“ Have you received the Holy Ghost since you believed?”
In the following article edited from the first chapter of his book Joy Unspeakable, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Mr Lloyd-Jones begins by laying out the principle of ‘Scripture as our Authority’ then goes on to teach on the Regenerative work of the Spirit of God as a seperate distict work from the Baptism of the Holy Ghost.
[John 1:26 and 33”John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom you know not…And I know him not: but he that sent me to baptise with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.”
John the Baptist was constantly telling the people that he was not the Christ, and that the essential difference between him and Christ was that he baptized with water whereas the Christ would baptize with the Holy Spirit.
John 1:16 says “And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for (or upon) grace.” That is what the Christian is meant to be like. He is a man who has received something of the fullness of Christ and he goes on receiving it increasingly. That is the Christian life. John, the Evangelist, shows us that the way in which this can become increasingly true of us, is that we receive of his fullness in large and great measure when we are truly baptized with the Holy Spirit by the Lord Jesus Christ.
John the Baptist himself drew this contrast clearly in his ministry. When we read Luke 3:1-17 we see…
…striking contrasts between John’s baptism and our Lord’s baptism; putting it very roughly, we see the difference between religion and Christianity;
or indeed, we can go further, the difference between being content with only the beginnings or ’first principles’ (see Hebrews 6:1) of the doctrine of Christ, and this same doctrine in greater fullness.
It seems to me that this is the thing we need above all else at the present time. We need it as individual Christians, but we need it still more because of the state of the world that is around us. If we have no sense of responsibility for the condition of humanity at this moment, then there is only one thing to say - if we are Christians at all we are very poor ones. If we are only concerned about ourselves and our own happiness, and if the moral condition of society and the tragedy of the whole world does not grieve us, if we are not disturbed at the way in which men blaspheme the name of god and all the arrogance of sin - well, what can be said about us?
But I am assuming that we are concerned, and that we are concerned of ourselves, that we may receive what God has intended us to receive in his Son. ‘God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son’ and if we are not receiving what he has made possible, it is an insult to God. So these two aspects must be borne in mind - our own individual states and needs, but, still more, the condition of the world around us. The great and constant danger is that we should be content with something which is altogether less than that intended for us.
The First Danger: Valuing Experience or Tradition over Scripture
Perhaps the greatest danger of all for Christian people is the danger of understanding the Scriptures in the light if their own experiences.
We should not interpret the Scripture in the light of our own experiences, but we should examine our experiences in the light of the teaching of the Scripture.
This fundamental and basic point is particularly important just at this moment in view of the things that are happening in the Christian church. There are two main ways in which we can go wrong in this question of the relationship of our experiences to the teaching of the Scripture. The first danger is that if claiming things which either go beyond the scripture or which, indeed , may even be contrary to it. Since the Early church there have been people who have claimed they were uniquely inspired. The apostle calls them ‘false prophets’. And there were people who did not care what the teaching was; they said they were directly inspired by God.
I remember once hearing a man saying he did not care what the apostle Paul or anybody else said, he knew! He had had an experience. Now the moment a man says that, he is putting his own experience above the Scriptures. That opens the door to fanaticism; not enthusiasm but fanaticism and other possible dangers. So there is one danger - that we put what we experience subjectively over the Scripture.
Another way in which this is done is to put tradition or the teaching of the church above Scripture.
This has been the Roman Catholic heresy; it says the tradition is co-ordinate with the Scripture. And that means in the end that the tradition is superior to the Scripture. There is nothing in the Scripture about the so-called assumption of the Virgin Mary, a doctrine which says that she never died and was buried, but literally rose in the body to heaven. But they teach it, and it is their authority alone that sanctions such a teaching.
