Questions and Answers on the Holy Spirit


      Some claim that being filled by the Spirit and receiving the Spirit are two separate and independent occurrences. The reasons given are as follows:

      Q1. The Spirit cannot be measured with just how He is received. The Spirit can fill a person, who remains not having received the Spirit.

      A1. Anyone who knows the Bible does not question the greatness of God’s Spirit, who is beyond measure. However, whatever God does is in an orderly manner (1 Cor. 15:33), since He has instructed that all things must be done decently and in order (1 Cor. 15:40) within the church. This is to ensure that His church is given a clear pattern of His will, in particular with the coming of the Spirit.

      The Bible does not in any way indicate that after the ascension of Christ, being filled by the Spirit can occur prior to the reception of the Spirit. Christ ordered the disciples to tarry in Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high (Lk. 24:49). This indicates how the Spirit would come and how the disciples would receive the Spirit (Acts. 2:4). The coming of the Spirit upon the apostles becomes the blueprint to the end-time true church on how the Spirit is received as well.

      Q2. Distinguishing the difference between receiving the Holy Spirit and being filled with the Holy Spirit?

      A2. When discussing the coming of the Spirit, two key parts must be explored. First, upon receiving the Holy Spirit, Jesus shall abide within us (Jn. 14:19-20, 26). The Spirit that we have received is not a partial Spirit but the full Spirit of God. Second, we who have received the Holy Spirit must yield to the Spirit, to live a Spirit-filled life.

      Firstly, when the Spirit came upon the 120, they were all filled by the Holy Spirit (Acts. 2:4). The entire fullness of God was in each and every one of them. The case of Paul being filled by the Holy Spirit is another example (Acts. 9:17). This is in fulfilment of what Christ has said that the Spirit shall be given without measure (Jn. 3:34). Being filled here occurs at the receiving of the Holy Spirit. This is also Jesus’ promise before His suffering that after He has ascended back to Heavens He shall send His disciples the comforter (Jn. 14:16, 23; 16:13). 

      When Peter and some brethren heard the gentiles, at the house of Cornelius, speak in tongues (there being no mention of being filled by the Holy Spirit), Peter concluded that their encounter of the Spirit was the same as theirs (Acts. 10:47; 11:16-17; 15:8). Therefore, those who had been filled by the Spirit in Acts are those who had first received the Holy Spirit. This ‘being filled’ occurs at the point of receiving the Spirit, which is the beginning of the indwelling of the Spirit.

      Secondly, in the work of the apostles, being filled by the Spirit has been a common experience to them. However, the experience is not one of receiving the Holy Spirit. They had been given the Spirit already before they were sent out to preach (Lk. 24:49; Acts. 1:5, 8; 2:4). It indicates that God gave them the authority to carry out the works that they have been commissioned to do.  Being filled by the Spirit in their ministry works, they feared no opposition and became extremely alert, being able to discern the work of Satan (Acts. 4:8, 31; 13:9). The filling here refers to being filled by the unmatchable power of the Spirit.

      Thirdly, being filled by the Spirit is about living a life driven by the Spirit. It is a state of existence, in which we show great willingness to be led by the Spirit, placing God and salvation above all else. Despite difficulties, we are willing to hold on to Jesus, knowing in whom we believe (cf. Acts. 13:52). Leading a Spirit-filled life is only possible when we conscientiously stay clear of corrosive influences of this corrupt world (Eph. 5:18). This filling here takes place upon our willing yielding to the Spirit unconditionally.
      Q3. It has been suggested that since the One Water Baptism is achieved by the Spirit, then it must be assumed that we would automatically be born of the Holy Spirit at the point of being baptised in water. There are at least two reasons for this line of thinking. Firstly after baptism, we are in Christ. This then naturally leads to one conclusion that we are therefore in the Spirit (since Jesus is the Spirit Himself). If we are in the Spirit, can we then be denied of the reality of having been born of the Spirit? The argument here is being encapsulated by the Spirit in and after baptism.

      A3. Secondly, in explaining the concept of rebirth to Nicodemus, Jesus states ‘he who is born of the flesh is of the flesh and that he who is born of the Spirit is of the spirit’ (Jn. 3:6). With this, some have come up with a view that to denounce receiving of WB as equal to being born of the Spirit is the same as putting those who have been baptised in water back to the position of being of the flesh. This leads to a further question: can we who have been baptised by the Holy Spirit in water, still remain in the flesh?

