Chapter 4: Becoming a Christian

Before presenting Luke's comments on the Spirit in the Book of Acts, we will study the New Testament framework with regard to salvation and receiving the Spirit. After studying this framework, we will present Luke's view with regard to these topics. These matters lie in the background of our interpretation of the Spirit in the Book of Acts.

Salvation is a result of the work of the Triune God. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all are involved in the salvation of men. We notice the involvement of all three, for example, when Paul says (Ephesians 2:18) "for through him [Christ] we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father." As believers, our personal relationship is with all three Persons of the Trinity.

In this study we are concerned especially with the role of the Spirit. The Spirit has a part in drawing men to Christ. In addition He is involved in our union with Christ, regeneration, justification, sanctification, and adoption. Moreover, the Spirit indwells the believer. Our relationship with Him, as presented in the New Testament, is personal and experiential. In connection with all this, we are interested in how the term "receive the Holy Spirit" is used.

The Order of Salvation

An important aspect of the doctrine of salvation is the order (or way) of salvation. Very often, when the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is discussed, an order of salvation (ordo salutis) is presumed. Although it is beyond my purpose to establish a full order of salvation, I will comment on its relationship to receiving the Spirit.


The order of salvation is concerned primarily with the logical, not the chronological, order of the elements of salvation. As Berkhof (p. 417) points out, "The doctrine of the order of salvation is a fruit of the Reformation." According to him (pp. 415-416):

"The ordo salutis describes the process by which the work of salvation, wrought in Christ, is subjectively realized in the hearts and lives of sinners. It aims at describing in their logical order, and also in their interrelations, the various movements of the Holy Spirit in the application of the work of redemption."

Aspects of salvation, such as calling, illumination, conversion, justification, election, faith, and regeneration are involved in the order of salvation. The Holy Spirit has a role in all of these aspects. Several views of the order of salvation have been developed. Horne presents (pp. 107-109) the Lutheran, Arminian, and Reformed views (see footnote).

Thiessen is probably representative of many evangelicals. He presents (p. 268) this order: (1) conversion, (2) justification, (3) regeneration, (4) union with Christ, (5) adoption, and (6) sanctification. The problem of establishing an order is very complex. According to Berkhof (p. 417), "the Bible does not specify the exact order that applies in the application of the work of redemption." Many scholars agree with this position.

Election and Free Will

The controversy in the Reformation over election and free will was without doubt one of the main catalysts for the development of the order of salvation. Entirely different orders of salvation result from the sides taken in this debate. The issue was much debated and continues to be a critical element in theology today.

An important aspect of the debate is whether regeneration precedes faith or faith precedes regeneration. Writing as a Calvinist, Hendriksen (John, p. 203) holds that regeneration "precedes even our God-given faith." In contrast, the Arminian view is that faith precedes regeneration.

The Holy Spirit

Currently, an important issue is when the Spirit is received with respect to the order of salvation. Many Evangelicals and Pentecostals hold to the order of salvation represented by Thiessen. Also, they recognize the work of the Spirit in drawing men to Christ and in His saving works. Many maintain that the believer receives the Spirit upon believing in Christ or at the time of regeneration. Sometimes it is said that the Spirit is received "in regeneration."

These views diverge, however, with regard to a second reception or further receptions. Pentecostals believe that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is a very experiential second reception. Virtually all Evangelicals believe that ongoing experience includes being filled with the Spirit, but some would restrict the term "receive" to the reception of the Spirit at regeneration.

The charismatic movement brought in a whole new set of viewpoints about reception of the Spirit. People from many Protestant denominations, the Catholic church, and the various Orthodox churches were filled with the Spirit. Very often these people wanted to fit the experience into their orders of salvation, their attitudes toward baptism and perhaps confirmation, and doctrines of the beginning of Christian life.

The New Testament Pattern

After studying the writings of Luke, John, and Paul concerning the Holy Spirit, I agree with the view that there is harmony between them. Each writer, under the inspiration of the Spirit, presents his emphasis. Together, the writers develop a complementary and comprehensive theology. Therefore, before we examine the data in Luke's writings about receiving the Spirit, we will briefly state the big picture. This will help us both to understand Luke and how he fits into the whole.

