On the night before He was crucified, Jesus talked to His disciples about the Holy Spirit.
“It is to your advantage that I go away,” He told them, “for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”
It may be hard for us to believe that the disciples’ situation would improve without the living and breathing Messiah with them to love them, guide them, and answer their questions. Wouldn’t we want to talk and eat with the Son of God, to enjoy being His friends and His students? Yet Jesus’ words don’t leave room for argument. As good as it must have been to spend time with “God among men,” it was better for the disciples to have God in them.
“God in you.” That is what the gift of the Holy Spirit means, and it is a gift for every believer in Jesus. Being filled with the Spirit is crucial to living in victory over sin and becoming more like Christ. Learning to depend on Him isn’t always easy, but it is transformative.
How, then, does one receive the Holy Spirit? Scripture is clear that belief in Jesus is already evidence of the Spirit’s work–“no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). But there are also plenty of indications that “receiving the Holy Spirit” is something that does not automatically happen at conversion. The book of Acts tells of believers receiving the Holy Spirit sometimes after baptism (Acts 8:14-17) and sometimes before (Acts 10:44-48, Acts 19:1-6). The first outpouring of the Holy Spirit, at Pentecost in Acts 2, came when a group of believers were gathered together in prayer. A similar outpouring of the Holy Spirit happened when another group of believers was praying for boldness in the face of persecution (Acts 4:23-31).
We see the work of the Holy Spirit throughout the Bible–speaking through the judges and the prophets, inspiring the design of the tabernacle and the temple in Jerusalem, bringing strength to Samson and peace to Saul. But it’s only since Jesus’ ministry that the Spirit is freely offered as a gift to anyone who asks. Joel prophesied that the Holy Spirit would be poured out on “all mankind” (Joel 2:28-29), and Jesus told His disciples that God the Father would not withhold the Holy Spirit from anyone asking for Him (Luke 11:14). So how do you participate?
Accept the Righteousness of Christ
The Holy Spirit is holy. The body of the believer is a temple of the Spirit and must be holy, too. The Good News of Jesus, of course, is that we are made holy by His death and resurrection. We receive His righteousness when we put our faith in His sacrifice.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Examine yourself, therefore, confess any known sin, and put your confidence in the blood of Jesus for perfect cleansing.
Yield to Him
In Acts 5:32, Peter describes the Holy Spirit as one “whom God has given to those who obey Him.” Part of receiving the Holy Spirit is wanting to follow God and obey Him. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth” (John 14:15-17). He also said that “no one can serve two masters.” To receive the Holy Spirit, you must desire His will above your own. You must choose a life of obedience. Otherwise the request itself makes no sense.
Ask for the Holy Spirit and Receive Him by Faith
After Jesus’ resurrection, he appeared to His disciples in John 20. He told them He was sending them as the Father had sent Him. “And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22).
The Greek word for “receive” in this verse is used many times in an active sense, meaning “take.” Ask for the Holy Spirit and take Him into your heart by an act of faith, believing Jesus’ promise that the Father would “give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him.” Take Him as a gift that has been already offered–with gratitude and humility.
Receive the Spirit with faith. That is, see the promises God gives in His word and accept them as true, regardless of feelings.
Believe That He Comes to Stay
Jesus told His followers that the Holy Spirit would be with them forever (John 14:16). This is good news! You can count on Him and know that He will never leave you nor forsake you.
You may see times of dryness and doubt, but it does not mean that the Holy Spirit has abandoned you. There may be times when the reality of His presence is easy to see and times when it is impossible except by faith–“the conviction of things not seen.”
But even in such trials, know that He desires to reveal Himself in powerful ways and times of fresh filling. Ask for those times. Repeat the process of examining yourself, trusting in Jesus, and praying for the Holy Spirit. And ask for faith. “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” (Rom. 8:11).
The Holy Spirit is not constrained to a process. Not every Spirit-filled believer has gone through this kind of step-by-step checklist. After all, the Holy Spirit falling on the new Christians in Acts 10 was a surprise to everyone; His work was evident, and Peter’s companions were “amazed.”
On the other hand, Paul told the Christians in Ephesus to “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). This command suggests participation. It suggests seeking what is promised, acting in faith. Going through the steps outlined above does not compel the Holy Spirit–He is the sovereign God, not a genie–but it is a way to seek Him.
“Seek,” Jesus says, “and you will find.”