From “How to become a Christian”: Chapter 17 – Step four in detail – receive the Holy Spirit
14Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, 15who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit.Acts 8:14-17 (NASB)
21Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, 22who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge2 Corinthians 1:21-22 (NASB)
Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.1 Corinthians 14:1 (NASB)
Most people get their beliefs about the Holy Spirit from their own experiences or from what they have been told or have seen others doing rather than from the Bible. The effect of all that is that there is probably more error, conflict and confusion generated on this topic than on any other. It is ironic that the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, should be the object of such contention and intolerance, given the gentleness which is the hallmark of His character.
So, this is yet another controversial topic. Therefore, many people avoid teaching about the Holy Spirit for that very reason. However, the Bible repeatedly speaks about the importance of “receiving“, or being “filled with“, or being “baptised in” the Holy Spirit. This is presented as a crucial part of the process of becoming a Christian. Therefore how can I leave this subject out, even if it is controversial? I have no alternative but to present what the Bible says as honestly as possible, even at the risk of offending people, though I have no desire to do so.
In writing about receiving the Holy Spirit, whilst I will sometimes refer to my own personal experiences, I will not rely on those experiences to define or prove anything. I will try to base everything I say solely on what the Bible says. My own experiences are no authority for anything. Neither is anybody else’s experience. Neither is the traditional teaching of anybody’s denomination. The Bible must be our only authority for any conclusions we arrive at with any doctrine or practice. That is just as true when we are discussing the Holy Spirit as with any other issue or doctrine.
If we make the mistake of relying on our own or other people’s experience, or on our traditions or denominational background, we will end up reading the Bible through a lens or filter, just as we might attach to a camera. That filter will distort whatever we read. We will then ‘read into’ the Bible whatever we already think, or have been told, even when it’s not there on the page. We will also edit out anything which contradicts our existing views, even when it clearly is on the page.
We usually don’t even realise we are doing any of that unconscious editing. That is how powerful pre-existing ideas can be. They are so blinding they can cause us to miss a “barn door” from ten yards away, even when it is clearly there on the page. Without ever saying so out loud, we tend to assume that our own existing ideas, traditions and practices must obviously be right.
Therefore, anything which challenges our pre-conceived ideas must obviously be wrong and is screened out before it even registers. Let that not be true of you. Take a different approach, which very few people take. Try asking yourself: “Where am I getting my ideas from? Are they from the Bible or from somewhere else?“
Why not examine afresh the question of receiving the Holy Spirit? Look at what the Bible actually says and at what the first century disciples did, rather than at your own tradition. Ask yourself “Is what I do and think in line with Scripture, or am I just copying what I’ve seen other people doing and assuming it must be right?“
Make sure you check my views carefully in the Bible. As you do so, pray for God to protect you from any errors on my part and to show you what the Bible really means in this area. Then seek to form your own view, with God’s help, of what the Bible actually teaches. Start from a blank sheet of paper. Make an effort to put to one side for a moment everything you have ever been taught or have grown used to doing. That is very difficult and won’t happen unless you are consciously seeking to do it.
Also, let us all try to approach this important subject of the Holy Spirit with gentleness and humility. Let’s not attack each other if we disagree. You may find you disagree with me. That is OK, so long as your own belief has come from a thorough study of the Bible, rather than being a mere knee-jerk reaction, just because it’s not what you’re used to or not what your denomination does.