Why did Apostle Paul ask the disciples in Ephesus, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed” ( Acts 19 : 2 ), if it was understood to happen by default, immediately after a person believes and confesses the name of Jesus ?
I present my testimony as a case study of what otherwise is the reality !
My prayer life started in the year 1986, when I was 13 years old. It was my loneliness that drove me to God and I loved spending time in prayer. Before long, I began to sober up and it showed up in my studies. Though I used to pray regularly, I seldom used to read the Word of God and therefore fell into sin during my adolescent years.
( Now as I look back, I realise that no man can overcome sin just because he prays but haven’t hidden the word of God in his heart.)
‘How can a young man keep his way pure ? By living according to your word … I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.’ ( Ps 119 : 9, 11 )
Again after two years, in the year 1988, I sought the Lord and prayed all the more earnestly. Before long I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit around me and I was led to read the word of God.
“When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin, and righteousness and judgment …” ( Jn 16 : 8 )
I felt deeply convicted of my sins and therefore I repented. I renounced them and decided to be a better person. But the more I tried, the more I failed ! I found it impossible to live up to the standard of his word because I lacked the inner strength to do so. I began to despise myself and wept bitterly, during these years of my struggle with sin. ( Now as I look back, I realise that no man can overcome sin just because he has knowledge about the word of God but haven’t received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. )
Then in the year 1990, after my schooling, I was disappointed with God because I couldn’t make it into the career of my choice and therefore fell into prayerlessness and rebellion. The three years that followed were the hopeless years of my life as I suffered from accidents, surgeries, depression and demonic oppression.
Then in 1993, while I was in college, the unexpected happened, when I was invited to attend a home Church. From the moment I sat down, I felt the presence of God which I had experienced before, during my school days. ( Nobody had to preach the gospel to me because I knew it. ) I wept so bitterly over my sins that I didn’t realise when the Church service got over. I was invited to attend Church the following week as well. But the presence I felt in the Church, accompanied me to the room I was staying in. Everything about me began to change. I stopped listening to the music that I used to listen, reading the books that I used to read, watching the films that I used to watch ! The cleansing that started within began to clean up my room as well. I was woken up from my sleep one night and was questioned by the Holy Spirit, “Who are these people on the walls?” ( I had posters of Film stars, Sports stars and Rock stars all over my room.) I said, “They are the people of the world.”
“Are you not honoring them?”, he asked. “Take them down”, he commanded.
The following Sunday was glorious! I felt the Holy Spirit descend on me, as two of his servants walked up to me and laid their hands on me and began to prophesy. It was the 12th of December 1993, the day I was born again. Hallelujah!
So it is a fallacy to think that everyone invariably receives the Holy Spirit by default, immediately after they believe and confess the name of Jesus. The travail of rebirth, which started in 1986, lasted seven years until I was born again in 1993. ( It might not be the same timeframe for everyone but invariably there is a process of rebirth that everyone will go through and a period of time associated with it, from their first encounter with God till the time they are bornagain. Though the disciples had met Jesus, three and a half years back, it was only after his resurrection, that their lives were transformed, when they received the Holy Spirit – Jn 20 : 22 ) The parable of the sower doesn’t say that irrespective of where the seed fell, it was fruitful.
“But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word, understands it and produce a crop …” ( Mt 13 : 23 ) Since the Holy Spirit comes to take permanent residence in us, he cannot come into hearts where the Gospel has fallen by the wayside or on rocky ground or among thorns. He waits for the heart to be ready to receive him once for all.
“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So is it with everyone born of the Spirit.” ( Jn 3 : 8 ) Amen.