Through the words of Jesus Christ and the writings of Paul, we see clearly that having God’s Holy Spirit manifests itself not in some sort of obvious, showy sign, but rather in how we live our lives. Do we live our lives as Jesus Christ did? Are our habits and actions a witness, or reflection of His life? Is the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—evident in our lives by how we treat others? If you can answer yes to these questions, and have followed the steps laid out in Scripture and explained below, you have God’s Holy Spirit!
The biblical process for receiving the Holy Spirit
If you have been around Christian churches of any denomination, you’re likely familiar with the Holy Spirit. Once we understand what it is, the next question often becomes, “Do I have the Holy Spirit?” In some denominations, the only acceptable proof that a person has the Holy Spirit are obvious outward signs, like speaking in tongues. And while we do see a recorded instance of that in Acts 2:4, we read little else about such outward visible signs through the rest of the New Testament. So how can we know if we have God’s Holy Spirit?
Let’s begin by examining the process outlined in the Bible for receiving the Holy Spirit. The book of Acts tells us much about how those who sought to follow Christ received the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2:38, we read what the apostle Peter says, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Peter gives a very basic outline for making the commitment to follow Jesus Christ: 1. Repent, 2. Be baptized, 3. Receive the Holy Spirit.
At first glance, we might think that once we repent and are baptized, we automatically receive the Holy Spirit. But as we read through the book of Acts, we see this is not the case. After being ordained a deacon, Philip was sent to the region of Samaria to preach the gospel. In Acts 8:12, we read, “But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.” After hearing the gospel message preached, the people believed and were baptized by Philip.
But in verses 14-17, we get additional insight to the process of receiving the Holy Spirit: “Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” Word reached back to Jerusalem that people were responding to the message Philip was preaching. The apostles decided to go down into that area, and with prayer and the laying on of hands, the people received the Holy Spirit.
This is very significant. While Philip, a deacon, was able to baptize those who repented, he did not have the authority to lay hands on them and pray that they receive God’s Holy Spirit. This role was reserved for the overseers of the church, in this case, the apostles. This of course begs the question, who are the overseers today?
In the apostle Paul’s instructions to Timothy, we can find the answer to this question. First, we see that there are two distinct levels of ecclesiastical authority in the church. The first, outlined in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, is for overseers, sometimes called elders or ministers. The second is for deacons, outlined in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. As we saw in Acts 8, while deacons do serve a valuable role in the church, they do not have the authority to lay hands on a person for the purpose of asking God to give them the Holy Spirit. What about elders? The word used for overseers here is episkopos in Greek, and means overseers.
In 2 Timothy 1:6-7, we see Paul reminds Timothy, “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” Putting this scripture together with Acts 2:38, where the Holy Spirit is referred to as a gift, we conclude that it was Paul who asked God to give the gift of the Holy Spirit to Timothy.
In 1 Timothy 4:14, we see a bit of additional information about Timothy receiving the Holy Spirit. “Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.” The word "prophecy" here can mean either "telling the future" or "under inspiration of God." In either case, we see that along with Paul, the elders of that day laid hands on Timothy.
We can see then, through the example of the first-century Church, it is the elders who have the biblical authority to lay hands on, and ask God to give His Spirit to people after they have been baptized.
One other thing should be considered in regards to elders. After appointing Timothy to the position of an overseer, notice the instruction Paul gives him continuing in verses 15-16, “Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:15-16). Staying faithful to the doctrine, or teachings of the Bible, is clearly a requirement Paul outlines for Timothy as an elder.
The apostle John is emphatic about the importance of doctrine as well. In 2 John 1:9-11 we read, “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.” Not only does John emphasize the need to be faithful to the doctrines of Christ, he says we should not associate with those who do not teach them. The obvious implication is that if an elder does not teach the doctrines of the Bible, he is not truly an overseer in the word of Christ.
Evidence of the Spirit
With that as a backdrop on the ‘How-To’ of receiving the Holy Spirit, how can we see evidence of it in our lives? The Bible does not speak of evidence of the Holy Spirit being in us through physical, outward signs. Instead, it speaks of it in terms of actions of the heart. Jesus Christ stated, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:18-20). Christ says it’s by the fruit people bear out in their lives that we could really know people, whether good or bad.
So what sort of fruit should we bear? Again, Jesus tells us directly what He expected of His disciples: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Once again, it is actions of the heart and mind that Christ points to, not things like speaking in tongues or being able to perform a miracle of some sort.
After His crucifixion and resurrection, notice the instructions Christ gave to the disciples, specifically in regards to the Holy Spirit: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). These words become especially powerful when we realize that these were the final words the disciples ever heard Jesus speak before His ascension to heaven. His final instructions—think about that! Imagine yourself for a moment in a similar situation. If you were leaving behind loved ones, never to see them again, what would be your final words to them? This is, in essence, the situation Christ found Himself in at that moment, and what were His instructions? “You shall be witnesses to Me.”
How then do we become witnesses to Jesus Christ? While it may involve to some degree talking to people about Jesus Christ, a far more effective way is to be Christ-like in how we live. Have you ever heard the saying, “I’d rather see a sermon, than hear one”? It’s easy for us to talk about Christ, but far harder to live like Him. Paul reflected on this and wrote: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:5). Paul points to the fact that if we are being led by God’s Holy Spirit, we will think and live differently.
Paul goes on to expound what living differently because we have God’s spirit looks like: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-25). Here he lists some examples of the kind of growth a Christian that has the Holy Spirit should expect to have. He continues: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”