      To answer the first question, it is necessary to look at the two elements that constitute the process of rebirth. Jesus has not given any indication that to be born of water is to enable one to be born of the Holy Spirit at the same time. Nor does He say that they are one and the same. To insist on the first proposition implies that this is the teaching of Christ. This is clearly not what Jesus meant in his explanation. Jesus clearly states that we have to be born of water and the Holy Spirit. If the proposition was valid then why would He make such a clear distinction of the two requirements?
      Since ‘being born of water’ refers to Water Baptism (WB), naturally ‘being born of the Spirit’ is the baptism of the Spirit. Acts 1:5 states that the apostles would be baptised by the Holy Spirit not many days later. Here, we have to pause and ask: When does the baptism of the Spirit occur? If it happens at the point of receiving WB, then the problem of a deeper character shall arise. Simply, Peter refers this teaching of Jesus to the receiving of the Holy Spirit – Cornelius and his family received the Spirit even prior to the receiving of WB (Acts. 11:15f).

      With this understanding, it is clear that to be born of the Spirit takes place when one receives the Spirit. Acts 8 tells us that no one had received the Holy Spirit in the city of Samaria, not until Peter and John came and laid hands on them (8:17), which occurred after Philip had baptised them (8:16). The coming of the apostles to Samaria to help pray for the Holy Spirit underlines the unwavering importance of asking God for the Holy Spirit (Lk. 11:13). It also highlights the clear difference between the two elements of rebirth, although at times they can occur almost at the same time, one after another. 

      To look at this issue in terms of the gospel, Jesus says, ‘Abide in Me, and I in you…’ (Jn. 15:4; 1 Jn. 3:24). Here, John is talking about our inseparable relationship with God. ‘To be in God’ and ‘God is in us’ are two varied conditions, which confirms that receiving the WB is not the same as receiving the Holy Spirit. How do they differ from one another? For a start, to abide in Jesus requires us to be baptised into Him (Rm. 6:3ff; Gal. 3:27ff). For Christ to be in us entails the Spirit indwelling in us through prayers.
      Let us consider this in the light of being the children of God and the confirmation from the Spirit that we are His Children (Rm. 8:16). By this, we are given the right to be heirs of God. Indisputably, receiving the WB (by which we become children) and receiving the Holy Spirit (by which we are confirmed as children of God) are two separate events – Paul unequivocally states that it is because we are children that God has sent forth His Spirit to confirm with our hearts that He is our Abba Father (Gal. 4:6ff). 

      To correct the second view, it is imperative for us to restudy the passage regarding the rebirth (Jn. 3:1-8). In verse six, the second requirement is used in contrast to being born of the flesh. This does not suggest that when we are baptised, we are immediately given or that we receive (or are filled by) the Holy Spirit. To be born of the Spirit, we must first have believed in what Jesus has taught about being born again, and be determined to undergo the process of rebirth. Otherwise, we shall always remain in the flesh. The contrast is to bring out the need of being born again as opposed to remaining in the flesh.

      In the entire teachings of Christ, he switched back and forth between ‘being born again’ and ‘being born of the Spirit’ (Jn. 3:3-5, 6-7, 8). Apart from verse five (Jn. 3), there is no further mention of being born of water. The Bible rarely restates all the essentials of the whole process of salvation. For example, Jesus teaches, ‘He who believes and is baptised shall be saved’.  Does His teaching here denounce the need for repentance before baptism? Similarly, Peter, in explaining that baptism saves, links it to the resurrection of Christ (1 Pet. 3:21). Is it not a natural consequence that to be resurrected with Christ, we first have to be dead and buried with Him in Baptism? Once again, we can see that confusion results from not looking at any doctrine as a whole and upholding what the church teaches.

      Q4. Paul expounded to the Corinthian believers – ‘For by one Spirit we were all baptised into one body… and all have been made to drink of one Spirit’ (1 Cor. 12:13). The logical deduction is that the drinking takes place after the Water Baptism (WB) performed by the Holy Spirit. So, everyone who is baptised is made to drink of the Spirit, which amounts to filling them.

      A4. Jesus Himself has publicly announced, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink’ (Jn. 7:37). This verse talks of the coming of the Spirit. This is an invitation Christ has extended to all who are thirsty. They are required to come to Him, to drink of Him. It shall be a refreshing reality to those who have faith in His word and come to experience the Spirit’s abiding presence in their lives. Like what He has said to the Samaritan woman, those who dare to come shall not be disappointed, flowing out of their hearts rivers of living water after they have drunk of the water He gave (Jn. 4:14).

