Even the Spirit of truth; ...he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you" (John 14:18)
Since there are many false teachers today that put an overemphasis on the Holy Spirit, it is good to remember that the Holy Spirit will never draw attention to Himself, but will always show us the things concerning Christ. (John 16:13-14)
As the late J. Vernon McGee once said,
"The Holy Spirit is a like a sweet dove that reveals the loveliness of Christ to us."
By D. M. Williams
Exit & Support Network™
May 19, 2003
Last updated December 2, 2012
NOTE: The ritual of baptism actually started with the Pharisees as a means of converting a Gentile to Judaism. Listen to: The History and Purpose of Baptism. These MP3 messages by Aaron Budjen go into much more detail about the subject of baptism than we cover in this article. [offsite link]