The doctrine of the Holy Spirit has been subject to widely divergent interpretations. Views vary from one denomination to another on what it means to receive the Holy Spirit, and there are many kinds of spiritual phenomena that people associate with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. But this diversity is contrary to the experience of the apostolic church. In the Book of Acts we observe that the disciples shared a common experience when the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they used this experience as the necessary evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit. Therefore, faced with the diverse claims and spiritual experiences in Christendom today, we must learn to discern the presence of the Holy Spirit based on biblical criteria and the apostolic precedent.
In the apostolic church, believers were baptized into one body and were all "made to drink into one Spirit" (1 Cor 12:13). In other words, the believers who were baptized into the church also received the promise of the Holy Spirit. Together, these believers became the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Today, in order for us to know whether we have received the promised Holy Spirit and whether we have also been made to "drink into one Spirit," we need to compare our own experience of receiving the Holy Spirit with that of the apostles.
If the sign that marked the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the apostolic church is missing in a congregation today, then that congregation does not have the presence of the Holy Spirit. It cannot be the body of Christ, for "if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His" (Rom 8:9). Just as a body is dead without the spirit, a congregation without the Holy Spirit does not have the life of Jesus Christ. For believers to share the life of Christ, the Holy Spirit must be present in the church today just as He was in the apostolic church.
The Apostolic Precedent
The Disciples on the Day of Pentecost
What was the experience of the apostles when they received the Holy Spirit? Let's look at what happened when the Holy Spirit was poured out to them:
When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1-4)
When the disciples received the Holy Spirit, they began to speak with tongues. This marvelous experience marked the first pouring out of the Holy Spirit. The experience was so powerful that it drew a multitude, and when these people came together, they were puzzled by the amazing phenomenon they witnessed. Peter stood up with the other apostles and explained to the crowd what had just happened: "This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the promised Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear" (Acts 2:32-33). Receiving the Holy Spirit is accompanied by such an obvious external sign that even an outside observer can see and hear it.
What is the speaking of tongues? It is speaking in a spiritual language that is not like any earthly language. Unless the tongue is interpreted, no one except God can understand it: "For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understand him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries" (1 Cor 14:2). The ability to speak in tongues comes from the Holy Spirit, not from imitating others.
Some Christians argue that speaking in tongues does not refer to an unintelligible utterance, but simply means praising God with ordinary language. They contend that if the disciples were speaking an unintelligible language, then the devout Jews would not have understood them.
What happened on the day of Pentecost was an extraordinary event. Even though the devout Jews heard the disciples, they were "confused," "amazed," and "perplexed." These Jews said, "we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God." Even though the disciples were Galileans, the people in the multitude heard them speaking in their own individual languages (Acts 2:6, 11-12, 17). This was indeed a great miracle.
But were the disciples actually speaking these different earthly languages? Luke, the author of Acts, noted that each person "heard" the disciples speak in his own language. In other words, they were hearing them in their own languages because God enabled them to understand the spiritual language. The disciples were not actually speaking human languages. If the approximately 120 disciples were indeed speaking these fifteen different languages all at once, the multitude would have heard nothing but noise, and it would have been impossible to discern one language from another.
Also, if the disciples were speaking other languages, why did the other observers mock them and say that they were drunk (Acts 2:13)? It would be strange, and even blasphemous, for these observers to accuse the disciples of being drunk if they were simply praising God in another human language--unless, of course, the disciples were uttering unintelligible tongues that did not even sound like an earthly language. These ungodly mockers could not understand the tongues of the disciples because God did not open their ears. Hence, the external sign that accompanied the pouring out of the Holy Spirit was the speaking of unknown, spiritual tongues.
The Believers in Samaria
Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:14-17)
The men and women of Samaria had accepted the Lord Jesus at the preaching of Philip and had been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. But they did not receive the Holy Spirit immediately. This example refutes the belief popular in Christendom today that all believers receive the Holy Spirit at the moment they accept Jesus Christ into their hearts. It also shows that receiving the Holy Spirit is a separate event from baptism.
When the Holy Spirit came on the believers in Samaria, there was a clear external sign, just as there had been on the day of Pentecost. There was an obvious before-and-after event, which led Luke to record that the believers received the Holy Spirit at the laying on of hands. Such an event was also witnessed by a former sorcerer by the name of Simon: "And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, 'Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit'" (Acts 8:18-19). Therefore, receiving the Holy Spirit involves more than a silent, inward experience.
Later on in Acts, we read that God sent Peter to the house of Cornelius, a Gentile, to preach the gospel message to him. While Cornelius and his relatives and close friends were together listening to Peter's preaching, the Holy Spirit fell upon them all.
And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, "Can anyone forbid water that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" (Acts 10:45-47)
The Jewish brethren were astonished because they heard the Gentiles speak with tongues, and they were surprised that God had given the Holy Spirit even to the uncircumcised.