But forgetting something as obvious as the Roman Catholic heresy, there are many (and they are generally the most spiritually minded) who are always prone to become so interested in the experimental side that they become indifferent to Scripture. The early Quakers were particularly subject to this, with their emphasis on the ‘inner light’. They, too, said that, whatever the Scripture may say, they knew a doctrine had been revealed to them directly. One of them (poor man) claimed he was the incarnate Christ again, and rode into the city of Bristol on a horse with many misguided people following him who believed his teaching, because he spoke to them with authority. Now that is fanaticism. The excesses and the fanaticism are most spectacular and they always attract attention.
Second Danger: Settling for less
The second danger is the exact opposite of the first, as these things generally go from one violent extreme to the other. The second danger is that of being satisfied with something very much less than what is offered in the Scripture, and the danger of interpreting Scripture by our experiences and reducing its teaching to the level of what we know and experience; and I would say that this second is the greater danger of the two at the present time.
In other words, certain people by nature are afraid of the supernatural, of the unusual, of disorder. You can be so afraid of disorder, so concerned about discipline and decorum and control, that you become guilty of what Scripture calls ‘quenching of the Spirit’; and there is no question in my mind that there has been a great deal of this.
People come to the New Testament and, instead of taking its teaching as it is, they interpret it in the light if their experience, and so they reduce it. Everything is interpreted in terms of what they have and what they experience. And I believe that this is very largely responsible for the condition of the Christian church at this present time. People are so afraid of what they call enthusiasm, and some are so afraid of fanaticism, that in order to avoid those they go right over to the other side without facing what is offered in the New Testament. They take what they have and what they are as the norm.
Compare, for instance, what you read about the life of the church at Corinth with typical church life today. “Ah but,” you say, “they were guilty of excesses in Corinth.” I quite agree. But how many churches do you know at the present time to which it is necessary to write such a letter as the First Corinthians? Do not put your emphasis entirely on the excesses. Paul corrects the excesses but see what he allows, what he expects.
Take your New Testament as it is. Look at the New Testament church, and you see it vibrant with a spiritual life, and, of course, it is always life that tends to lead to excesses.
There is no problem of discipline in a graveyard; there is no problem very much in a formal church. The problems arise when there is life.
A poor sickly child is not difficult to handle, but when that child is well and full of life and of vigour, then you may have problems. Problems are created by life and by vigour, and the problems of the early church were spiritual problems, problems arising because of the danger of going to excess in the spiritual realm. The devil gets us to bypass the Scriptures in the interests of our particular view, whichever of the two extremes it may chance to be.
And so as we handle this whole matter I would lay down this fundamental proposition - that everything must be tested by the teaching of the Scripture. We must not start with what we think or what we like. Some of us would like the spectacular, others are so dignified that dignity is the one thing that matters; everything must be ordered and dignified and orderly, working like a clock with all the mechanism and mechanistic characteristics of a clock of a machine. So if we start with ourselves and what we like and our experience we will already go wrong. No, we have got to start with the New Testament and its teaching.
If we look at two incidents in Acts, the end of chapter 18 and the beginning of 19 - the case of Apollos and the case of the disciples whom Paul found at Ephesus - we discover the following things: there are obviously steps, or stages, in the Christian life. The New Testament is full of that. ‘Babes in Christ’, ‘young men’, ‘old men’, ‘growing in grace, and in the knowledge of the Lord’, and so on. But not only that, this is more than supported and fulfilled and substantiated in the subsequent history of men in the long story of the Christian church, and we see, especially in those two instances to which I have referred, that what really makes the difference is this baptism of the Holy Spirit, or with the Holy Spirit, or this ‘receiving’ of the Spirit.
John tells us at the beginning of his Gospel that the thing that is going to differentiate the new era from the old, even including John the Baptist, is this baptism with the Spirit.
It is possible for us to be believers in the Lord Jesus Christ without having received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
This to me is the crux of the whole interpretation of the New Testament at this point, it is the key point. Do not start thinking about phenomena. That is the fatal mistake that people make. They start with phenomena, they have their prejudices and they take up their lines and their points and the New Testament teaching is entirely forgotten. No, we must start with the teaching of the Scripture.
