The Baptism with the Holy Spirit: Requirements to Receive it

One question that usually comes up when this topic is being discussed borders on the requirements of receiving the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

There are two schools of thought in this regard: those who believe one has to be “entirely sanctified” before one can receive the baptism with the Holy Spirit and those who believe it is received on the basis of grace through faith.

The first school of thought argues that the disciples received the Holy Spirit after they were totally sanctified as evidenced by their being “with one accord” in the upper room at Pentecost (Acts 2:1 KJV).

The disciples been together in a place had more to do with obedience to Jesus’ instruction to “stay in the city” until they were clothed with the power of the Holy Spirit (Lk. 24:49 NIV) – and possibly their fear of antagonistic Jewish leaders – than “entire sanctification.”

After Pentecost, the Epistles didn’t indicate that the disciples were sinlessly perfect. Peter, for instance, became hypocritical by discriminating against Gentile Christians (Gal. 2:11-14) and Paul admitted later that he’s not “already perfected” but was still striving towards attaining it (Phil. 3:12).

While I respect the sincerity of those who subscribe to “total sanctification before baptism with the Holy Spirit” doctrine, their position requires an inconsistent and tenuous interpretation of certain Bible passages.

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” (Acts 2:38)

Two things are mentioned here: repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus. It describes the Holy Spirit baptism as a gift from God; we receive it by faith in Jesus Christ as an all-sufficient Saviour apart from the works of the law.

If we earned this gift or deserved it, it wouldn’t be a gift but a wage. Jesus says receiving the Holy Spirit is a gift (Luke 11:13). We receive it on the same fundamental conditions as the gift of salvation: repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Gal. 3:2)

The Galatians fell into the error of believing that unless one adhered to the law of Moses along with the grace of Christ, one wasn’t practicing the true faith. Paul attributed this drawback to works of the law to a spell: a deceiving satanic influence.

This same idea is still with us today in the form of teachings that unless you followed a long list of legalistic rules or a set of standards arbitrarily set up by mankind, you can’t receive God’s blessings.

In the book of Acts we see a divine precedent in the experience of the Gentiles in Cornelius’ house who received the Holy Spirit baptism (Acts 10:24-48).

These weren’t Jews seeking to follow the law of Moses. They were Gentiles, and this was probably the first time any of them had heard the Gospel. Yet the Holy Spirit fell on them while Peter preached the word of God, and they spoke with tongues.

It would be unrealistic to think that they were totally free from the defilement of their Gentile background or that every area of their lives was in line with God’s standards. Yet Peter commanded them to be baptized, thereby acknowledging that they had become members of Christ’s church. (Note: water baptism wasn’t a prerequisite to receiving the Holy Spirit).

Speaking of this experience later, Peter said:

“God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us [Jews] and them [Gentiles], for he purified their hearts by faith.(Acts 15:8-9)

This is the essential requirement to receiving the Holy Spirit: a heart purified by faith. Contrary to what some are led to believe, the Holy Spirit will dwell in a vessel that is not totally clean provided He has been given access to the central area of the human personality: the heart. The Bible says:

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Prov. 4:23). Once our hearts are open to the Holy Spirit, He will change all other areas of our lives by the outworking of His grace.

Again, we see from Acts 19:2, 6 that sometimes, the experiential reception of the baptism with the Holy Spirit is conditioned on the believer’s knowledge that there is such a blessing and that it is for him or her now.

In Acts 5:32, we read:

“And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

From this, we see that obedience can also be a requirement and this proceeds from a heart that loves God (“If you love Me, keep My commandments” John 14:15). The Holy Spirit will not come upon those who hate God or rebel against His Word. They will dwell in a spiritual dry land (Psa. 68:6).

There could be some instances where a believer would fruitlessly seek the Holy Spirit baptism without success, in these cases, one needs to discern their spiritual state. They could be from occult backgrounds with pacts, oaths and seals that still bind their minds to Satan or it could be that they lack faith, or they harbour bitterness against God or others.

For instance, in Acts 8, Simon who was formerly a sorcerer had made the whole of Samaria a New Age village of sorts. He was converted after believing the gospel, was baptized in water, but he obviously couldn’t receive the Holy Spirit because his “heart [was] not right in the sight of God… [he was] poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” (vv. 21, 23).

The same can (and does) happen today. But nowhere does one find in the Bible perfect holiness or sanctification as a condition for receiving the Holy Spirit baptism. There is a difference between gifts of the Spirit and fruit of the spirit.

Balaam had a beautiful gift of prophecy yet died in apostasy. King Saul received the Holy Spirit, but because of his self-will and disobedience, he lost God’s approval and eventually died under His judgement.

Samson was amazingly empowered by the Spirit of God, yet fleshy lusts dominated him and he died unable to rescue Israel from her enemies. The real proof of holiness is not the gift of the Holy Spirit, but the fruits
of the regenerated spirit.

Conversely, the teaching that every area of a person’s life must be totally clean before the Holy Spirit will indwell him may result in one of two grave consequences:

It may deter some sincere believers from seeking the infilling of the Holy Spirit, since they say to themselves, “I’ll never be able to reach that pinnacle of Christian experience.”

Or it may condition others who have received the baptism with the Holy Spirit into smug hypocrisy. With that, they assume: “I must have been perfect to have received the Holy Spirit, so now I have to be perfect all the time.”

This has resulted in some duplicitous and judgemental lifestyles in which Christians view their own sins through a rose-coloured glass but are quick to beat down other believers who are not living up to their own finicky rules with the club of condemnation.

Such people still tell lies, but will call them “white lies.” They still hate other people, but will justify it saying, “My spirit doesn’t flow with them.” They still lose their temper and rechristen it “holy anger.” They become proud and unteachable because…well, “I’ve been saved, totally sanctified and baptized with the Holy Spirit and that settles it! Glory.”

Every Christian is in a constant striving against sin as long he/she is still in this mortal flesh. That’s why several places in the Epistles (in continued tenses) admonish us to be cleansed from personal sins. For example:

“But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)

“But exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:13)

You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.” (Heb. 12:4)

Hebrews 10:14: “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.

If sanctification is an instantaneous process, these passages wouldn’t be addressed to us. In the last verse, the writer uses a perfect tense to describe the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is perfected finally and forever complete. Nothing needs to be added to it and nothing can ever be taken away from it.

In describing the work of sanctification, however, the writer uses a progressive tense: They are being sanctified.

Becoming holy is a stage-by-stage appropriation of what has already been made available to us by the sacrifice of Jesus. In this process the Holy Spirit is our Helper. He doesn’t fill us when we become perfect; He helps us to reach it.

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