On the first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, people were told to “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). There is wide disagreement among Christians over whether the gift of the Holy Spirit in this passage is a gift the Holy Spirit gives (viz., salvation) or whether the gift being given is the Holy Spirit Himself (viz., the “ordinary” indwelling of the Spirit which, in Acts 5:32, is promised to every obedient believer). We get no help from the standpoint of grammar because the Greek dorea hagios pneuma, translated “the gift of the Holy Spirit,” can mean either a gift given by the Holy Spirit or the Spirit Himself given as a gift. Consequently, the effort must be made to understand the use of this phrase by its context. It is problematic, then, that the context of Acts 2:38 does not immediately give us any insight as to how the phrase should be understood. However, the Greek phrase is used one other time in the Scriptures (Acts 10:45), and the context clearly indicates that it is the Holy Spirit Himself Who is the gift being given.
This would probably settle the meaning of this phrase in the minds of most believers if it were not for the fact that Acts 10:45, in context (cf. Acts 10:44-47 and 11:15), appears to be referring to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, a measure of the Spirit the Bible makes clear is not promised to every believer. Nevertheless, just because Cornelius and his household received the baptismal measure of the Holy Spirit should not cloud the fact that dorea hagios pneuma is referring to the Holy Spirit as the gift, viz., “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, as upon us at the beginning” (Acts 11:15), i.e., “…the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word” (Acts 10:44). Therefore, when we see this same phrase in Acts 2:38, it seems reasonable that we should understand it to mean the same thing (viz., that in this instance the Holy Spirit Himself is the gift being given). In addition, I think it should be clear that, in this case, the Spirit is given in what is called the “ordinary” or non-miraculous sense. When one adds to this Acts 5:32, which is an inspired commentary on the “gift of the Holy Spirit” in Acts 2:38, I believe one can teach with the assurance that “the gift of the Holy Spirit” is the Spirit Himself.
In this regard, it is important to note that Acts 2:38 teaches the Holy Spirit is given after baptism (i.e., the Holy Spirit was promised to all believers who would repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins). Nowhere in the Bible is it ever taught that the Holy Spirit was given to enable one to believe or repent, as some teach. In Galatians 4:6, the Bible says the Holy Spirit (identified in this passage as “the Spirit of His Son”) is given to people because they are already children of God. What this all means is that one believes and obeys (i.e., “receives the seed” or Word of God, Luke 8:11-15) and then receives the “gift of the Holy Spirit.” But if, as some say, the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian “only in and through the Word,” then it would appear the Christian would have to receive the Holy Spirit before baptism, which is contrary to Acts 2:38, as I understand it. In other words, Acts 2:38, if I have interpreted it correctly, teaches that we receive (heed) the word of God before baptism and the Holy Spirit after baptism. Therefore, although it is my understanding that the Holy Spirit does not dwell in the child of God apart from the Word, neither does He dwell in the Christian only in and through the Word.
When one takes into account the passages that teach, either directly or indirectly, that the Spirit of God dwells in the Christian (Acts 5:32; I Corinthians 6:19; Romans 5:5; Romans 8:9-11; II Corinthians 1:21, 22; II Corinthians 5:5) and adds to these the widely accepted principle of Bible interpretation, which says: “Words should be understood in their literal sense unless such a literal interpretation involves a manifest contradiction or absurdity,” then one is compelled to accept the Bible’s teaching that says, “the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Romans 8:9) as the Holy Spirit actually indwells the Christian. Thus, I know this not because I have ever experienced Him with my five senses (i.e., “a better felt than told experience”), but because the Bible tells me so. Namely, the Holy Spirit, through the written Word (“the sword of the Spirit,” Ephesians 6:17), has made it clear to me that He dwells in me and every other obedient believer (cf. Romans 10:17).
(to be continued)