the weblog of Alan Knox

Life in Christ is Life in the Spirit

Posted by on Sep 28, 2011 in scripture, spirit/holy spirit | 12 comments

Our church continues to study the Book of Acts together. Last Sunday, a good friend and fellow elder led our discussion through Acts 19. While there were many good and challenging comments made during our time looking through this chapter, I especially enjoyed our discussion about the Holy Spirit.

In Acts 19, Paul returns from a trip to Antioch, making his way over land (instead of sea) until he reaches Ephesus again. He had stopped briefly in Ephesus before, but had not spent much time there. This time, when Paul arrived in the city, he ran into a group of twelve disciples of John the Baptist.

According to Luke, this is what happened:

And he [Paul] said to them [the disciples of John the Baptist], “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. (Acts 19:2-6 ESV)

At first, it may seem strange that Paul first asks these disciples if they had received the Holy Spirit. He did not ask them what they believed about Jesus Christ. Instead, he asks about the Holy Spirit. But, we must remember that the Holy Spirit only comes into a person’s life through Jesus Christ.

In fact, this question concerning the Holy Spirit makes perfect sense in the context of John the Baptist’s disciples. John himself had pointed out the difference between his own baptism (in water for repentance) and Jesus’ baptism (in the Holy Spirit). (See Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; and John 1:26, 31-34.) This distinction (between baptisms) was so important that Jesus reminded his disciples (of his own words) concerning this just before his ascension. (Acts 1:4-5) Similarly, Peter remembered Jesus’ message and reminded the other believers about the importance of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit when some questioned him about Cornelius’ salvation. (Acts 11:15-16)

For Paul, following Jesus (being his disciple or having new life in Christ) was the same as being baptized by (or indwelled by) the Holy Spirit.

In case the passage in Acts 19 does not convince us that Paul equated life in Christ with life in the Holy Spirit, he spells it out in his letter to the Romans. While this chapter helps us understand many aspects of our life in Christ, it certainly shows us that this life is the same as life in the Spirit:

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:9-11 ESV)

Life in Christ is life in the Spirit. Without the Spirit, we do not have Christ, and without Christ we do not have the Holy Spirit.

How do we know that we are in Christ – that we are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ? The Holy Spirit tells us himself. We see this specifically later in Romans 8 when Paul writes, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” (Romans 8:16 ESV)

Of course, there are also external indicators that we are children of God, followers of Christ, and indwelled by the Holy Spirit. What are those indicators? Well, I’ll talk more about those in my post tomorrow morning when I look at the difference between being indwelled by the Holy Spirit and being filled by the Holy Spirit.

Returning to Acts 19 briefly, since the disciples of John the Baptist did not know that there was a Holy Spirit (much less had they received the Holy Spirit), it was instantly clear to Paul that they were not disciples of Jesus Christ either.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 9-28-2011


    I see nothing in the text that would suggest these people were not believers in Christ. Besides not receiving the baptism of Christ or the Holy Spirit. What other warrant do we have to make that conclusion?

  2. 9-28-2011


    I think the warrant for this conclusion is verse 4-5 – “4 Paul said, ‘John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’ 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Whatever these people were believing in (perhaps God alone) they were not yet believing in Jesus. These verses seem to make this clear.


    These are great insights.

  3. 9-28-2011

    This is the third and final time after Pentecost that we see immediately observable evidence that the Holy Spirit adopted a new segment into the church. This was evidenced in Acts 8:18 among the Samaritans, in Acts 10:45 for the gentiles, and here in Acts 19 for the followers of John the baptist. This was a pretty rare occurrence in the 30 years covered in the book of Acts (see Acts 11:15f).

    I see in these episodes God’s intense concern for the unity of the church, so that major potential divisions between these groups would not create a “messianic” segment of the church and a “gentile” segment, nor a segment composed of those with “some Jewish blood,” nor a segment of those devout followers of John who remain “awaiting the messiah’s arrival” segment.

    If God went to this much trouble to re-inforce our unity, we should take Him seriously.

  4. 9-28-2011


    Do you see this as synonomous with Paul’s comparison in the earlier part of 1 Cor between being carnal and being spiritual?. If so, could we conclude that those who were bringing division were not really believers?

    another question that comes to mind is: John preached baptism for repentance of sins and faith in the one to come. So is repentance and faith not enough to conclude one has been born again?

