What is "Receiving" the holy Spirit?
Paul's question, "Have ye RECEIVED the holy Ghost since ye believed?", was asked of a group of Ephesian disciples who had, as shown by the inquiry, "believed". There IS a difference between "receiving" the Spirit and believing. Multitudes of sincere "believers" are being hindered in the faith because they are told that because they have "believed", they already have "received" - and possibly nothing could be more dangerous in the kingdom of God than this.
Not only had these Ephesians believed, but they had also been baptized with water; yet, according to their own testimony, they had "not so much as heard whether there be any holy Ghost." What a picture of thousands upon thousands today who, in reality, have not heard about the holy Ghost! Think of the multitudes today who have believed and been baptized with water; still, they are without the promised Comforter - the holy Ghost. Additionally, many today have heard about the holy Ghost baptism, but have been persuaded they already have the Spirit, simply because they have believed! Friend, don't swallow this poison!
The principal reason so many followers of Christ now have not yet received the Comforter is the same reason that the twelve Ephesian disciples had not yet received it; that is, they were taught by a man who himself had not yet received the holy Ghost. Namely, "Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures. This man was instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John" (Acts 18:24-25). Of course, "when Aquila and Priscilla [a Spirit-filled man and his wife] had heard [him teaching], they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly"; that is, they explained the truth concerning Jesus's perfect baptism, a truth that is unquestionably needed among multitudes today who have been taught only a form of repentance and water baptism.
There are other examples in the Bible people who "believed", but who did not (for a short time) have the holy Ghost. For instance, when "Philip went down to Samaria, and preached Christ unto them . . . the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spoke, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voices, came out of many that were possessed with them, and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. And there was great joy in that city." Moreover, we are told that "when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. . . . Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John, who when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the holy Ghost, for as yet it was fallen upon none of them, only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then [Peter and John] laid their hands on them, and they received the holy Ghost" (Acts 8:5-8, 12-17).
The early believers did not wait until the new believers had grown cold and disheartened because of the disappointments and defeats they encountered in the start of their journey, but straightway they brought them into the fullness of the holy Ghost. My friend, those early believers were never left to go their own way, but were made partakers of the blessed holy Ghost - the most marvelous experience that can happen to us this side of heaven. Oh, that it were so today with all those who have believed the message concerning Jesus! God has provided for His children the power to live a rejoicing life through the holy Ghost. This life was not for the apostles and early believers alone, but for every believer in every generation. Reader, this includes you and me. The coming of the holy Ghost into one's life does not bring a burdensome responsibility to live up to some disagreeable command, as many seem to think; on the contrary, it brings God's gracious offer for a victorious life here among men. And this life is not only the believer's privilege, but it is also God's command (Acts 1:4; 17:30).
John the Baptist's ministry was intended to prepare Israel to receive Christ Jesus and his baptism. He baptized with water all Jews who repented, thus making them candidates for Jesus's baptism with the holy Spirit. John's message was this: "I baptize you with water unto repentance, but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear. He shall baptize you with the holy Ghost and with fire." Water baptism was offered to the Jews with the understanding that it was only a preparation for the baptism of the holy Spirit. Isn't it quite strange that so many have received the testimony of John concerning water baptism; yet, at the same time have rejected it with regard to the baptism of the holy Ghost! For as John administered the one, he promised that Christ would administer the other.
This being true, we can understand why Paul told the twelve Ephesian disciples that they had not actually received John's baptism. If they had, they could not have said, "We have not so much as heard whether there be any holy Ghost", for John's baptism always included the promise of the baptism of the holy Ghost. Paul explained that John baptized with water, "SAYING unto the people, that they should believe on [that is, receive the baptism of] him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus." Thus we see that John truly baptized "in the name of the Lord Jesus" - the same baptism which Peter preached to the Jews on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38), and the baptism which our Ephesian friends finally were given before they received the holy Ghost.
So the first baptism that those Ephesians received was not really John's baptism. Neither is the one you have, unless you heard these words, or their equivalent, deep in the recess of your heart before you were put into the water: "I indeed baptize you with water, but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose. He shall baptize you with the holy Ghost and with fire." If you have not yet received the holy Ghost, my friend, it is either that you need to be re-baptized, as those Ephesians were, or you haven't fully repented, for those are the only two conditions which Peter gave in Acts 2:38 for all who would receive the gift of God: the holy Spirit. It is good to be a "believer"... but one must also "receive", and they WILL receive, if they are a true believer indeed.
If it was appropriate to ask first-century believers this question, it is appropriate to ask believers now. A believer today who hasn't received the holy Ghost is, in this regard, no different from Jesus's disciples before they received it. The followers of Jesus had been conceived by the word of God (Jn.16:20-24) and were told by Jesus that their names were written in heaven (Lk.10:20); nevertheless, they did not yet have the holy Ghost in them (Jn.14:17). There is, and there always has been, a believing before receiving the holy Ghost. Indeed, my reader, the baptism of the Spirit is an experience that every sincere believer will pursue. In the earliest congregation this was the case. No one who was conceived by the word of God ever stopped seeking until he received the baptism of the Spirit, the gift of God.
May I ask you now, "Have you received the holy Ghost since you believed?" Our Lord declared, "He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said `Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.' (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that BELIEVE in him should RECEIVE)" (Jn.7:38-39). Some consider the baptism of the holy Ghost to be merely a "privilege", an "added blessing", or something that does not happen to every believer. This is quite possibly the most dangerous teaching of all. For it opens the door to the idea that one can be converted to Christ WITHOUT "receiving" the baptism of the holy Ghost (with the initial evidence of speaking in tongues). There is no such thing in Christ Jesus. EVERYONE who has been born again, has had this experience. You MUST submit to Jesus's baptism or you are not a true believer. It is a commandment of God. And since it is His command, we must be obedient. We read in Acts 5:32, "And we are his witnesses of these things, and so is also the holy Ghost, which God hath given to them that obey him." Now, reader, can't you see that if you haven't yet received the holy Ghost, it is because you have not been obedient? And if you have not been obedient, then you have been disobedient, have you not? Disobedience, as students of the Bible know, is "as the sin of witchcraft". Such sin, my friend, brings condemnation to the heart; and condemnation will destroy any believer if he doesn't repent and rid himself of it. "Believing" without "receiving" cannot save the human soul. They are two sides of one coin - one necessary experience in Christ Jesus.