The Spirit Persuades

The Holy Spirit is presented by John as the powerful persuader. The Spirit, according to John, is the Spirit of Truth. Along with the Father (John 6:37, 44) and the Son (John 12:32), the Holy Spirit draws men to faith in Christ. In John 16:8-11 Jesus said:

8 "And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment;
9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me;
10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me;
11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged." NAU

The main point of this passage is that the Spirit persuasively presents the truth to the unbeliever. He speaks about sin, righteousness, and judgment. By making these points, he strikes the unbeliever's conscience. Thus, the Spirit is at work in drawing men to Christ.

The apostle Paul stresses the role of Spirit--empowered preaching in bringing men to Christ. In 1 Thessalonians 1:5, he states: "for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake." Elsewhere, he recognizes that prophecy is a gift of the Spirit. Then, he says (1 Corinthians 14:24), "But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all." NAU

The Doorway of Faith

When we look at the writings of the New Testament, one pattern emerges with regard to receiving the Spirit. The Spirit is given to the one who comes to saving faith in Christ. Or, to put it another way, faith in Christ is the doorway to receiving the Spirit. The following Scriptures support the point.

John 7:39. "But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified." NAU

Galatians 3:2. "This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?" NAU

Ephesians 1:13. "In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation-- having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise." NAU

Acts 2:38. "Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. NAU

Given this evidence, the issue is not whether or not faith precedes reception of the Spirit; clearly it does. The work of the Spirit prior to faith is not called a reception of the Spirit. Every reception of the Spirit comes in response to faith. The debated issues are in what way, how often, and with what purpose the Spirit is received.

The Double Gift

When we believe in Christ, we receive a double gift--we are united with Christ and indwelt by the Spirit. Through our union with Christ, He dwells within us. Christ and the Spirit (I Corinthians 12:13) are given together. When we receive this double gift, we become a Christian.

First, we are united with Christ. Although Paul does not expressly connect faith with union with Christ, he does repeatedly (Romans 6:11; 8:1 2; II Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:13; Colossians 2:11f) declare that believers are "in Christ." Also, Christ dwells in us (John 14:20; Romans 8:10; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 1:27). Thus, faith lies in the background.

According to Thiessen (p. 284), Scripture has little to say about how this union is established. However, citing Ephesians 1:4, he notes (p. 284) that the union "originated in the purpose and plan of God." In addition he (p. 284) states, "It begins in Christians when we are made alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:5)." Then, with regard to I Corinthians 6:17, he (p. 284) maintains that this verse "refers to the fact of our being joined to the Lord, but it does not say how we were thus joined."

Second, the one who comes to faith is indwelt by the Spirit. In Romans 8:9 Paul declares, "But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him." Here, Paul uses a present tense which expresses the importance of a current relationship. However, his statement also takes us back to the point of origin of Christian life. We deduce from the statement that anyone who belongs to Christ has the Spirit.

Also, we note that Paul uses the title "Spirit of Christ" for the Holy Spirit. The Spirit and Christ are two Persons of the one Godhead. The Spirit and Christ are different, yet the same. When one is present, in some sense the other is present. As Hunter expresses it (p. 211), there is "a dynamic interwovenness between Christ the Spirit."

Some hold that the indwelling of the Spirit is non-experiential. It is often, and perhaps always, unperceived by either the recipient or observers, but along with union with Christ, it is a decisive factor in his becoming a Christian. We usually call this indwelling a reception of the Spirit. A highly experiential reception may happen immediately or come later.

The Spirit at Work

When a believer is indwelt by Christ and the Spirit, several works of the Spirit take place. Also, we note that the Spirit is present in the works that He performs. It is not our purpose to put these in any sequence, either logical or chronological. The believer is regenerated, justified, sanctified, and adopted. All of these works have both their beginning and their ongoing expressions.


When a person believes in Christ, the Triune God makes men alive and gives them life. The Father (Ephesians 2:5) is involved in making men alive. Because Christ is a life giving Spirit (I Corinthians 15:45), He gives life to the believer. The Spirit, too, gives life. The believer is regenerated and continually renewed (Titus 3:5 6) by the outpoured Spirit.