      However, Jesus, being a God of order, has set the time for the invitation to drink of the Spirit in the NT to take full effect. He also has outlined how it would happen. John says that it shall come to pass after Christ has been glorified. Such a declaration basically puts a starting time to this invitation. It shall happen after His suffering and ascension (Jn. 7:39; 16:7). It clearly refers the starting point as being the first downpour of the Holy Spirit on the day of the Pentecost. This was when the 120 received the Holy Spirit for the first time with speaking in tongues as the only evidence. This confirms what Jesus said: that it is for those believing in Him that would receive the Spirit (Jn. 7:39).

      Most crucially, Jesus also states that the experience of drinking of the Holy Spirit is done according to the Scripture (Jn. 7:38). One may argue that the referred Scripture is in the OT and has nothing to do with the speaking in tongues. Since the entire Scriptures, both OT and NT are one, they cannot be separated nor used in isolation but are used to complement each other. That is why Peter quoted Joel’s message in support of his speech to the confused onlookers, after they had witnessed the receiving of the Holy Spirit. They had in fact been attracted to the 120 by the sound they heard (Acts 2:6).

      With this in mind, we have to ask, ‘How did the apostles determine the reception of the Holy Spirit?’ Did they ever claim that at the WB, they were made to drink of the Holy Spirit? The evidence for the receiving of the Holy Spirit they gave is always the speaking in tongues (Acts 2:4; 10:44ff; 19:6). The Pentecostal outpour of the Spirit has been taken as the format for receiving the Holy Spirit. The apostles determined those who had received the Holy Spirit on the premise of their initial encounter with the Spirit (Acts 10:47; 11:15).

      If one insists that receiving (the indwelling of) the Spirit concurrently occurs with receiving the WB, then one would have to bend the truth of the Bible, to thrash out the differences created, when shown the teachings in Acts. The Samaria Case is one, that after the believers were baptised, none had received the Spirit, not until Peter and John came to pray for them (Acts 8: 16). This underlines that receiving the Spirit (drinking of the Spirit) is not done at the WB. This also holds true for the case in Ephesus. The believers only received the Holy Spirit when Paul laid hands on them, well after they had been baptised in the name of Jesus (Acts 19:6).

      How do we account for the teaching of Paul on being made to drink of the Holy Spirit after the Water Baptism (1 Cor. 12:13)? With the principles governing the receiving clearly defined we now take a closer look at the issue again. The promise of the Spirit to dwell in us is a sure one. It is given to all who believe and their children (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:39). Each and every believer, who keeps themselves in the Lord, will surely drink of the Spirit though some are yet to experience it. Time is not the point of consideration here and is never a problem with God, as in Him all things are true and will surely transpire.

      Jesus has spelt out succinctly the works of the Spirit in the book of John. With the indwelling presence of the Spirit, the apostles were given the source of living water that springs unto eternal life (Jn. 4:14). They were given the wisdom and foresight to perceive the truth of God with great clarity and understanding (Jn. 14:26; 16:13). They were to be imbued with power to embark on the ministry work that was fraught with extreme difficulties. However, all these works became only performable upon the Spirit having fallen upon them, with speaking in tongues as the only sign of reception.  
      Q5. Paul warns that if anyone defiles the temple, God will destroy Him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple we are (1 Cor. 3:17). Some therefore claim that ‘the Spirit living in us’ is a common experience and does not exclusively belong to those who speak in tongues in prayer alone. Some further argue that the Holy Spirit is already in them at their conversion. This means that they believe that once they are baptised in water, the Spirit dwells in them (1 Cor. 6:18f).

      A5. Firstly, it is important for us to understand that the message from ‘we are God’s temple’ is intended with a specific purpose in mind, and that is to correct a spiritually corrosive idea. Paul was directing his stern warning at a group of adulterous believers (for not all were immoral in the church at Corinth). This is evident in his remark that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her (1 Cor. 6:12). Judging from this passage, these believers are those who had received the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues (Since the Bible is consistent, this statement is intended to distinguish from the idea of receiving the Spirit at baptism with no speaking in tongues required), and yet wilfully conducted themselves in moral degradation.

      Secondly, the events of the works of the Spirit are quite remarkable and at times different from ours. Looking at the accounts in Acts, there had been occasions on which the entire congregational members in some local churches received the Holy Spirit at the same time. Examples include the 120 (Acts 2:4), the whole city of the Samaria (Acts 8:17) and the whole household of Cornelius (Acts 10:44). In view of this, it is not at all unlikely that all the members at the church in Corinth could have received the Holy Spirit.

