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

Don Stewart :: Do People Need to Ask, or Pray, for the Holy Spirit?

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Do People Need to Ask, or Pray, for the Holy Spirit? (Luke 11:13)

The Holy Spirit and Us – Question 8

The Bible says that the disciples of Jesus came and asked Him how to pray. We read the following in Luke’s gospel.

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1 ESV).

John the Baptist was a man of prayer who taught his own disciples how to pray. In His reply, Jesus said the following to them.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him (Luke 11:13 ESV).

Does this mean that believers have to ask for the Holy Spirit? In what sense does God “give the Spirit” to those who ask? There are a number of views as to what this statement means. They include the following.

Option 1: Some Think Believers Need to Ask for the Holy Spirit

Some see this verse addressed to all believers. They contend that one must ask for the Holy Spirit before He can come into their life. The passages used to support this view are as follows.

First, we have the promise of Jesus as to the soon coming of the Holy Spirit. Immediately before His ascension we read of Him saying the following.

And being assembled together with them, 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 NKJV).

Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would soon come to these disciples.

Later we read that these same disciples were constantly in prayer after the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven. The Bible says.

All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers (Acts 1:14 NRSV).

They were in prayer while waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Eventually the Holy Spirit came in answer to their prayers. We also read about this in the Book of Acts.

When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place (Acts 2:1 NKJV).

The Holy Spirit arrived on the Day of Pentecost. The disciples were then filled with the Spirit and were able to supernaturally speak in languages which they had never before learned.

The fact that these disciples were said to have been “constantly in prayer” after Jesus said the Holy Spirit was coming in a few days indicates to some they had to ask God to receive this promise. Consequently it is assumed that we must do the same.

Weaknesses with This View

The problem with this view is that there is no record in the Book of Acts for people asking for the Holy Spirit. The verses cited only show that the people were waiting for the baptism with the Holy Spirit as Jesus had promised. While it says they were praying, there is no indication of what they were praying for.

Furthermore, there is no other account in the Book of Acts where believers are praying to receive the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit came, Scripture says the Spirit “fell on them.” They were not praying when this occurred. Nowhere in the remainder of the New Testament are believers commanded to ask for the Holy Spirit. In addition, there is no evidence that the disciples ever asked or received, the Holy Spirit as an answer to their prayer.

There Is No Asking in the New Testament Age

We find no command from the Lord or any example of believers asking for the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ ascension. To the contrary we are told that each believer receives the Spirit of God the moment they trust Jesus. Paul made this clear when he wrote to the Ephesians. He said.

And now you also have heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us everything he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. This is just one more reason for us to praise our glorious God (Ephesians 1:13-14 NLT)

It is at the moment of belief that one receives the Holy Spirit. No praying or waiting is involved. Indeed, He immediately comes into the lives of those who believe.

Option 2: It Was a Temporary Giving of the Holy Spirit before Pentecost

There is also the view that this verse only applies to those disciples who lived before the Day of Pentecost. The disciples did not understand Jesus, or His mission, until after His resurrection from the dead. Their understanding was a result of the Holy Spirit coming to them.

Before the Holy Spirit came down on the Day of Pentecost, and indwelt every believer, it was possible that He could be taken away. There are examples of this in the Old Testament.

Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD terrorized him (1 Samuel 16:14 NASB).

The Holy Spirit left King Saul. Because the Holy Spirit could leave a person we find David praying the following.

Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me (Psalm 51:11 NRSV).

This prayer could not be prayed after Pentecost because the Holy Spirit can never leave those who believe.

Therefore, this passage must be understood in its historical context as a temporary giving of the Holy Spirit until He came down permanently to every believer on the Day of Pentecost.

Weaknesses with This View

There are a number of problems with this view. The context of Luke 11 is not about the reception of the Holy Spirit, but rather it is one of prayer. It begins in this manner.

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come” (Luke 11:1, 2 NRSV).

Thus, the subject is prayer. It has nothing to do with how to receive the Holy Spirit.

Jesus then emphasized that believers need to continue in prayer. Luke records Him saying the following to His disciples in answer to their question.

So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you (Luke 11:9 NASB).

They are to continue to ask for things.

He illustrated this truth in a number of ways. For example, Jesus gave these examples.

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? (Luke 11:11-12 NRSV).

