Speaking in tongues has two
different functions. The first and primary function of tongue-speaking during
prayer proves that one has the Holy Spirit. This function is self-edifying—that
is to say, it solely benefits the speaker. The second function is the delivery
of a message from God to a congregation. It edifies the listeners.
The first manifestation is
crucial, and in fact, it must occur in determining if a person has received the
Holy Spirit. The second manifestation edifies the church, and occurs as God
Examining Alternative Concepts
A common belief is that a person
receives the Holy Spirit when he accepts Jesus Christ as his personal Savior.
This belief is based on 1 Corinthians 12:3, which reads, “Therefore I make
known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed,
and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”
While this verse teaches that a
person’s confession of Jesus as Lord is due to the work of the Holy Spirit, it
does not say that anyone who acknowledges Jesus as Lord has received the Holy
Spirit. A person who has not received the Holy Spirit may also be moved by the
Holy Spirit to acknowledge Christ as Lord. There is a distinction between being
moved by the Holy Spirit and receiving the promised Holy Spirit.
We now consider a striking
counter-example. Read carefully Acts 8:5–19. The facts of this case are
outlined by highlighting the following verses:
v. 5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to the people.
v.8 So there was much joy in that city.
v.12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news
about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both
men and women.
v.14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria
had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John.
v.15 ...who came down and prayed for them that they might
receive the Holy Spirit;
v.16 ...for [the Holy Spirit] had not yet fallen on any of
them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
We have here a group of people who
have believed in Jesus and have committed themselves in baptism. We can safely
assume that they have accepted Christ. It is clear too that these people have
not received the Holy Spirit.
A second counter-example can be
found in the incident where Paul encountered a few disciples in Ephesus (Acts 19:1–7).
Paul asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered,
“No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” This exchange poses
another serious challenge to the concept that accepting Christ equals receiving
the Holy Spirit. There was no need for Paul to question the members in Ephesus if they had
received the Holy Spirit immediately upon accepting Christ. One may, however,
argue that these disciples were not well acquainted with Jesus at all and so
may not have accepted Him correctly. But, we read further and discover that as
in the Samaritan incident, these disciples received the Holy Spirit only after
conversion, baptism and the laying of hands by the apostles. Since accepting
Christ is believed to precede water baptism, in this incident too, accepting
Christ precedes receiving the Holy Spirit by a conceivable time span.
Two counter-examples present a
firm conclusion: receiving the Holy Spirit does not necessarily occur when one
We move on to examine another
popular belief. Some believe that God must be at work in a person who has a
good Christian character, or whose nature has been transformed from evil to good.
They therefore deduce that such a person must have received the Holy Spirit. In
particular, if he exhibits virtues akin to the fruit of the Spirit, then he
must surely have the Holy Spirit (cf. Galatians , 23).
Let us return to the Samaritan
incident in Acts 8:5–19 for illustration. Verse 8 records that there was much
joy in the city. Joy issues from the fruit of the Spirit. According to the
above concept, the Samaritans must have received the Holy Spirit. On the
contrary, the apostles received definite news that they had not received the
Holy Spirit! It wasn’t until Peter and John came to Samaria, prayed for them, and laid hands on
them, that these new converts received the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, when the
Holy Spirit finally descended on the Samaritans, a third party including the
ex-sorcerer Simon, immediately witnessed that they had received the Holy Spirit
The point to be made here is that
good character and virtues associated with the Holy Spirit are uncertain
pointers as to whether or not one has the Holy Spirit. Also, this was not the
criterion by which the apostles ascertained as to whether the Holy Spirit was
given or not. We shall shortly explain what this criterion is.
At this juncture, the belief that
virtues associated with the fruit of the Spirit are the definite criteria for
determining the presence of the Spirit in a person has to be rejected.
The rejection of some alternative
concepts proposed earlier gives rise to two important questions.
If one does
not receive the Holy Spirit when one accepts Christ, then when does one receive
If good Christian character does not necessarily
mean that one has received the Holy Spirit, then what is a true indication?
Receiving the Holy Spirit can
occur any time after a person believes in Christ. Prior to his baptism,
Cornelius the centurion received the Holy Spirit when he was listening to
Peter’s sermon (Acts –48).
Most of the other incidents in Acts record believers receiving the Holy Spirit
at various times after water baptism. For example, the Samaritans were baptized
before Peter and John helped them receive the Holy Spirit. The Ephesian disciples received the Holy Spirit a short while
after their baptism.
Since receiving the Holy Spirit
does not occur at a fixed time or during any fixed sacraments, a Christian in
search of the Truth will inevitably ask, “How do I know if I have received the
Holy Spirit or not?”
We examined earlier how using
spiritual virtues as an indicator is inadequate. A good feeling or an emotional
uplift is no sure guide either. Firstly, these can result from one’s own doing
and secondly, the apostles did not base their observations on such factors.
Instead we are told regarding
Cornelius’ conversion that “the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out
even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling
God” (Acts –46).
Speaking in tongues is clearly one evidence that a
person has received the Holy Spirit. Read also Acts 2:1–4 and 19:1–7. This
manifestation is extraordinary and highly visible, a remarkable sign of God’s
most precious gift in the New Testament. It convinces both the recipients and
the observers that something spiritual has happened. It is a novel sign given
by God accompanying His gift of Himself.
We can now proceed further to say
that without any other definite sign, speaking in tongues is the evidence by
which one ascertains he has received the Holy Spirit. A Christian must ask to
receive the Holy Spirit as a separate request, and perhaps over an extended
period of time. This falls in line with Jesus’ teaching that one must earnestly
pray for the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:5–13). When he receives the Holy Spirit, he
will be able to speak in tongues.