It is obvious that no man can be a Christian at all apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. The natural man, the natural mind, we are told, ‘is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.’ The apostle Paul in that whole passage in Romans 8:7 which I have just quoted draws great distinction between the natural man and the spiritual man and that is the great difference. The spiritual man is a man, he says, who is lead by the Spirit and who walks after the spirit, not after the flesh. Basically therefore you have to start by saying that no man can be a Christian at all without the Holy Spirit.
The natural mind is enmity against God, is not subject to the law of God neither indeed can be. In I Corinthians 2:14 Paul puts it this way “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” In that chapter two, the Apostle draws a distinction between a Christian and a non-Christian. He says even the ‘princes of this world’ though they are great men in great positions and men of great ability, are not Christians. Why? Well, they have not believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. “Had they known him they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory”
How then do we believe , how does anybody believe? Well he says “God hath revealed them to us by his spirit; for the spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” And again he says “we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit of God; that we might know the things which are freely given to us by God.”
He says we are Christian because the Holy Spirit has worked in us and given us this enlightenment and knowledge and understanding, this ability to believe.
A man can not believe without the work of the Holy Spirit.
It is the spirit who convicts us and who gives us the enlightenment and the ability to believe. No man by nature can believe the gospel. This is fundamental right through the whole Bible.
But then we can go further. It is the Holy spirit who regenerates us, it is he who gives us new life. The Christian is a man who is born again. Yes, he is a man who is ‘born of the spirit’. Now in the gospel of John, as we shall find, there is great teaching about this. Jesus taught: “Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he can not enter in to the kingdom of God.” John 3:5 That is it. This is something that happens as the result of the operation of the Holy Spirit. Regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit; it is the secret power of the Spirit. It is not something experimental but is a secret work, and a man only knows that it has happened to him.
Romans 8:9 puts this matter quite tersely. Paul says, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” So that, clearly, any man who is a Christian is a man in whom the Holy Spirit of God dwells.
I take it that that is abundantly clear - you can not be Christian without having the Spirit in you. But - and here is the point - I am asserting that you can be a believer, that you can have the Holy Spirit dwelling in you, and still not be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Now this is the crucial issue.
All I have been describing is the work of the Holy Spirit in us, the work of convicting, the work of enlightening, the work of regenerating. That is what the Holy Spirit does in us. But as you notice in the teaching of the first chapter of John’s gospel, in which we see so clearly in the preaching of John the Baptist, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is done by the Lord Jesus Christ and not by the Holy Spirit. “I indeed baptize you with water…he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.” This is not primarily some work of the Holy Spirit. It is the Lord Jesus Christ’s act. It is his action - something he does to us through the Spirit or his giving to us of the Spirit.
I Cor 12:13 “For by one spirit are we all baptized.” Our being baptized in to the body of Christ is the work of the Spirit, as regeneration is his work, but this is entirely different; this is Christ baptizing us with the Holy Spirit. This is something which is obviously distinct from and separate from becoming a Christian, being regenerate, having the Holy Spirit dwelling within you.
You can be a child of God yet not be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
EXAMPLES AND PROOF FROM SCRIPTURE
Abraham and Old Testament Saints
Let me give you some proof. I start with the Old Testament Saints. They were as much the children of God as you and I are. Abraham is the “father of the faithful”, a child of God. Now I can give you endless Scriptures to prove that. Our Lord himself says, “You shall sit in the Kingdom of God with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” That is what it means to be in the Kingdom of God, to be with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Paul in Galatians 3, shows at great length that all the children of faith are the children of Abraham; he is the father of the faithful. Indeed, the Apostle Paul, as the apostle to the Gentiles, goes out of his way to emphasize this great thing: that when the Gentiles became Christians, what happened to them was that they became ”fellow citizens with the saints” - that is to say, the Saints of the Old Testament - “and joint heirs with the Saints of the Old Testament.”
