Have all Christians Received the Spirit? image

Have all Christians Received the Spirit?

Have all Christians received the Spirit? The argument of Romans 8:9-17 makes it pretty clear that we have: if we haven't, then we don't belong to Christ. But Luke talks in Acts 8:9-17 about people who have believed the gospel, and been baptised in water, yet who have not received the Holy Spirit. What do we do with that tension?

Some of us will immediately default to saying that although all have been “born of the Spirit”, not all have been “baptised in the Spirit”. Whether or not this is true, however, these are not the words or concepts that appear in either of these texts, nor in several other important passages on this question (Acts 9:1-19; 10:44-48; 19:1-7; 2 Cor 1:21-22; Gal 3:3-5; 4:6; Eph 1:13-14). In fact, in a remarkable number of places, the word used in the New Testament for people’s initial encounter with the Spirit is that word “received”. So, to ask again: have all Christians received the Spirit?

Amongst those who believe that the scriptures are consistent on this point, there are three main options.

1. Yes. The Samaritans were an exceptional case, and based on what Paul subsequently says, this scenario (Christians who had not received the Spirit) occurred on just that one occasion. Neither Saul nor the Ephesian disciples, when the stories are read carefully, were believers who had not received the Spirit. The downside of this interpretation is that no indication is given in Acts that this would not happen again.

2. No. In Romans, Paul is talking about the normal experience of believers - that they receive the Spirit when they are united with Christ - but not necessarily saying that it would always be true of all believers. The Samaritan situation, then, can happen sometimes, and when it does it needs to be rectified by the laying on of hands. The problem here is that Paul seems to say more than this: he says that anyone who does not have the Spirit does not belong to Christ.

3. Yes and no. Luke and Paul use the language of “receiving the Spirit” in different ways. In Paul’s sense, we have all received the Holy Spirit: the Spirit of adoption lives within us, by whom we cry out “Abba, Father”, and we have been anointed by, sealed with and had our inheritance guaranteed by the Holy Spirit. But in Luke’s sense, we (like the Samaritans) have not all received the Spirit: we have not all had a dynamic experiential encounter which we clearly know about and others clearly notice. The difficulty with this one is the unlikelihood of Luke and Paul using the word so differently to each other, and the fact that neither of them indicate receiving the Spirit is two-stage.

So there are the three main options. What do you think? Have all Christians received the Spirit?

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