Understanding the Holy Ghost

The Holy Ghost - Believing and Receiving

Part I - Grace

Ephesians 2:8

8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

Grace is defined as undeserved favor. Anything that God gives that we don’t deserve, a gift, is the result of grace. The ultimate gift is salvation. Grace is received through faith.

Many people equate faith to salvation. However the scripture never says that faith alone saves. The only mention of “faith alone” is in James 2 where it emphatically states that faith alone doesn’t save. Faith is not salvation. It is the means of receiving salvation.

We often look at faith as a moment of decision. The bible defines faith more as a journey. We walk by faith. We live by faith. We move from faith to faith. It is through faith that we receive God’s gifts and ultimately find salvation.

The initial act of grace is God wooing us. His Spirit begins to draw us. His Spirit begins to convict us. His Spirit challenges us.

Titus 2:11-12

11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;

Godly sorrow leads us to repentance. To repent literally means to turn around. We must have faith enough to respond to the call of God and the teachings of grace. We turn and begin to follow the Lord instead of following our own ways.

Part II – Faith

Faith is the means of responding to God’s grace. Too many Christians have a flawed understanding of biblical faith.

Hebrews 11:6

6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

Faith is not simply believing in the existence of God. It involves more than just believing that Christ was who He said He was and did what the bible says He did. That is partial faith, believing that God is. The second half of the definition is equally important. We must believe that God expects us to diligently seek him. We must believe that He will reward us. There are gifts of grace all along this journey of faith.

Diligence requires our whole heart. Jesus said that we must seek His kingdom first. Anyone that willfully disobeys the Lord and doesn’t seek God lacks faith.

James 2:14, 19-22,

14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?... 19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? 22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?

What good is it to claim to have faith that you don’t act on? The devils believe in the existence of God. They just don’t believe enough to act on their knowledge. They live in rebellion. This partial faith will never save. Mental faith without an appropriate response (works) is dead. Faith is made perfect or complete when we respond to what we say that we believe.

We must cling to God’s promises and seek after Him. We should expect to receive all that He promised.

Jesus further defined faith with a parable.

Luke 18:1-8

18 And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; 2 Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: 3 And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. 4 And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; 5 Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. 6 And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. 7 And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? 8 I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?

A widow persistently and consistently cried out to a wicked judge. She knew that he alone had the power to meet her need. Even though her request was not met immediately, she diligently sought the judge. She kept the faith. Finally, her faith was rewarded. Jesus concluded the story by asking if He will find that kind of faith. Do we believe enough in His power to keep asking?

Faith is the process of believing and seeking God. Faith is tried and tested. Answers don’t always come easy. We don’t always receive everything the moment we pray our first prayer. We continue praying, expecting, and searching after God. This is how we are rewarded. This is how we receive grace. This is how we receive gifts.

Jesus repeated this theme in another similar parable.

Luke 11:5-13

5 And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves;6 For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? 7 And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. 8 I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. 9 And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. 10 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. 11 If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? 12 Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? 13 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

A friend asked for a gift. His request was not granted so he continued asking until he received. Jesus said that we should consistently ask, seek, and knock for gifts. The Father will reward everyone that has enough faith to diligently seek. He knows how to give good gifts to faithful seekers. He will give the Holy Spirit to those that ask him!

The gift of the Holy Ghost is promised to all believers. Too many start the journey of faith, but they don’t move to the next step of faith. They are content to know that the Savior came, died, and was resurrected. They miss the fact that after initial faith in Christ there is a responsibility to seek and receive the same Spirit that raised Him from the grave.

John 7:38-39

38 He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. 39 (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)

Notice that the Holy Ghost is promised for those that “believeth as the scripture hath said.” This is not a one time, past tense event. This is not partial faith. This promise is not for those that simply believe that God is. This gift is received through biblical faith. Continuous faith, persistent asking, consistent knocking, and diligently seeking, is the only way to receive the Holy Ghost.

Is it worth the trouble? How important is the Holy Ghost? Jesus said that receiving the Spirit was better than having Christ here in the flesh.

John 16:7

7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you…

Christ was called Emmanuel or God with us. The Holy Ghost is God in us.

Part III – The Holy Ghost

If the Holy Ghost is so wonderful, how do we know if we have received it? Many different churches believe different things. Some believe that the Spirit is given to all that initially believe on Christ. Others believe that the Spirit is received at baptism. Still others believe that this occurs when there is a joy from heaven placed in our hearts. Who is correct? Does the bible establish a clear pattern?

John 3:5-8

5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. 8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

Clearly receiving the Spirit is a very powerful experience. It is described as necessary to enter the kingdom of God. A kingdom is where a king exercises His authority and power. Receiving the Spirit allows us to experience God in a new and powerful way. This empowering by the Spirit is a new birth. The experience is so incredible that it will change who you are. It is compared to a mighty wind blowing into your life.

Interestingly, Christ said that we will hear the sound of it. The word “sound” is translated from the Greek word “phone”. It is the root of our English word “phonics”. In the scriptures, it primarily refers to spoken languages. It is translated as “voice” over 130 times in the New Testament.

Shortly before Christ ascended to heaven, He gave further clues concerning the promise of the Spirit. This is commonly referred to as The Great Commission. It is recorded in multiple gospels and in the book of Acts.

Acts 1:4-5, 8

4 And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. 5 For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence…8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me…

Once again, Christ promised that the baptism of the Holy Ghost would be a very powerful experience. It would transform the men that just a few days before had deserted the Lord into powerful witnesses.

The gospel of Mark records additional details that the Lord promised to His disciples during this commissioning.