The Spirit has a role in justification. As the Reformers understood justification (Hunter, p. 238), it is forensic and positional. Whether or not justification includes any moral change is sometimes debated. Arndt and Gingrich (p. 196) define dikaiousthai as "be acquitted, be pronounced and treated as righteous and thereby become dikaios [righteous], receive the divine gift of dikaiosune [righteousness]." Commenting on this definition, Cole (p. 81) writes:

This reflects the modern swing from a purely forensic understanding of the verb (which could, at extremes, resemble a legal fiction) to a realization that it is fundamentally a ‘salvation word', closely connected with the biblical concept of grace. Without obliterating the biblical distinction between justification and sanctification, it is important to realize that being ‘put right' with God involves a subsequent total change in our moral behaviour (though this in itself could never commend us to God).

Much depends on the context in which Paul uses the word. As an initial act of God, justification refers to our position in Christ. According to Thiessen (pp. 275-276), justification involves: (1) the remission of the penalty for sin, (2) the restoration to God's favor, and (3) the imputation of righteousness. The result of justification is a new standing. This does not alter the need to become righteous in experience.

As in regeneration, the three persons of the Godhead are involved. We have a righteousness from God (Philippians 3:9) on the basis of faith in Christ. We are justified by the grace of God (Romans 3:24) and the blood of Christ (Romans 5:9). The Spirit is involved as well. We were (I Corinthians 6:11) "justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God."


Another aspect of the saving event is sanctification. As with regeneration and justification, all three persons of the Godhead (Romans 15:16; I Corinthians 1:30; 6:11; I Thessalonians 5:23) are involved in sanctification.

According to Thiessen (p. 287): "Broadly speaking, we may define sanctification as a separation to God, an imputation of Christ as our holiness, purification from moral evil, and conformation to the image of Christ." As Thiessen points out (p. 289), sanctification is both an act and a process; it is both positional and progressive.

Whether or not the initial moment of sanctification includes any actual moral transformation is debated. According to Hunter (p. 254), both initial sanctification and the process are concerned with the actual change effected in man. In my view the initial moment of sanctification is primarily positional, but this does not preclude moral transformation. The process of sanctification is primarily a matter of inner transformation.


Adoption is another aspect of salvation. Our adoption has to do with our being placed as sons of God (Romans 8:15, 23; 9:4; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5). As Thiessen states (p. 285), "It would appear that Paul regarded the Old Testament believers as ‘children,' but nevertheless as ‘minors'; but the New Testament believers he regarded as both ‘children' and ‘adult sons.'" An advantage of sonship is deliverance from the law (Galatians 4:3-5). Our adoption when we come to faith is judicial. However, when our bodies are redeemed (Romans 8:23), adoption takes on an experiential aspect.

It is God the Father (Ephesians 1:5) who "predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself." Both the Father and the Son (Galatians 4:1 7) have a part in making the adoption possible. In Romans 8:15 Paul says, "you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!'" Although the emphasis of this passage is on the Spirit who makes us conscious of our sonship, we cannot exclude the role of the Spirit in making us sons. The Spirit clearly has a part in our future realization (Romans 8:11, 23) of adoption, the redemption of our bodies. This leads us to believe that the Spirit had a part in the adoption when men come to faith as well.

Already-Not Yet

A central concept in the theology of Paul is that some things have "already" happened, but they have "not yet" been fully consummated. The tension between what has already happened and what is yet to be realizes applies to all aspects of salvation. Our salvation is in three tenses--past, present, and future. When we believed in Christ, we were saved, now we are being saved, and we will be saved.

The concept of "already-not yet" applies to our reception of the Spirit Himself. The Spirit draws us to Christ. Upon coming to faith in Christ, we are indwelt by the Spirit. A relationship with the Spirit begins. We are immediately eligible for a highly experiential reception of the Spirit.

Moreover, our experience with the Spirit has its ongoing expression. As Lederle (p. 238-239) states: "The charisms of the Spirit are gifts that are distributed, yet we are called to earnestly desire these gifts and to exercise them." The apostle Paul exhorted (II Timothy 1:6) Timothy to "kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you."

Luke's Perspective

According to Marshall, the main theme in Luke-Acts is salvation. He writes (p. 19): "our point is that Luke's concern is basically with the salvation established by the work of Jesus as an experience available to men." Further, he states (p. 214) that "in the end Acts is the story of the growth of the church because it is the story of the spread of salvation. In Acts salvation becomes a reality."

