One immediate question that we need to ask ourselves as we think about whether we have received the Holy Spirit is what we must do to receive him. As I mentioned back in the first post in this series, I don’t believe that there are recipes – first I do this, and then he does that – when it comes to the Holy Spirit, but I do believe that there are some important things that we must do in our relationship with God if we want him to be with us.
The first is that we must be repentant. Our attitude before God must not be proud, but instead understand that we are sinful and that it is our sin that has made us unclean and caused us to be separated from God. We were the ones who disobeyed, revolted, and walked away from God and his commandments, so my first step is that I must stop insisting that my way is the best way and instead admit that God’s way is right and do what he wants us to do.
When Moses initially went on the mountain to receive God’s laws, he came back down to find that the Israelites had built an idol, a golden calf, and were in complete disarray as a people. The result was that God told Moses that he would send an angel to go with the people but that he would not go because of the wickedness of the people. Moses pleaded with God to go with them, but the first thing that he had the people do was to remove their ornaments and the people mourned over what they had done. In the end, God relents and shows himself to Moses, showing that God will be merciful and will come near to the people who will be repentant before him. (Read the story in Exodus, chapters 32-34).
I think that this is why both John the Baptist and Jesus also called for repentance as they started their ministries. They knew that the first step to come into relationship with God is to be repentant before him.
As Jesus returned to heaven, it was now the disciples’ turn to continue in the same vein, calling people to repentance before God. On the day of Pentecost, as Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit, he spoke of the Messiah and explained that the Jesus was the one that the Jews had been waiting for, the Messiah, and that the Jews had killed him. When asked what they can do, Peter immediately returns to the same square one:
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.Acts 2:38
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, so he requires the same attitude that God the Father and Jesus required: an attitude of repentance. If we desire to be filled with the Holy Spirit, the first step is absolutely clear. We must be repentant before God. Only then can we be able to move forward in our relationship with him.
As Jesus began his preaching, he called people to repentance, plus even one step more. He said that the kingdom of God is near, so we must repent and believe. I believe that this means that we must have faith and believe that God has come near to us in human form through Jesus, and now, looking back to his time in history, have faith and believe that his sacrifice was intended by God to be the punishment for our sins.
If we will believe this, the apostle Paul then says that we will receive the Holy Spirit:
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.Ephesians 1:13-14
To receive the Holy Spirit, we must be repentant, turning away from our sins, and believe in Jesus as our Savior and Lord, the one to whom we give our lives.
But what about these other teachings, that we must have an additional experience beyond our point of belief, and potentially also other steps in receiving the Holy Spirit?
I don’t discount these possibilities, because we do see situations in the book of Acts where people have believed, and then they subsequently receive the Holy Spirit. For example:
- The disciples received the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 after previously believing in Jesus.
- The apostle Paul receives the Holy Spirit after having seen Jesus and through Ananias laying his hands upon him.
- When Paul was in Ephesus, he found some disciples who had received the baptism of John the Baptist for repentance, but were not aware of the Holy Spirit or of Jesus. They were baptized for their belief in Jesus and then Paul placed his hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.
However, in addition, we also see the situation at the Centurion’s house where Peter and the believers that were with him saw the Holy Spirit come upon the Gentiles who were listening and then they were baptized, making this situation even different from each of the previous three where the Holy Spirit came after baptism.
But one thing seems clear in each of these situations: God found each of these people in repentance and belief in Jesus Christ which made room for him to enter their lives in the form of the Holy Spirit coming upon each of them. So a question that we must ask ourselves as we are considering whether or not the Holy Spirit lives in us is whether we have been – and are still! – repentant for the things that we have done in rebellion against God and his ways, and turn to believe that Jesus is both our Savior and the Lord of our lives, giving him control over all parts of our lives. This is the first step toward receiving the Holy Spirit.