      Thirdly, the Bible also states that before Christ’s suffering He had promised the disciples of the coming of the Spirit (Jn. 14-16). To ascertain His promise, He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ (Jn. 20:22). According to John, the Spirit could only be given after Jesus has been glorified (Jn. 7:39). This means that Christ had to depart (ascend back to heaven) before He poured out the Spirit to His disciples (Jn. 16:7). However, at that point in time when Jesus was talking about the Spirit, the Spirit had yet to come. However, in His infinity, it is as good as accomplished. This indicates that the event would definitely occur, regardless of the length of the time span. With this understanding, we know why Paul says, ‘You are temple of God, in which the Spirit dwells’. This is a certainty and it shall surely happen.

      Q6. In order To strike fear in the minds of believers, it has been advocated that if one is not filled by the Spirit at baptism, the good deeds they do are not the fruit of the Spirit.

      A6. When John spoke to those who came to receive his baptism, he sternly warned that they must bear fruits worthy of repentance (Lk. 3:8). The phrase 'fruit of the Holy Spirit' is not mentioned. The baptismal candidates were told to bear fruits even though the Spirit had not yet been poured out. After the ascension of Christ, bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit is uniquely the work of the Spirit after one has received the Holy Spirit. Hence the phrase 'the fruit of the Holy Spirit' (Gal. 5:22f; Eph. 5:9). One must not take the phrase out of context.  That phrase is the conclusion that Paul has drawn having spoken about the necessity of walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16) and being led by the Spirit (Gal. 5:18).

      Obviously, a person who has not received the Holy Spirit is capable of doing good work with God's help but the difference is that he has yet to receive the Holy Spirit. Exhibiting virtuous characters, prior to receiving the Spirit, through the Spirit’s help does not in any way support the idea that a person can be filled by the Spirit without first receiving the Holy Spirit. The reason is simply that after the ascension of Christ, the Spirit fills a person after the Spirit has come upon him (at the reception of the Holy Spirit) – (Acts 2:4). 
      However, in the NT, the giving of the Spirit is a widespread phenomenon and no longer selective and for a few. Joel said it was for all flesh (Joel 2; 28f). It means that after the ascension of Christ, the work of the Spirit should come from within. Paul urges the believers to count on the Spirit that lives in them to bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:18ff). This is a phrase used specifically for the work of the Spirit dwelling in a person.

      But, the services rendered by those who have received the Spirit may not be the fruit of the Spirit, if they have not been done in yielding to the Spirit. The works of those who have yet to receive the Spirit are good works, insofar as they have been done out of a good and noble heart, shall be confirmed by the Spirit as true and genuine (the fruit acceptable by God) once they have received the Spirit. In fact this is what eventually the Spirit will do after we have passed away from this world (Rev. 14:13). The Spirit is there to confirm to us if our works shall follow us.
      Q7. The Spirit of God fills all in all, and undeniably more so the body of Christ, the church. Since that is the case then how can we refute the idea that once a person is baptised into the true church he is filled by the Spirit.

      A7. It is biblically correct to say that God fills all in all. But is God in the heart of the wicked? It is wrong to equate God’s omnipresence to the Spirit dwelling in a person on account of God filling all in all. We need to make a distinction between having the existence of God (as being there) from God making a home with our hearts (Jn. 14:23).

      In the time of Noah, the continuous sinning causes God’s Spirit not to strive or abide with man (Gen 6:3). This surely does not indicate that God’s Spirit was not in existence amongst the wicked though He did not abide with them and a man acting wickedly clearly is not doing so by the Spirit of God. Likewise, God has chosen to make Zion His dwelling place (Ps. 132:13-14). The 'dwelling place' is more accurately rendered 'home'. God's conscientious choice of being with Zion does not rule out His presence in the universe. This is in line with the teaching of John: The Father and Jesus (the Spirit) shall make home with him who keeps His commandments (Jn. 14:23).

      The receiving of the Spirit (being filled by the Spirit) is God-initiated to help us from within. It is also to confirm to our hearts that we are His children, and eventually serves as a pledge for us to gain entry into the Kingdom of God. Does God’s existence in the midst of the wicked make him enjoy the above rights given to the children of God? Most importantly, does the Spirit of God initiatively abide in the rebellious believers, who live in sin, though they have been baptised?