“And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 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.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.” (Acts 19:1–6)
In Ephesus, Paul met 12 men who professed to be followers of God but had no knowledge of the Holy Spirit. Dr. Simon Kistemaker writes, “A Christian without the Spirit is a contradiction of terms (Romans 8:9). Faith, or belief, without the Spirit is nothing more than nodding consent.”
These 12 individuals had not heard or received the true Gospel. They made no mention of the person and work of Jesus Christ neither did they know about the Spirit’s work on the Day of Pentecost. If they had followed the Lord in believer’s baptism, at the very least they would have been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Paul concluded that these men were not true believers in Christ.
What did the apostle do? He did not compromise biblical truth for the sake of good feelings between people. Paul did not wish these men well, bid them good fortune in their travels, and assume that they were truly converted. He continued to ask spiritually diagnostic questions of them.
He discovered that they were not followers of Jesus but rather disciples of John the Baptist. It was then that 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.”
The text gives every indication that these men were then truly converted because they were subsequently baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. If Paul baptized them, and there is every indication that he personally did, he would not have done so if they were not truly converted.
Dr. R. C. Sproul writes, “Paul then lays his hands on the men and they receive the Holy Spirit, along with the supernatural manifestation of tongues and prophecy. This is the fourth incident in Acts of a group of people being so baptized by the Spirit, along with Jewish disciples (2:4), the Samaritans (8:17), and the God-fearers (10:44).”
A new group of people, Gentiles lacking any knowledge of the Gospel, become converts and followers of Jesus Christ. The Gospel extends to all kinds of people.
Make sure the Gospel you are believing, and the Gospel you are presenting and sharing, is the true biblical Gospel. We must be loving but we must always speak the truth (Ephesians 4:15-16). When we lovingly speak the truth, we give every evidence that we love those to whom we are speaking.
Dr. Sproul concludes by saying, “Paul’s questions implied that believers can know that they have the Holy Spirit. How about you? Have you experienced His comfort, reminding you of God’s promises? Have you come under His conviction of sin? Have you seen His hand guiding your growth in holiness?
Take time today to mediate upon these questions and evaluate the Spirit’s work in your own life.
Sol deo Gloria!