It has been an amazing journey learning the Scriptures and the people they were written for, by and because of. The history of the people and the times in which our books of the Bible were written is a fascinating topic and one that really helps to translate the writings for us.
One of the main principles I learned in Bible college and specifically, in Hermeneutics classes was that Scripture will always interpret itself and that the history and context of the writing were paramount to understanding a passage or a group of passages. One, in particular, is today’s focus, on the Disciples in the book of Acts 19 that Paul asked, “Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?”
There are some who use this event in Acts 19:1-7 as a proof-text for two beliefs that I think do not line up to the teaching of Scripture. These are;
- You do not receive the promised Spirit indwelling when you believe, that this takes place at a later time due to your behavior, seeking, praying, etc (often it’s said that you receive God’s promised Spirit when you speak in tongues for the first time), and
- Christians need to be rebaptized if you weren’t baptized in the correct formula
When do you receive the Spirit?
First and foremost of this misuse is a teaching that says you do not receive the Spirit of Promise (Holy Spirit) upon believing in the Gospel message, which goes against the very obvious and self-interpreting passages of Scripture, such as Ephesians 1:13;
In Him, you also, when you heard the word of truth, the good news of your salvation, and [as a result] believed in Him, were stamped with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit [the One promised by Christ] as owned and protected [by God].
And of course, Paul continues this theme throughout the entirety of his writings, such as Ephesians 2:8 and Galatians 3:2;
For it is by grace [God’s remarkable compassion and favor drawing you to Christ] that you have been saved [actually delivered from judgment and given eternal life] through faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [not through your own effort], but it is the [undeserved, gracious] gift of God;
This is all I want to ask of you: did you receive the [Holy] Spirit as the result of obeying [the requirements of] the Law, or was it the result of hearing [the message of salvation and] with faith [believing it]?
The reality is, which gives us (at least it does for me) great joy, and hope, and strength, is that at the moment you surrender to the knowledge that Christ was enough and that it isn’t in what you do that saves you, but what Christ did, you are sealed with the Spirit of that eternal promise. In the words of Christ, It is finished.
For just as through one man’s disobedience [his failure to hear, his carelessness] the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of the one Man the many will be made righteous and acceptable to God and brought into right standing with Him. ~ Romans 5:19
But what about the Baptism part?
Recently a follower of this blog asked about this topic (mentioned above) and how it says the disciples were re-baptized, and this carried the implication then that they would receive the Spirit as promised many times. And the answer to the misuse of this passage is actually right inside the passage. Let’s read it first;
And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples,2 He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. 3 And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. 4 Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. 7 And all the men were about twelve.
The very first question that should jump out at us is how could followers of Christ not know that there even WAS a Holy Ghost (Spirit)?
Paul follows this up by asking the question, ‘Then what plan were you baptized into? What promise are you aware of?” Paraphrased in my own vernacular of course, but the question is the same. If you don’t know about the Spirit – who taught you about the Messiah?
John the Baptist.
These were disciples of John the Baptist who preached the message, “The one who is to come, who is mightier than I…I baptize you with water but he will baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire!”
In other words, these were disciples of John and by this point in the narrative, John had been dead for a long time. These people were told about the promise of the coming Messiah but they were still waiting for the coming Messiah, and this passage proves this.
Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
These disciples were not Christians – they had not embraced and accepted the finished works of Calvary and received that promised Spirit – they were still waiting for the promise to come. These were disciples of the promise that had never been baptized into the promise.
To use this narrative as a proof-text that Christians must be rebaptized from church to church is misusing the narrative. This too gives us hope and joy and strength in the Gospel knowing that once you ARE baptized into the family, there is no more ‘getting adopted’ over and over after you have already been adopted.
Some systems teach a fear that you are constantly getting re-saved, re-adopted, re-sealed, (and re-lost) but this is a stain on the Gospel and the works of Christ. Consider the words again of Paul in Galatians;
I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. ~ Galatians 2:21
The Law was a repetition of re-cleansing, re-purifying, washing away the stain of sin over and over and over again. Yet, Christ took away those stains, nailing all the obligations of the Law to the cross. (Col 2:14)
He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? ~ Galatians 3:6
Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: ~ Galatians 3:13
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. ~ Galatians 3:26-29