When it comes to receiving the Holy Spirit, many questions seem to arise. Especially when it comes to what actions we must take in order to receive Him. We all want to be sure we are the prime candidate for Christ to fill us with His Spirit, and rightly so, but sometimes we put too much emphasis on what we are doing rather than what Christ has already done.
However, this question still remains for any follower of Christ who begins the journey of seeking to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
So, in short, you do not need to be water baptized before you can receive the Holy Spirit. There are many instances in the Word of God where people received the Holy Spirit before they were baptized. However, getting baptized first, then being filled with the Spirit is generally the correct order of things.
Let me give you some examples and explanations so you can understand this a little more.
An instance where people received Holy Spirit before baptism
In Acts chapter 10, we have a perfect example of a group of people who received the baptism in the Holy Spirit before they were baptized in water.
The story starts off when a Roman centurion, named Cornelius, is visited by an angel. The angel told the centurion that he should send some of his men to find the apostle Peter so that Peter can tell him what to do next.
The very next day the men found Peter and brought him to Cornelius the centurion. While there, Peter preached the Gospel of salvation to him and all his household.
Upon hearing the Gospel “the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.” (Acts 10:44-46)
Notice they still haven’t been baptized yet. We know this because of the very next verse.
“Then Peter answered, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.” (Acts 10 46-48)
This is the only example in the New Covenant where someone received the Holy Spirit before being water baptized.
Now you may be thinking, “wait a minute, what about John the Baptist? The Bible says he was filled with the Holy Spirit in his mothers womb? (Luke 1:15)”
You are absolutely right, he was filled with the Spirit in his mothers womb. But John the baptist was not under the New Covenant yet. Jesus had not died and rose from the dead, which is the start of the New Covenant.
So, although it is possible for someone to receive the Holy Spirit apart from being baptized, it is not the Biblical pattern.
Let’s look at this a little more thoroughly in the next section.
The New Covenant pattern of receiving the Holy Spirit
In Acts chapter 2, 120 disciples of the Lord were just filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. And as they spoke in tongues a whole multitude came to the scene.
The apostle Peter stood up and preached the Gospel to about 3,000 people. After his call to repentance, they cried out “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter responded, “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)
Did you catch that? Peter told them to (1) Repent, (2) be baptized in water, and (3) Receive the Holy Spirit.
We see this pattern again, and again throughout the book of Acts.
In Acts chapter 8, Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached the Gospel to the people there and healed their sick. As a result, they turned to the Lord and were baptized. (Acts 8:5-7, 12)
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard this, they sent Peter and John to the city of Samaria to assist Philip in discipling the newfound believers. But when they got there they realized the Samarian’s haven’t received the Holy Spirit yet, so the apostles laid their hands on the people and the Spirit came upon them. (Acts 8:14-17)
In this story of the conversion of Samaria, we see the same pattern: Repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit.
Another example is in Acts 19. In this passage, the apostle Paul sees some disciples of John the baptist, and thinking that they were disciples of the Lord, he asked them, ““Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” Which then leads to Paul explaining that Jesus is the messiah to these disciples.
“When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.” (Acts 19:5-6)
Again, same pattern. They repented, were baptized, then they received the Holy Spirit.
When do we receive the Holy Spirit?
Many people have been taught that when we get saved we receive all the Holy Spirit that there is, and they’re not wrong. However, after our born again experience, we have the opportunity to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit, which is an experience that allows the Holy Spirit to empower us for service.
Now, I know that may be confusing so let me explain.
In John chapter 20 verse 22, Jesus just rose again and is standing before His disciples. The Bible says that “He breathed on them and said to them, “receive the Holy Spirit.” But later in Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:4, He tells them to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes upon them and endues them with power.
“He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4-5)
“Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)
So, what’s going on here? How did they receive the Holy Spirit, and then later have to wait for Him?
Well, in John 20:22, when Jesus breathed on the disciples, that was their born again experience. We know this because when God made mankind in the Garden, he formed man from the dirt, then He breathed into man’s nostrils and that was when mankind became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)
So, when the Lord breathed on His disciples that was their new birth. But when they were filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, that’s when the were baptized in the Spirit.
God’s Spirit comes to live on the inside of us when we are saved, but then the Holy Spirit comes upon us when we are baptized in His Spirit.
If you want to know more about the baptism in the Holy Spirit, you should check out my in-depth study of the subject. I dive deep into what the Bible says about the topic, and what that means for us.
So what does all this mean for you?
If you want to be baptized in the Spirit you have a wonderful desire. It is a desire that has been placed there by God Himself. But if you still haven’t been baptized in water, I suggest you get water baptized first and then ask the Father to fill you with His Spirit.
There is no perfect order of things because like I mentioned before, God can fill you with His Spirit even before you get water baptized. Acts chapter 10 is a perfect example of that.
But with that being said, Jesus commanded us on more than one occasion to get water baptized, so please don’t ignore that command and then expect God to fill you with His Spirit. (Related article: A complete study on water baptism)
The Bible says that the Holy Spirit is given to those who obey the Father (Acts 5:32). So, be an obedient child, get baptized in water and I guarantee you, on the Word of the living God, that you will receive His Spirit.
In short, you do not need to be baptized in water in order to receive the Holy Spirit. The only requirement is that you have repented and that your life has been washed by the blood of Jesus. But the biblical pattern throughout the book of Acts has always been (1)Repent, (2) get water baptized, and (3) receive the Holy Spirit.