Our question is not whether or not Luke is concerned about salvation. It is, rather, to find out what the role of the Spirit in salvation is. We must look at three issues: (1) becoming a Christian, (2) the inner work of salvation, and (3) the empowerment of witnesses.

Becoming a Christian

With regard to Luke's approach, two questions emerge. One is, "What must a person do to become a Christian? Another way to phrase the question is, "What must I do to be saved?" The second question is, "How is reception of the Spirit related to becoming a Christian?"

Actually, Luke uses the term Christian only twice. When Paul was speaking to King Agrippa, the King said (Acts 26:28): "In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian." In addition Luke says (Acts 11:26) that the disciples "were first called Christians in Antioch."

The more common terms that Luke uses for a Christian are "disciple" and "believer." Luke identifies five specific people as disciples: Ananias (Acts 9:16), Saul (Acts 9:26), Tabitha (Acts 9:36), Timothy (Acts 16:1), and Mnason of Cyprus (Acts 21:6). In addition he uses the term "disciples" twenty-five times.

Luke often uses the words "believe," "believed," and the imperative "believe." Twice he refers to the "believers" (Acts 5:14 and 10:45). He refers twenty-two times to those who "have believed" or "had believed."

When the Ethiopian eunuch asked (Acts 8:36), "'What prevents me from being baptized?'" Philip responded (Acts 8:37), "'If you believe with all your heart, you may.'" The Ethiopian answered (Acts 8:37), "'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.'" Because the eunuch made this confession of faith, Philip baptized him in water.

The Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas (Acts 16:30), "'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?'" Whatever he intended by the question, Paul and Silas answered in terms of salvation. They said, "'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.'" According to Marshall (p. 215), "the Book of Acts is itself a means of salvation to those who hear the gospel in it and make the same response as the Philippian jailer."

Clearly, faith in Christ is a crucial step in becoming a Christian. Of course, this includes repentance and turning to God. Moreover, we must recognize the divine initiative that often confronts people with the claims of Christ. However, Luke does not say that one must receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to become a Christian.

The Inner Work

Not much is said by Luke about the direct role of the Spirit in the regeneration and spiritual maturity of the saints. Nothing that Luke says is contradictory to what John and Paul say, but he does not deal with these areas of the Holy Spirit's work.

Realizing this, we may ask why? Luke does not say, but a couple of reasons appear probable. First, he was writing the history of the expansion of the church and the accomplishment of Christ's mission. Given this, it is not surprising that he does not develop the doctrine of the Spirit in salvation itself. Second, it was Paul who became the church's leading theologian on these matters. Perhaps Luke just preferred to let him be the spokesman. Here are some of the themes Luke does not expound.

First, Luke recognizes the role of empowered witness in drawing men to Christ, but He does not directly connect the Spirit with this function. In Acts 16:14 Luke writes (Acts 16:14), "A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul." NAU Instead of saying that the "Spirit" opened her heart, Luke says that the "Lord" did it.

Second, a major concern in John's gospel is new life. In response to comments made by Nicodemus (John 3:5), "Jesus answered, "'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.'" NAU It is the Spirit who brings about the new birth. Later Jesus declared (John 6:63) "'It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.'" NAU

A similar point is made by the apostle Paul. In Titus 3:5-6, Paul speaks about the outpouring of the Spirit in connection with regeneration. The Holy Spirit was poured out upon us in regenerating power. Paul declares:

5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,
6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.

Luke is very concerned about salvation. The disciples are empowered to preach the gospel in such a way that men are confronted with the claims of Christ. They must make a decision. He does not, however, speak about the new birth.

Luke does not expound the theme of new life and regeneration. Some people might think that Luke 3:16 is an exception. Here John the Baptist foretells that Jesus would baptize people in the Holy Spirit. The result would be that the wheat and chaff will be separated. Many believe that the Spirit cleanses the hearts of the people called wheat. Whatever John the Baptist had in mind, the application made by Jesus has to do with the Spirit empowering people to be witnesses. Through this witness, the wheat and the chaff are separated.

Third, Luke says little about the salvation works of the Spirit. We find this theme fully treated in Paul's writings. When we come to faith in Christ, the Spirit is involved in our justification, sanctification, and adoption. In I Corinthians 6: 9 Paul says the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Then, he says (I Corinthians 6:11), "Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God." The Spirit, along with Jesus, has a strong role in salvation. The Spirit has a role in our present and future adoption (Roman 8:15 and 23) as well.

