What does it mean to “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” ?

What does it mean to “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” ? July 18, 2014

In chapter 3 of Hope Reborn, we list four steps which are part of the normal process of becoming a Christian and beginning your Christian life. The first one is explained in that chapter which is available free here, and today we share our explanation of what we believe Peter meant by “receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit.”

In the next step, the Apostle Peter promises to those who repent and are baptized, “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).



The Holy Spirit is very much God (see The Trinity and you). He is not a force or a power, but a person. As such, the Apostle Peter invites everybody who has repented and turned to Jesus to also receive the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is at work in every Christian, not just a select few. We learn in John 3:8 that the Holy Spirit causes us to be born again. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is at work in you even before you decide to become a Christian, showing you your sin, and drawing you to Jesus (John 16:8).

Every Christian has Jesus living inside of them by the Holy Spirit. Christ’s resurrection power is at work in us all, transforming us from the inside out, and producing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

When Peter talks here about “receiving” the Holy Spirit into our lives, this refers to us becoming aware of the Spirit as a person, and entering a relationship with Him.

Like the wind, we cannot see the Spirit, but we can see evidence of His presence by what He is doing. However, we can experience the work of the Holy Spirit in a dynamic way. The Bible invites us to “be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). The tense of the verb is continuous so it could also be translated “be being filled.” Other verses which also suggest being filled with the Spirit is not a once-for-all thing include Ephesians 1:17 and 3:19, Colossians 1:11, Acts 4:8, 4:31, 13:9 and 13:52. All Christians are invited to consciously, and continuously welcome the Holy Spirit, and invite Him to work in our lives.

Jesus promised to give the Holy Spirit to anyone who comes to Him:

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39)

It is very possible to become a Christian without much in the way of an emotional experience. We are not saved because we cried, or because something dramatic happened. Everybody’s story is different. However, over time, you will become aware of the effects of the Holy Spirit’s work in you, some of which are outlined as follows:


The disciples had been told to wait in Jerusalem until they received power from the Holy Spirit to take the gospel all over the world (Acts 1:8). He equips and empowers us in all kinds of ways to serve God, and gives us boldness to do works for God today (Acts 4:31).


The Holy Spirit confirms that you are really a Christian:

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6)

The outpouring of the Spirit is one of the marks that identify God’s people (Acts 2:39). We are born into His family, and the Holy Spirit gives us a sense of belonging. No longer does God’s Spirit only rest on specific individuals as in Old Testament times; now He is available to everyone.


Through the Holy Spirit, God speaks to our hearts. He lives within us. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

It is very possible to become a Christian without much in the way of an emotional experience.

There is so much more that the
Holy Spirit can do for you if you ask.
The work of the Spirit will further establish you in your walk with God. You will grow in the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5).

We encourage you to find out more about Him, and to invite the Spirit to work in you to glorify Jesus, revealing Him to you (John 16:14).

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  • Adrian, are you equating “receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit” with the act of salvation or with the baptism in the Holy Spirit? It would seem that the apostle Peter explained what it meant to “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” in Acts Chapters 10:44-47 and 11:15-17. Peter told the brethren in Jerusalem that Cornelius and his household had received “the gift of the Holy Spirit” when they had been “baptized in the Holy Spirit” as evidenced by their speaking in tongues. You can read my own take on this topic at http://christcrucified.info/issues.html#issue3. Thanks, Peter

  • I am grateful to know the Holy Spirit lives inside me and is working out my sanctification for the glory of God. I am thankful to know that the Holy Spirit indwells his church and is forming her to look like the Savior. People are going to quibble with you about particulars, which of course we need to do. There are nuances that need to be discussed, worked-out, theologized, etc. But I hope believers are not so focused on carefully stated nuances that we miss the overwhelming reality (which we all believe) that God, the Holy Spirit, is actually with us, and in us, right now, uniting us to Christ, directing our lives, and forming us into the image of Christ. May he never be quenched!

