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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Holy Spirit and Us

Don Stewart :: Are There Outward Signs of Receiving the Holy Spirit?

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Are There Outward Signs of Receiving the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit and Us – Question 7

The Bible says that the Holy Spirit is received when a person believes in Jesus Christ. There is no waiting whatsoever. Indeed, the moment a person becomes a Christian the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in their life.

This brings us an often-asked question. Should we expect some outward sign that the Holy Spirit has been received? Are there certain things which we should look for to confirm that the Spirit of God is now within that person? In the New Testament, we do find such evidences. Should we expect the same thing today?

Although certain individuals in the New Testament exhibited signs when they received the Holy Spirit, such as speaking in tongues, the Bible does not allow us to make this the norm for everyone. From Scripture we learn the following.

The Events on the Day of Pentecost

On the Day of Pentecost the disciples of Jesus Christ received the gift of speaking in tongues, or speaking in languages which they had never before learned, when the Holy Spirit came upon them. The Bible explains it in this manner.

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability (Acts 2:4 NRSV).

The disciples supernaturally spoke in these other languages when the Holy Spirit came upon them. This demonstrated that the Holy Spirit had indeed powerfully come into their lives. Yet we will find that their experience was unique.

The Promise of the Holy Spirit Was for All Who Believed

When Peter then preached to the multitude, he promised them the same Holy Spirit upon would be theirs if they believed in Jesus. We read his words to the crowd which had gathered.

“Repent,” Peter said to them, “and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38 HCSB).

Peter emphasized that they too would receive the Holy Spirit if they trusted Jesus as the promised Messiah. Therefore, this gift was not merely for Jesus’ inner circle of disciples.

There Was No Outward Signs from the Crowd Which Believed at Pentecost

Yet, when these people believed in Jesus Christ, there is no indication of any outward signs of their reception of the Holy Spirit. We read what took place.

Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them (Acts 2:41 NKJV).

There are no confirming signs. Scripture merely says they believed and were baptized. No indication is given of any outward signs on their part when they believed.

There Are No Outward Signs in Many Cases in the Book of Acts

Indeed, as we study the different accounts of conversion to Jesus Christ as recorded in the Book of Acts we find no accompanying signs in the many instances.

The Church Increased to Five Thousand Members without Outward Signs

For example, we read that as the Word of God increased more people believed. Yet no signs accompanied their beliefs. Scripture says.

But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand (Acts 4:4 ESV).

There is the report of many people believing but there is no report whatsoever that these new believers showed any outward sign of receiving the Holy Spirit.

Many Priests Believed in Jesus but No Outward Signs

The Book of Acts also tells us that many priests believed in Jesus. But there is no record of any accompanying signs upon their belief. The Bible says.

God’s message was preached in ever-widening circles. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too (Acts 6:7 NLT).

Again, we have the record of their conversion but no record of any outward evidence of their receiving the Holy Spirit.

The Ethiopian Eunuch Believed without Any Signs

The Ethiopian eunuch believed in Christ as Savior. Yet, his belief was accompanied without any sign following. We read.

He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him (Acts 8:38 NRSV).

This man was baptized and then went his way. We find no indication whatsoever of any outward evidence that he received the Holy Spirit.

Those at Mars Hill Showed No Signs

At Mars Hill, in the city of Athens, a few believed in Jesus after Paul spoke. However there is no record of any signs following their conversion.

When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject. At that, Paul left the Council. A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others (Acts 17:32-34 NIV).

The only thing said about them is that they believed. Nothing more is recorded.

We can thus conclude that the reception of the Holy Spirit was something which was not normally followed with outward signs. When people believed the Holy Spirit did indeed come into their lives but we do not find these same people exhibiting supernatural signs to confirm this.

Speaking in Tongues Is Not a Sign

There are some people who think that speaking in tongues is a sign of receiving the Holy Spirit. Yet the Bible is clear that this is not the case. In writing to the Corinthians the Apostle Paul asked the following question.

Do all speak with tongues? (1 Corinthians 12:30 KJV).

The question is asked in such a way that the Greek grammar demands an answer of no. If speaking in tongues were a sign of receiving the Holy Spirit, then Paul would have not have even asked the question. The fact that he could even ask the question shows that this gift was not a sign of receiving the Holy Spirit.

The Evidence Is a Changed Life

The evidence of the reception of the Holy Spirit is not so much an outward sign but a changed life. Paul wrote.

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Corinthians 5:17 NRSV).

This is what we should expect to see from those who have received the Holy Spirit; a changed life! Indeed, we should be looking for that person to exhibit changes in their behavior rather than some outward sign.

Summary – Question 7
Are There Outward Signs of Receiving the Holy Spirit?

The Bible says that when a person believes in Jesus Christ they immediately receive the Holy Spirit. He comes to dwell with all those who have believed.

There are some instances in the Book of Acts where the Holy Spirit was received by accompanying signs. This has caused some people to assume that all believers should have the same experience. Thus, they contend there must be some outward sign exhibited to confirm the Holy Spirit is now in the life of that individual. Usually, they assume that this consists of speaking in languages never before learned.

However, this is not the normal pattern for New Testament believers. Indeed, while Jesus’ disciples showed supernatural signs of the reception of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost there is no indication that those in the crowd who believed showed the same signs.

Though Peter promised them that they would receive the same Holy Spirit we do not find them having the same experience with the Spirit as Jesus’ disciples. This same pattern continues throughout the Book of Acts.

When the church grew to five thousand people there is no record of any of them displaying outward signs of receiving the Holy Spirit. Their conversion is recorded but no signs were recorded.

We are told that many priests believed in Jesus. Yet, there is no record of any of them displaying supernatural signs upon belief. The same holds true in the case of the Ethiopian eunuch. His conversion is recorded but there is no record of him exhibiting any signs of receiving the Holy Spirit.

There were those in Athens who believed Paul’s message about Jesus. Yet again we do not find anything recorded about them displaying any outward evidence of the reception of the Spirit of God.

With these examples, we must conclude that the Spirit of God is received without any outward displays such as speaking in tongues.

In fact, when Paul wrote to the church at Corinth he made it clear that not everyone speaks in tongues. This should settle the matter once and for all as to whether a person must display the sign of tongues when the Holy Spirit is received. They should not.

Thus, rather than expecting some outward evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit, such as speaking in tongues, we should expect to see changes in our lives. This is the evidence a person has received the Holy Spirit.

Indeed, there is no evidence in the Book of Acts that the reception of the Holy Spirit was usually accompanied with signs following. The sign of the Holy Spirit within a person is a changed life.

When Does a Person Receive the Holy Spirit? ← Prior Section
Do People Need to Ask, or Pray, for the Holy Spirit? Next Section →
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