(Paul) asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit?”
So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.
There is a striking, instructive connection in this passage between the Holy Spirit and Jesus.
But first it’s important to acknowledge that the spiritual status of the twelve men in this passage is somewhat unclear. It seems likely they had been taught by Apollos, for both Apollos and these twelve were familiar with the baptism of John, but didn’t seem to have the full story about Jesus. Priscilla and Aquila, co-workers with Paul, had earlier taken Apollos aside and “explained to him the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18:26). Similarly, Paul now instructs these twelve, affirming John’s emphasis on repentance, but clarifying that John “told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus” (Acts 19:4). When they heard it, these twelve disciples tangibly expressed faith in Jesus by being baptized into his name.
Were they true Christians before this? It’s hard to know. There isn’t quite enough detail given.
What is clear, however, is the essential connection between knowledge of Jesus and experience of the Spirit. There must have been something about their life and faith that caused Paul to ask, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” When they expressed confusion about the Spirit, Paul pressed further, enquiring about baptism in order to determine their connection with Jesus. After subsequently being baptized in Jesus’ name, they received the Spirit, with the tangible signs of tongues and prophesy.
To embrace Jesus is to receive the Spirit. To have the Spirit is evidence of being in Jesus. This is why Paul says in Romans 8:9, “And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” It’s why he speaks of baptism in the Spirit as an equivalent of conversion – “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free” (1 Corinthians 12:13). And It’s the lesson from the story of the first Gentile converts – Peter, seeing the visible outpouring of the Spirit on Cornelius and his household, took it as confirming evidence that they, too, had believed in Jesus (Acts 11:15-17).
So, if you are in Christ, you have received the Spirit – nurture the relationship. He works in different ways in different people – get to know the ways he works in you.
If you are uncertain about your relationship, the place to start is with Jesus. If never before, pray, inviting him into your life. Receive him as Saviour. Embrace him as Lord. And receive the active presence of his Spirit.
Thank you, Lord Jesus, for salvation in your name. Thank you for the gift of your Spirit. Fill me with his presence and power.
Holy Spirit, welcome. I embrace your presence. Glorify Jesus in my life. Lead me to know him, more and more.
Using the prayer above as a start, pray for the Lord Jesus to fill you with his Spirit. Pray for the Spirit to lead you in knowing the Son. Watch for the Lord’s leading all day.