Mark 16:17

17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

Believers would receive such power from the Spirit that it could even overcome devils. Also, the sound of the Spirit was more clearly defined. The believers would speak with new tongues.

A wonderful gift was promised. The disciples may not have completely understood, but they responded in faith. They were scriptural believers so they waited for the promise.

Acts 1:14

14 These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.

Part IV – The Holy Ghost Received

Please note that everyone in the upper room believed in Christ. All accepted the witnesses of His death, burial, and resurrection. Yet faith required them to seek after the promised gift. They were not filled with the Spirit and power upon initial belief. Day after day, they knocked, asked, and sought for the Holy Ghost. Through faith, their prayers were finally answered.

Acts 2:4,

4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance

When the Spirit came, it came just like Jesus promised. They were all speaking with other tongues. A crowd gathered and began to question what they heard.

Acts 2:8,12

8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?...12 And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?

Peter stood and answered their inquiries.

Acts 2:16-17

16 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh…

What did this speaking in tongues signify? It was God fulfilling His promise to pour out His Spirit. Peter continued to preach that Christ was their promised Savior, the Messiah. They became convicted of their sins and cried out.

Acts 2:37-39

37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? 38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.

Peter told them to act on their belief. Repent, be baptized in Jesus name, and receive the Spirit. This experience is for everyone that is called of God.

We find another group of seekers in Acts 8.

Acts 8:5-8

5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.6 And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.8 And there was great joy in that city.

The people believed the gospel that Philip preached. God responded to their faith with the gift of healing. This brought great deliverance and joy. God was truly doing a great thing.

Acts 8:12

12 But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.

They were so fully persuaded that they took the next obedient step of faith. They were baptized in the name of Jesus.

Acts 8:14-16

14 Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: 15 Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: 16 (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)

Initial faith, miracles, joy, and even baptism were not evidence that they had received the Spirit. These were certainly undeserved gifts of grace that they had received by faith, but they had to keep walking the way of faith. They had to keep seeking.

Acts 8:17-18

17 Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.18 And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,

Notice that there was a definite sign. What changed to convince the seekers, the apostles, and even the witch doctor Simon that these people had received the Spirit? The one consistent sign through each account given is speaking with other tongues.

Further evidence is found in the conversion experience of Paul.

Acts 9:1-6

9 And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, 2 And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.3 And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: 4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.

Paul most definitely was a believer. He had heard God’s voice. He knew who Jesus was. He was so converted that he immediately repented and asked the Lord what He would have Him to do. By faith He responded and obeyed God’s instructions. He was led to a man named Ananias.

Acts 9:17

17 And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.

Paul had believed, repented, and obeyed yet, he was not filled with the Holy Ghost. After prayer with Ananias, the Lord filled Paul with the Holy Ghost. It changed Him. He was given power to be God’s witness and of course he spoke in tongues. In Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, he stated he was thankful for the wonderful experience of the Spirit with evidential tongues.

1 Corinthians 14:18

18 I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all:

The Holy Ghost truly converted and filled Paul, a persecutor of the church, in Acts 9. In Acts 10, the Holy Ghost was given to a good religious man. Everyone needs the Holy Ghost.

Acts 10:1-6

10 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, 2 A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.3 He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius.4 And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.5 And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter:6 He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.

Cornelius was a devout man. He feared God. He prayed. He gave alms. He had an angelic visitation. There were still some things that he needed to do. One in particular was receiving the Holy Ghost. God sent Peter to preach the saving message to Cornelius.

Acts 10:44-46

44 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. 45 And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. 46 For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God.

The Jews were astonished that Gentiles could receive the Holy Ghost, but they couldn’t deny it because they heard them speaking in tongues. The Gentiles received the Spirit just like the apostles, Samaritans, and millions of believers around the world today. The Spirit witnessed of itself by giving utterances.

The last example of Spirit infilling is found in Acts 19. This was a group of believers. They had initial faith. They were disciples of John the Baptist. John declared that Jesus was the Lamb of God. John's disciples would soon experience Jesus as the baptizer of the Holy Ghost and fire.

Acts 19:1-2,

19 And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, 2 He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.

Sadly, many Christian churches and believers have never received the Holy Ghost because they don’t know that it is available. Paul quickly encouraged these believers to take the next step of faith.

Acts 19:6

6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues…

Once again, a believer will know when the Holy Ghost comes. God gives a sure sign. The seeker will speak with new tongues and be filled with power from God.

Part V – Why Tongues

The scripture doesn’t clearly explain why speaking in tongues is the evidence for Spirit infilling, but there are several clues and possibilities.

James 3:8

8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

No man can completely tame His tongue. It is set on fire from hell. When the power of God’s Spirit moves in, even the most unruly member is subject to it.

A new language is necessary to describe the new experience of receiving the Spirit. We don’t know the appropriate words to express our gratitude and praise to God. The experience of receiving the Spirit completely fills the heart.

Luke 6:45

45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

VI. Conclusion

The Holy Ghost is God’s gift for the church. It is wholly undeserved. It isn’t just given to the good or super spiritual. It is for everyone. It is the Father’s pleasure to give you the Spirit. Those that believe, as the scripture says, should receive it. This element of undeserved grace is only received through faith. Faith requires whole heartedly seeking and persistent prayer.

Abraham, the Father of the faithful, was given a promise. He was looking for a city that he could not see. Faith was all the evidence that he needed. He continued to seek. His faith was not a momentary high. It required him to press on. He would not be satisfied with anything less than the promises of God. Abraham is our example of how to receive the blessings of God. Act on your faith. Seek Him and His gifts above all else.

Galatians 3:14

14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

It’s a promise, and it’s yours. Have you received the Holy Ghost since you believed?