  5. 9-28-2011


    I think the Romans 8 passage makes it more clear than the Acts passage, especially this statement: “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”


    Thanks for the comment. I replied to Miguel with that same passage on facebook. So, I decided to point out something different here since you had already mentioned it.


    There was also the account in Acts 2:4. Interestingly, in each case, there were differences in what occurred and in what order. But, in ever case, they people were given the Holy Spirit. I think this is an important point.


    Since Paul addressed the people in Corinth as believers and saints and the church, I think he believed (and assumed) they had been given (been baptized in, indwelled by) the Holy Spirit. I think, however, it is possible to either be filled by (obey) the Spirit who is dwelling within you or to quench (disobey) the Spirit who is dwelling within you. I talk about this in my post for tomorrow morning.

    Since these people did not have the Spirit of God, then I would say that they were not born again. (Again, I would turn to the Romans 8 passage for a clearer explanation of the Acts passage.) Perhaps we could ask what/who they were trusting, but the passage doesn’t tell us. We only know that Paul said that John was pointing to Jesus who was the “one to come.”


  6. 9-28-2011

    Hello my friends in the Lord.Thanks for the posts on this Website.I have been blessed and I request that you keep me updated.
    The holy Spirit is a sign that you gave your life to Christ. If the people did not have the holy Spirit, it may mean that they had no Jesus yet in their hearts.

    Elisha from Uganda, East Africa.

  7. 9-28-2011

    thanks Alan, that was very helpful.

  8. 9-28-2011


    We need to be careful to recognize that there is a huge difference between simple intellectual assent to the facts of the Gospel, and Holy Spirit caused repentance, faith,and trust in the finished work of Christ.

    It has been my great privilege to see the former become the latter on several occasions.

  9. 9-28-2011

    Out of the Wesleyan tradition, we believe that there are levels of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes this is referred to as a “2nd work of grace.”

    There is John 20:22 (And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”) and Acts 2.

    There are wells of living water (John 4) and rivers of living water (John 7:37-38).

    My personal feeling is that the presence of the Spirit grows within a person to fruition (as a well overflows) rather than falling upon us from outside, as if people were empty boxes. This emergence idea seems to me to fit better with the idea that all blessings emerge out of the indwelling presence of Christ – the vine (John 15) and Eph 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…”

    Acts speaks of multiple times when they are “filled with the Holy Spirit” after Acts 2 – i.e. Acts 4:31. And certainly this is something that is under the control of God and takes the form that God wishes within the life of the believer(1 Cor 12:7).

  10. 9-28-2011


    Welcome to my site, and thanks for the comment!


    I’m glad it was helpful! I enjoyed your latest post also.

    Aussie John,

    I think you’re right.


    Thanks for the comment. In the post that I have scheduled to publish in the morning, I make a distinction between being indwelled (baptized in) the Holy Spirit and being filled with the Holy Spirit.

    To me, in Romans 8 (especially Romans 8:9), Paul indicates that someone is not in Christ (i.e., not a Christian) if that person does not have the Holy Spirit (Spirit or God / Spirit of Christ).


  11. 9-30-2011

    Forgive me if I am being to picky. Isn’t it possible that they were not yet baptized (Acts 19) and yet still believers in Jesus? They were never asked directly if it was Jesus they believed in. If they didn’t know of the Holy Spirit, or had not yet heard, it is also likely that they may not have heard of the Baptism component of Jesus. We can not hold to this too literally, as it also says they were baptized into the name of Jesus with no mention of the Father and the Spirit.

    There are other cases of believers in Jesus who had not yet received the Holy Spirit.

    Just because they were baptized into Jesus name upon hearing what Paul said, is not conclusive evidence that they did not believe in Jesus.

  12. 10-1-2011


    Yes, it’s possible. 🙂

    There several different episodes in Acts where people receive the Holy Spirit. In each case, the activities and order of activities associated with their salvation are different. Some activities are mentioned in some cases (i.e. baptism in water) while not in others. However, it seems that receiving the Holy Spirit is a constant. I do not differentiate between believing in Jesus (having faith in Jesus) and receiving the Holy Spirit.