Our church continues to study the Book of Acts together. Last Sunday, a good friend and fellow elder led our discussion through Acts 19. While there were many good and challenging comments made during our time looking through this chapter, I especially enjoyed our discussion about the Holy Spirit.
In Acts 19, Paul returns from a trip to Antioch, making his way over land (instead of sea) until he reaches Ephesus again. He had stopped briefly in Ephesus before, but had not spent much time there. This time, when Paul arrived in the city, he ran into a group of twelve disciples of John the Baptist.
According to Luke, this is what happened:
And he [Paul] said to them [the disciples of John the Baptist], “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. (Acts 19:2-6 ESV)
At first, it may seem strange that Paul first asks these disciples if they had received the Holy Spirit. He did not ask them what they believed about Jesus Christ. Instead, he asks about the Holy Spirit. But, we must remember that the Holy Spirit only comes into a person’s life through Jesus Christ.
In fact, this question concerning the Holy Spirit makes perfect sense in the context of John the Baptist’s disciples. John himself had pointed out the difference between his own baptism (in water for repentance) and Jesus’ baptism (in the Holy Spirit). (See Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; and John 1:26, 31-34.) This distinction (between baptisms) was so important that Jesus reminded his disciples (of his own words) concerning this just before his ascension. (Acts 1:4-5) Similarly, Peter remembered Jesus’ message and reminded the other believers about the importance of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit when some questioned him about Cornelius’ salvation. (Acts 11:15-16)
For Paul, following Jesus (being his disciple or having new life in Christ) was the same as being baptized by (or indwelled by) the Holy Spirit.
In case the passage in Acts 19 does not convince us that Paul equated life in Christ with life in the Holy Spirit, he spells it out in his letter to the Romans. While this chapter helps us understand many aspects of our life in Christ, it certainly shows us that this life is the same as life in the Spirit:
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:9-11 ESV)
Life in Christ is life in the Spirit. Without the Spirit, we do not have Christ, and without Christ we do not have the Holy Spirit.
How do we know that we are in Christ – that we are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ? The Holy Spirit tells us himself. We see this specifically later in Romans 8 when Paul writes, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” (Romans 8:16 ESV)
Of course, there are also external indicators that we are children of God, followers of Christ, and indwelled by the Holy Spirit. What are those indicators? Well, I’ll talk more about those in my post tomorrow morning when I look at the difference between being indwelled by the Holy Spirit and being filled by the Holy Spirit.
Returning to Acts 19 briefly, since the disciples of John the Baptist did not know that there was a Holy Spirit (much less had they received the Holy Spirit), it was instantly clear to Paul that they were not disciples of Jesus Christ either.