Empowered Witnesses

The purpose of Luke is to tell the story of missions. The church is to fulfill the Great commission. The story is about Jesus, the church, and the spread of salvation. Luke's emphasis is on empowerment more rather than the inner work of salvation. The Spirit empowered Jesus for His ministry, and the Spirit empowers the apostles and the disciples to be witnesses.

The key verse is Acts 1:8 where Jesus says: "but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." NAU The entire Book of Acts reports the amazing story of the spread of the gospel.

When people hear the gospel, they can accept or reject the message. In effect they are resisting (Acts 7:51) the influence of the Spirit. To be sure, the Spirit touches their lives through the Spirit-inspired Word. Thus, through the gospel proclamation, the Spirit has a role in drawing men to Christ.


The subject of receiving the Spirit is very much interrelated with the theology of becoming a Christian. Without attempting to establish a full order of salvation, we would make the following points. The Holy Spirit draws a person to faith in Christ. When the person believes, he receives the coordinate gifts of being united with Christ and indwelt by the Spirit. Moreover, the Spirit is at work in the major elements of the saving event. The indwelling of he Spirit may well be a quiet kind of encounter. However, the believer is eligible for and should expect a more experiential reception of the Spirit. In Luke's writings, he puts a special emphasis on crisis encounters with the Spirit.

George M. Flattery


Horne presents (pp. 107-109) the Lutheran, Arminian, and Reformed views with regard to the order of salvaion. He summarizes these views as follows:


Calling. In Christ, God is reconciled to the world of humanity. God proclaims this fact to man in the gospel and He offers to put man in possession of that forgiveness and righteous standing historically accomplished in Christ. This call to salvation always brings a certain measure of saving grace to all who hear the Word, a grace which enables the sinner to respond to the message but a grace which also may be resisted.
Illumination. The call of God is always accompanied with a certain measure of illumination and quickening so that one may understand both the wrath and the grace of God.
Conversion (repentance). If the grace of God contained in the word of the gospel is not resisted, it frequently results in repentance and conversion.
Regeneration. Conversion may issue in regeneration (new birth) by which the Holy Spirit grants faith in the gospel.
Justification. The four preceding steps (calling, illumination, conversion, regeneration) are a preparatory process. When there is faith, justification follows immediately. It involves the forgiveness of sins and the title to eternal life on the basis of the righteousness of Christ embraced by faith.
Mystical union. This saving faith also bring mystical union with Christ.
Renovation. This is the power to promote one's process of sanctification. Good works necessarily result from a living faith in Christ.
Conservation. The permanent passion of these blessing is conditioned by the continued exercise of faith on the part of man. If he ceases to exercise faith, a man may lose his salvation.


External call. The external call of the gospel is accompanied by a universal sufficient grace which can however be resisted. This grace is called prevenient.
Repentance and faith. These two conscious responses of man precede regeneration . . .
Sanctification. The believer is able, in sanctification, to attain in this life a state of perfection--perfect love.
Perseverance. As long as a believer lives he may fall away from grace so as to lose his salvation.


Calling. This is general and effectual.
Regeneration. It is the implantation of the principle of life by the Spirit in the heart of the elect. (A. Kuyper reverses calling and regeneration.)
Conversion. This is repentance and faith.
Justification. It is the constitutive and declarative act whereby sinners are reckoned righteous.
Sanctification. This is the progressive growth in holiness of life; a renewal after the image of Christ.
Perseverance. This is the eternal preservation of the saints through the faithfulness of God.
Glorification. This is the final redemption of the saints in the totality of their being--body, soul, and /or Spirit.

For Further Study

Arndt, William F. and Gingrich, F. Wilbur. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Cambridge: The University of Chicago Press, 1957.
Berkhof, Hendrikus. The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1964.
Hendriksen, William. . Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1961.
Horne, Charles M. Salvation Chicago: Moody Press, 1971.
Hunter, Herold D. Spirit-Baptism: A Pentecostal Alternative. Lanham: University Press of America, 1963.
Lederle, H. L. Treasures New and Old. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1988. Marshall, I. Howard. Luke: Historian and Theologian. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1988. Original copyright, 1970.
Thiessen, Clarence. Lectures in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977.

© Copyright 2003. GMF.