While it is the promise of God, receiving the Holy Spirit requires prayer and asking on our part. Luke 11:13 and John 4:10 clearly illustrate this point. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit is also contingent upon the obedience of the Lord’s instructions (Mt 28:20; Acts 5:32). Praying for the Holy Spirit does not deny the authority of God; instead, it is a natural expression of our faith (Mt 15:22-28; Rom 10:14), earnestness (Lk 11:5-8), and persistence (Lk 18:1-8).
The Lord Jesus told the disciples of the importance of receiving the Holy Spirit and specifically instructed them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the promise of the Holy Spirit (Lk 24:49; Acts 1:4-5, 8). The disciples themselves must have been eager to receive the Holy Spirit, which explains why they prayed constantly (see Acts 1:14). In context, we know they must have continued waiting through prayer, based on Jesus’ promise, until it was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out.
When a person receives the Holy Spirit, God gives a sign to show that the Holy Spirit is in him. The sign is the speaking of tongues, or the ability to speak in an unknown language that only God can understand (1 Cor 14:2). The speaking of tongues is a profound communion with God, for prayer and for praising God.
When God poured out His promised Holy Spirit for the first time on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), the believers began to speak in tongues. Since then, whenever the Holy Spirit came upon the believers, it was evidenced by the speaking of tongues. Anyone who has not had this experience has not yet received the Holy Spirit, because speaking in tongues is the necessary evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit (see Acts 10:45-47).
Receiving the Holy Spirit is an experience that is audible and very often visible. It is audible because of the sign of speaking in tongues. It is often visible by the movement of the body, although this is not a necessary sign. The disciples of the Lord Jesus said that they as well as the observers could “see and hear” the pouring out of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:33).
The Holy Spirit continues to be received the same way by believers today (Acts 2:38–39). When we receive the Holy Spirit, we, too, will speak in tongues, like the early Christians (Acts 2:1–4; 10:44–46; 19:6).