All Bible-believing Christians agree that new converts should receive the Holy Spirit; this was promised by Peter in his sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). The difficulty is that they differ on exactly how and when.
Conservative evangelicals say that this happens automatically and, perhaps, invisibly at the point that a person confesses Christ as Lord and Saviour. They then use Romans 8:9 'And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.' as a proof text to say that having the Spirit and being a Christian are one and the same. Therefore they seek to reassure believers that they have received the Spirit, and so nothing more needs to be done (apart from lots of bible study and obedience to what is learnt).
Charismatics say that although ideally a person receives the Spirit on confession of Christ, this may sometimes be delayed to a later event. Some say that water baptism is the point where many people receive the Holy Spirit. They use Luke 11:13 'If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!' i.e. receiving has to follow asking. Having received, one can ask for more.
Both points of view have plus points. Conservatives rightly emphasise that salvation is a work of God, and that there are not two classes of Christian. Charismatics rightly emphasise that God has good things to give us, but he wants us to ask for them so we recognise our dependence on him.
Both points of view create difficulties. The charismatic view does not seem to accord with Romans 8:9, as it seems to allow for Christians who have not yet received the Spirit. However, Scripture itself may hint at some exceptional cases in Acts so maybe the text in Romans is describing the normal or ideal case, while allowing for exceptions.
The conservative view runs into trouble from Ephesians 1:13,14 where the Holy Spirit is described as a 'seal' (a mark of authenticity) and 'deposit' (a tangible downpayment guaranteeing the full amount later). Paul seemed to be able to sense when some apparent Christians had not received the Spirit (Acts 19), and what is more he expected them to know whether or not they had received him. He uses the felt presence of the Spirit as a reassurance that people have been included in Christ.
Thus it seems that conservatives may have turned the biblical argument back to front; their position may be logically true but pastorally disastrous. They say, in effect, 'If you think you are a Christian then you can be sure you have received the Holy Spirit'. The Bible says 'If you know you have received the Holy Spirit then you can be sure you are a Christian'. The biblical emphasis on experience implying spiritual state is quite alarming for most conservatives, as they have been taught to downplay experience.
I think it is possible to arrive at a biblical position, but both parties will have to surrender some of their favourite notions. Let us start by asserting, with the conservatives, that receiving the Holy Spirit and genuinely becoming a Christian are one and the same. Charismatics need to accept this. However we then need to assert, with the charismatics, that receiving the Spirit is something which should be felt by the person and, usually, visible to those around. Conservatives need to lose their fear of the subjective. Charismatics need to drop their requirement of tongues or some other charismata as evidence of reception; the Spirit does other things apart from giving charismata. For many people there is a sense of overwhelming joy and freedom, which can show on their face - conservatives and charismatics alike should accept this as evidence that the Spirit has come.
Conservatives should stop reassuring 'Christians' that they have received the Spirit. Instead, they should follow Paul and ask people if they have - especially if there seems to be some doubt. Charismatics already do this, but often with too narrow an idea of the evidence they will accept. The result is that conservatives may be reassuring people who in fact are not yet born again, while charismatics may be sowing doubt and confusion among people who do belong to the Lord. In both cases damage is done.
Conservatives need to remember Apollos (Acts 18): he taught accurately about Christ, but Priscilla and Aquila sensed that something was wrong. Correct doctrine does not guarantee salvation! Charismatics need to remember Lydia (Acts 16): clearly something happened to her, but there is no mention of tongues or prophecy at her conversion.
Having received the Holy Spirit, is that it? Charismatics use Luke 11:13 to say that we can ask for more of him. Conservatives deny this, claiming that this verse refers to salvation. There are two problems with the conservative view:
We are told to go on being filled (present continuous tense?) with the Holy Spirit. This surely means that it is something we can/should do. Conservatives link fulness of the Spirit (automatically, invisibly) to obedience. Curiously, Scripture does not! However, it does warn us about grieving or quenching the Spirit. A biblical recipe for being full of the Spirit is:
We grieve the Spirit by sinning, including wanting him for the wrong reasons. We quench the Spirit by ignoring him, and downplaying his activity (e.g. by treating prophecies with contempt - 1 Thessalonians 5).
I will finish by quoting warnings from James 4:2b,3; you decide to what extent, if any, they apply to you:
Bible quotations are from New International Version (NIV)
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created 5 June 2008