Then He gave the illustration of asking for the Holy Spirit. Consequently, if one sees that asking for the Holy Spirit as something only temporary does this mean that everything else He said in this context is also temporary? This would include believers continuing to pray as well as praying for God’s kingdom to come to the earth.

In addition, there is also nothing in the context to remotely suggest that Jesus was referring to some temporary giving of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, he was answering a simple question about how to pray and what to pray for.

Option 3: It Is a Reference to the Things the Holy Spirit Provides

There is also the view that Jesus is not telling His disciples to ask for the Holy Spirit or how to get the Holy Spirit. Rather He is emphasizing that they are to continue to ask for a greater leading of the Spirit. This assumes the Holy Spirit is already dwelling in them.

This seems to be the best answer to this question. Indeed, the asking in this context is not for a one-time gift, but rather for an entire lifestyle. The word translated, “ask” is a present participle in Greek. This would seem to stress continuous asking on the part of the person. However, we should note that the present participle in Greek does not always indicate continuous action. The context must decide. Yet the context here is speaking about a life of prayer.

Since it emphasizes continuous asking, this does not seem to be a reference to the reception of the Holy Spirit. Believers are never encouraged to continuously ask for the Spirit. In fact, believers are never commanded to ask for the Holy Spirit. He is given to them freely without their asking. What believers are to ask for is a continuous leading, filling, or anointing with the Holy Spirit. We should be continually asking Him to guide us. When we do this, then the Lord will answer our prayer.

It Speaks of the Good Things the Holy Spirit Gives

This statement of Jesus speaks of the various good things that the Holy Spirit gives. The context is teaching that God gives His children everything necessary to live a life pleasing to Him – not everything they ask for.

In fact, the parallel account in Matthew, does not read “the Holy Spirit” but rather “good things.” It says.

If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him (Matthew 7:11 NLT).

Therefore, the provisions of the Holy Spirit are more in view here than the gift of the Holy Spirit or some specific ministry of the Holy Spirit.

The Present-day Application

While this verse is often quoted as having a present-day application to the reception of the Holy Spirit, it should not be. The context of Jesus statement must be understood. He is speaking about prayer and the good things that God gives His children. There is nothing in the context that deals with the reception of the Holy Spirit.

Summary – Question 8
Do People Need to Ask, or Pray, for the Holy Spirit? (Luke 11:13)

Luke 11:13 is often used to demonstrate the need for asking for the Holy Spirit to come into one’s life. This passage records Jesus saying that the Lord will give the Holy Spirit to those who “ask Him.” Therefore, the reception of the Spirit only comes when we ask for Him.

In addition, the Book of Acts, it is argued, shows that the disciples waited and prayed to receive the baptism with the Holy Spirit as Jesus had told them to do. Once He promised that the Spirit would shortly come to them these people were continually in prayer. In the same manner, we should continue in prayer to receive the Holy Spirit.

However, this interpretation does not fit all of the facts. For one thing, we are not told that they specifically prayed to receive the Holy Spirit. In fact, nowhere do we find people asking for the Holy Spirit or praying to receive Him. He is given to people the moment they believe in Jesus. There is no need for asking or waiting.

Others see this passage as referring to a temporary giving of the Holy Spirit to the disciples. These men needed His guiding before the Day of Pentecost when He came down and permanently indwelled them. Once here, there is no further need to ask.

However there is nothing in the context to suggest that that this is the case. Jesus is talking about prayer and continually asking the Father to give believers the things they need. Indeed, God wants to give us everything necessary. It is our job to ask. Moreover there is nothing in this context that suggests that the Holy Spirit was not given to them at that time. In fact, the totality of the biblical evidence seems to indicate that He has always been working with believers.

It seems best to understand the passage as a reference to asking for good things from God. In fact, in the parallel passage in Matthew, Jesus uses the term “good things” instead of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is emphasizing “good things” that are given to the believer when they continually pray to God the Father. This includes provisions of the Holy Spirit – not the Holy Spirit Himself.

We know that no one is told to ask for the Holy Spirit in this present age. To the contrary, we are told that the Holy Spirit is given upon belief in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ statement to His disciples, about asking for the Holy Spirit, should not be taken as a command for present-day believers to ask for His indwelling. For believers, this has already occurred.

Are There Outward Signs of Receiving the Holy Spirit? ← Prior Section
Can a Person Lose the Holy Spirit? Next Section →
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