You remember also, the great contrast in Ephesians 2:11 and following: “Wherefore remember, that ye being Gentiles in the flesh, which are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise.” That is where they were. “ But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were afar off are made nigh by the blood of Christ…therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God.” Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David - all these men of the Old Testament - they all belonged to the household of God. And when we become Christians, as Gentiles, we become ‘fellow-citizens’ with them, members of the household of God’
And then to make this thing abundantly clear, the apostle repeats it in Ephesians 3. He says the revelation had been made known to him of the mystery ‘which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the spirit; that the gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ.’
If you think that the Old Testament saints were not children of God you are denying the whole of the Scripture. They were. But they had not been baptised with the Holy Spirit.
Abraham believed in Christ. Our Lord says, “Abraham saw my day” - he saw it afar off - “and he rejoiced.” These men did not understand it fully but what made them children of God and men of faith was this- that they believed God’s testimony about this ‘Coming One.’ No man can be saved except in Christ. There is only one way of salvation, Old Testament and New. It is always in Christ and by him crucified.
John the Baptist
But what about John the Baptist himself? Our Lord makes this quite clear. He says, ‘Among them that are born of women there is none greater than John the Baptist.’ John the Baptist is the son of God, he is a child of God, and yet John was not baptized with the Holy Spirit.
‘Notwithstanding,’ says our Lord, ‘he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he’ (Matthew 11:11). That is a reference to the kingdom of heaven taking the form of the church, that though John the Baptist is the last of the prophets, though he is a child of God and a unique servant of God, though the man is as saved as any Christian, he is not enjoying the benefits which those who have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit are able to enjoy.
And then you remember that most important statement in John 7:37 - 39: ‘In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood up and cried saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet’ - the Authorized version adds ‘given’, quite rightly - ‘was not yet given’ , ‘was not yet’, ‘had not come in that way yet.’
The Holy Spirit always was. We read about him in the Old Testament. But he was not given in this way ‘yet’. He was given like that on the day of Pentecost - ‘for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.’
All this it seems to me becomes much clearer when you come right on to Acts and look a the case of the apostles themselves. The apostles were regenerate and were children of God before the day of Pentecost. Our Lord has already said, ‘Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you’ (John 15:3). In the High Priestly prayer in John 17 he keeps on drawing a distinction between them and the world ‘I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: Thine they were, and thou gavest them me; for they are thine’. Throughout the whole of that seventeenth chapter the emphasis is that these people are already regenerate, our Lord keeps on saying that. He says, ‘I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they believed that thou didst send me.’ Nothing could be clearer.
And then we are told that after the resurrection our Lord met with them in an Upper Room and he ‘breathed on them’. He breathed on them the Holy Spirit. You remember that incident: it is recorded in John 20. ‘Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.’
These men are not only believers, they are regenerate men, the Holy Spirit has been breathed upon them, yet they have not been baptized with the Holy Spirit.
Acts 1:4-8 makes this very clear: ‘And being assembled together with them, (he) 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. For John truly baptized with water’ - here it is again - ‘but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom of Israel? And he said unto them, ‘It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.’
And these self same men, already believers and regenerate, already having received the Holy Spirit, were ‘baptized’ with the Holy Spirit. Again, Scriptural proof that a man can be a true believer on the Lord Jesus Christ and a child of God, and still not baptized with the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, in Acts 8, Philip went down from Jerusalem to Samaria to preach the gospel to those Samaritans and we are told: ‘The people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did…And there was great joy in that city.’
‘But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ…’ Now this is not the teaching of John the Baptist, this is the teaching of Philip, filled with the Holy Spirit, baptized with the Holy Spirit after the day of Pentecost, the plain Christian teaching. ‘…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 are believers and they are rejoicing in their belief. They have been baptized not with John’s baptism but they have been baptized ‘in the name of Jesus Christ’. But then comes verse 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 : Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.’ These people were already true believers on the Lord Jesus Christ and him crucified as their Saviour. They had been baptized into his name because they had become believers, but still they were not baptized with the Holy Spirit.