Once again, we see that speaking in tongues is the evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit, and it was this evidence that led Peter to conclude that Cornelius and the others had received the Holy Spirit. Notice Peter's words, "received the Holy Spirit just as we have." Peter deemed that these gentile believers had received the Holy Spirit because they spoke in tongues just as the disciples did on the day of Pentecost. Thus, speaking in tongues was the common experience of receiving the Holy Spirit in the apostolic church, and it was the evidence by which the apostles determined whether a person had received the Holy Spirit.
Another lesson we learn from this incident is that righteous conduct does not necessarily indicate that a person has received the Holy Spirit. Many professed Christians in the world live godly lives and dedicate themselves to helping the needy and serving the Lord. Are they not bearing the fruit of the Spirit? If they are, then how can we say that they have not received the Holy Spirit? There is little doubt that it is the love of Christ that motivates the sincere acts of zeal and self-sacrifice of these Christians. But we must also remember that there are many people in history who did not accept Christ but who lived upright lives and gave everything for the good of humanity. Can we conclude, then, that they also received the Holy Spirit?
Cornelius was "a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always" (Acts 10:2). But he did not receive the Holy Spirit until the Spirit came upon him during Peter's preaching. That is why Peter did not say, "Cornelius must have already received the Holy Spirit, because he is so devout. Who can forbid him from baptism?" Instead, it was only after they clearly saw and heard the Gentiles speak in tongues that they knew that the Holy Spirit had come upon them.
The Believers in Ephesus
And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" So they said to him, "We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." And he said to them, "Into what then were you baptized?" So they said, "Into John's baptism." Then Paul said, "John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus." When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. Now the men were about twelve in all. (Acts 19:1-7)
This passage indicates that receiving the Holy Spirit is a separate event from both confessing Christ and baptism. If it were true that all believers receive the Holy Spirit upon acceptance of Christ, as many professed Christians claim today, then why did Paul ask these believers if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed? The disciples at Ephesus acknowledged that they had not received the Holy Spirit or even heard that there was a Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit were given upon conversion, then Paul would have corrected them by telling them that they had actually already received the Holy Spirit and were just not aware of it. Instead, Paul asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit. The question itself implies that receiving the Holy Spirit is a separate event from accepting Christ.
We also learn from this passage that receiving the Holy Spirit is a separate event from baptism. If a person automatically receives the Holy Spirit at baptism, then Paul would have told the believers, "now that you have been baptized in the name of Jesus, you have also received the Holy Spirit." Instead, he laid hands on them, and the Holy Spirit came upon them. They began to speak with tongues and prophesy. Once again, the sign of spiritual utterance accompanied the baptism of the Holy Spirit. There was a clear, outward manifestation. Otherwise, how did Luke know that the Holy Spirit came upon these Ephesian believers after Paul laid hands on them? This and the previous incidents all show that the speaking of tongues is a necessary evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit.
One Spirit and One Gospel of Salvation
The presence of the Holy Spirit is a direct testimony of the true gospel. As John 14:17 says, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth. The Lord Jesus said to the disciples, "When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak" (Jn 16:13). The Holy Spirit indeed came as the Lord promised, and He revealed the truth of salvation to the disciples. Just as the apostolic church was founded on the true gospel through the work of the Holy Spirit, the church today can uphold and preach the gospel only by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
It is not possible to discover the complete truth of salvation through diligent study alone. Only by the revelation of the Holy Spirit can we know the true gospel.
But as it is written: Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him. But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. (1 Cor 2:9-10)
Without the revelation of God's Spirit, people will have different interpretations of God's word and the truth. Since the Reformation, Christianity has continued to divide into many denominations because of disagreement on basic doctrines. Whereas interpretation according to human will divides the church, the revelation of the one Spirit unites the church in one faith. Instead of relying on our own efforts, we need to pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal God's truth to us. Only then can we see and know the one way of salvation, which God has prepared for us.
The story of the believers in Ephesus shows that receiving the Holy Spirit is closely tied to understanding the true gospel. Because the promise of the Holy Spirit is given to everyone who repents and is baptized (Acts 2:38-39), the fact that these disciples had not received or heard of the Holy Spirit led Paul to delve into their beliefs. It turned out that they were not aware of the complete gospel. Therefore Paul told them to believe in the Lord Jesus, and he baptized them in His name. After these new converts accepted the complete gospel, they received the Holy Spirit.
In the body of Christ, where the one Spirit dwells, believers share one hope, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father. In the True Jesus Church today, believers still receive the Holy Spirit just as the apostles did. Here, in the body of Christ, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, you will hear the full gospel of salvation. When you accept the true gospel and are baptized in the one body of Christ, then, like the believers of the apostolic church, you will also drink into the "one Spirit."