Why do we need to receive the Holy Spirit?
Once we have repented, believed and been baptised in water, we are ready to receive the Holy Spirit. In the Bible, the moment when a new believer receives the Holy Spirit is shown as a very distinct and memorable event. It is presented as an unmistakable experience, rather than as something which you would not notice.
Receiving the Holy Spirit has a number of purposes:
a) it is a seal and serves as an indication that God now recognises you as a genuine believer.
b) The Holy Spirit makes available to you the many gifts of the Holy Spirit, sometimes called "spiritual gifts".
c) The Holy Spirit helps us over a long period of time to grow into fruitful disciples of Jesus Christ through being "sanctified" or made holy. That involves growing within our characters the "fruit of the Spirit" i.e. the qualities of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. (See chapter 22 - The three stages of salvation for more details on sanctification).
What does it mean to receive the Holy Spirit?
Let's begin at the beginning and look at what Jesus said would happen to the disciples:
"But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. John 14:26 (NASB)
"When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, John 15:26 (NASB)
"But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. John 16:13 (NASB)
4Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, "Which," He said, "you heard of from Me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." 6So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" 7He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." Acts1:4-8 (NASB)
Jesus made this last statement during the 40 days He spent with His disciples, after His resurrection, but before His ascension into heaven. While Jesus was physically present on the Earth, His followers could receive Him into their homes. Jesus could literally be invited to dinner and He was, many times. However, following His ascension into heaven Jesus is not physically available to be present with us.
Therefore, from then on, the task of working in the life of each believer, to develop them into a mature disciple of Jesus Christ, has been transferred over to the Holy Spirit. He is now the main member of the Trinity who is helping us to grow.
The day of Pentecost - when the disciples were baptised in the Holy Spirit
When Jesus was present on the Earth in His physical body He did that for His disciples Himself. So, during His earthly ministry, He did not ask the Holy Spirit to perform that role. That did not begin to happen until some days after Jesus' ascension when, on the day of Pentecost (a Jewish feast), the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in a dramatic way. This was the first time it happened, but it has been happening to Christians ever since, right up to today. But let's look at how it began:
1When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. 5Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language.
7They were amazed and astonished, saying, "Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8"And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? 9"Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs--we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God." 12And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" 13But others were mocking and saying, "They are full of sweet wine." Acts 2:1-13(NASB)