The Apostle Paul
The next striking example is none other than that of the apostle Paul himself in Acts 9. There on the road to Damascus, he sees the risen Lord and says, ‘Lord, What wilt thou do have me to do?’ He becomes as helpless as a little child; undoubtedly the apostle at that point believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. He saw. He was given the vision that enabled him to see.
But this is what I read in verses 10 and 11: a man named Ananias was called by the Lord. ‘And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight,’
Then go on in verse 15 - ‘The Lord said unto him,’ - Ananias did not seem to want to go - ‘Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake. 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.’
He does not instruct him on the way of Salvation. He is sent to heal him and to fill him with the Holy Spirit, to give him the baptism with the Holy Spirit. ‘And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.’
You can receive the Holy Spirit before you are baptized, or the other way round, it does not matter at all.
‘And when he had received meat , he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.’
I am not going to use the case of Apollos, though I believe it could be used quite easily. It seems to me this is the only adequate explanation of the story about him. This was the thing that Priscilla and Aquila recognized as lacking in Apollos and about which they told him, and it made all the difference.
The Believers at Ephesus
But leaving that out of account, come to the beginning of chapter 19, where you read, ’it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples,’ - and you remember that we have seen the full connotation of that, for in Acts, without a single exception it always means ‘believers in the Lord Jesus Christ’ - ‘and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?’ or ‘Did you receive the Holy Ghost when you believed?’ The implications there is that you can believe without receiving the Holy Spirit; that it happens to you afterwards.
Let me use an illustration: You may say, ‘I had a cold last week.’ I then put it to you this one question - ‘Did you run a temperature when you had your cold last week?’ For indeed you may have a cold without running a temperature. On the other hand, you may run a temperature when you have a cold. Did you or did you not have one? And that is the very question that is put here by the apostle.
Cornelius and his Household
It is possible for a man to be baptized with the Holy Spirit virtually simultaneously with his belief. Take the case of Cornelius and his household. You remember that there we are told in Acts 10 that as Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon them. There it seems that the baptism with the Holy Spirit fell upon them. There it seems that the baptism with the Holy Spirit happened ‘as they were believing’, ‘almost simultaneously’. But it is clear from the question put by the Apostle that that is not always the case, that it is possible for a man to believe without receiving the Holy Spirit. ‘Did you receive the Holy Ghost when you believed?’
Paul, obviously, saw that there was something wrong with these people and he was quite clearly of the opinion himself that they had not been baptized with the Holy Ghost, so he puts this question: ‘When you believed, were you baptized with the Holy Spirit?’ In Acts 19:4 Paul addresses these men and gives them further instruction and then we read: ’When they heard this , they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.’ The apostle is perfectly happy that these men are true believers. But they have had John’s baptism only, so he says, ‘But you must be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.’ So he baptized them ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ’.
They are true believers, children of God, but still they have not been baptized with the Holy Spirit, because we read in verse 6: ‘When Paul laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came upon them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.’
Now there is absolute proof that you can be a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and still not be baptized with the Holy Spirit; that incident proves it twice over. The important point is that:
There is a difference, or a distinction between believing and being baptized with the Holy Spirit.
So I give you my last example which is in Ephesians 1:13. Paul is here reminding these Gentile Christians of how they became Christians. ‘In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.’ The Revised version has it - ’In whom, having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit’ which does not make any difference to the meaning and to the truth. It is only the believer who is baptized with the Holy Spirit or receives the seal of the Spirit. ’In whom, having believed, were sealed.’
It is the same order again. Believing is the first thing, but being baptized is something that does not of necessity happen at the same time. It may - it may not. But it is distinct and separate, so the Apostle does not separate them. ‘In whom, having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until redemption of the purchased possession.’]
We pray that you have been blessed and inspired by this sound teaching from this man of God.