  • Adrian, since both of us are baptized in the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues, I hope you will receive my comments as they are intended – simply as a brotherly discussion – and even if we don’t agree, we can agree to disagree on this one. With that perspective, I still think Peter was referring to the baptism of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38. As I commented earlier, Peter himself said this is what he meant in Acts 10:44-46 and 11:15-17. Jesus called the baptism of the Holy Spirit the “promise of the Father” (Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:4-5). Peter also called the baptism of the Holy Spirit the promise of the Father in Acts 2:33 and called the “gift of the Holy Spirit” the fulfillment of this same promise in Acts 2:39. In other words, the two terms (the baptism and gift of the Holy Spirit) are interchangeable. With this in mind, Peter’s three step gospel message in Acts 2:38 has a Scriptural and logical order: 1) Repent and be saved; 2) Be water baptized; and 3) Receive the gift (the baptism) of the Holy Spirit. Here is the divine order: you
    must be saved before you can be water baptized. You do not receive the “indwelling” of the Holy Spirit after you are water baptized; you receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit when you are saved. However you should receive the
    “baptism” or “immersion” of the Holy Spirit after you are water baptized. Consequently, each of these three steps is essential to a new believer’s foundation and future growth. After we are saved, God ordained that we be water baptized to impress upon us that our old sinful nature died and was buried
    (removed) by Christ’s death on the cross so that His risen Son might sovereignly
    live in us (http://christcrucified.info/teaching_tracts/Water-Baptism.html). God also ordained that we should then receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit to empower and equip us to be Christ’s witnesses (http://christcrucified.info/teaching_tracts/Holy-Spirit-Baptism.html). This is the whole gospel that Peter and John ministered to the Samarians (Acts 8:14-17) and this is the whole gospel that Paul ministered to the Ephesians (Acts 19:2-6). Thanks for your feedback on this topic, Peter

  • Realist1234

    Baptism in the Spirit and receiving the Spirit are the same thing, and happen when saved. It is not an optional ‘extra’ which some charismatics seem to think – ALL Christians have received the Holy Spirit otherwise they would not be Christians. And speaking in tongues is only one gift of the Spirit which Paul makes clear not all have. I suggest Michael Green’s book ‘Baptism’ as a proper understanding of baptism. We should not assume every specific event recorded in the New Testament is applicable today, eg the day of Pentecost was unique.

    • J Fred Spear

      I think that you have it partially correct. There is biblical precedent that the apostles experienced a separate event called ‘Baptism in the Spirit’ (Acts 1:5). I think that the simplest way to understand this phenomenon is to be seeking more of God. The reason that we would be receiving this Baptism is so we could go out and do the work of the Gospel (we cannot do it on our own strength). So, my belief, bible understanding and experience tell me that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit entails: 1. Seeking more of God and 2. Wanting to do His work with His help. I think that salvation and the baptism of the Spirit are two separate events and that one can be saved without it. However, we are missing out by not seeking the Spirit in my opinion. My life is radically different as a Christian than it was 2 years ago and I believe that I am baptized by the HS. I believe non-tongue speaking people have been Baptized by the HS (Billy Graham, Francis Chan, Augustine, etc.). However, it is a great thing to speak in tongues….it is not necessary but it is something that is for you personally (between you and God).

      • Realist1234

        Whilst I would still disagree with your understanding, I would not disbelieve your experience, I just would not call it the ‘baptism in the Spirit’. And as I said, the gift of tongues, like any other gift, is not given to all Christians as Paul made clear. And I have to say I find it personally irritating when sometimes a charismatic congregation are encouraged to ‘speak out’ in tongues all together, when people like myself do not have this gift – this is surely one of the reasons Paul prohibits tongues in public unless an interpretation is given as it is literally gobledegook to everyone else and causes alienation, the opposite of unity.

  • J Fred Spear

    I have experienced Baptism in the Spirit. I think that the Pentecostal movement has it partially correct. I went through years of mediocre faith, sitting in the pew, half wondering if God even existed. My wife and I had gone through a really tough time with one of our kids and, through a serious of truly miraculous events, we saw a radical transformation. This miracle in our lives gave me a new found hunger to serve God in a more complete way. I desired to pray, to enter in to worship, read the bible, spend time with Christian friends, seek ways to live out the faith in my secular life. I know that this was the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and tongues are not necessarily a part of this. I will say that I do speak in tongues now (this came later). I do not affiliate with a particular religion but I attend a Baptist church. My heart’s desire is to get past all this ‘stuff’ and find unity with brothers and sisters seeking Jesus and standing on the Word. In the end, I believe that Baptism in the HS happens when we start ‘walking the walk’ and is not necessarily evidenced by speaking in tongues.