AROne SpiritFaced with the diverse claims and spiritual experiences in Christendom today, how do we discern the presence of the Holy Spirit? Look at the criteria given in the bible and the apostolic precedence.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. There is a clear, outward manifestation as the sign of spiritual utterance accompanies the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Receiving the Holy Spirit is a separate event from baptism and people today still receive the Holy Spirit as the apostles did.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
"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
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)
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
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)
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."