So where are we? It is clear to me that receiving the Holy Spirit is not an automatic thing. This is probably why Luke uses the active voice in the Greek verb for receive so often when referring to people receiving the Spirit. It is something the receiver must do. It is not done to them. Then it would be in the passive voice. When you receive you take what is offered. It can be offered, but if you do not take it, it yours but you have not yet received it. Or you take only the part that you understand, or see. Like the Ephesian disciples, they didn’t even know what they were missing. Yet missing it they were. Paul must have noticed something lacking in order for him to ask the question, Did you receive the Spirit when you believed? How could he even ask such a question if it were automatic? Could an Evangelical ever ask such a question? Not hardly. So to my way of thinking the Evangelical position that you automatically receive the Spirit when you believe is faulty. If it was automatic, then no one would have thought to look and see if the Samaritans had actually received the Spirit.
Yet how can this be if, as Paul seems to insist, that receiving the Spirit is foundational – essential – basic – definitive – of our life in Christ? According to the current Evangelical position on salvation, you are not saved if you do not have the Spirit, you are not part of the body of Christ, not translated into the kingdom of the Son, and not a recipient of the new covenant. Pretty serious stuff. Due to the serious doctrinal nature of the reception of the Spirit, how can one say that a Christian would not have the Spirit?
So it appears that Paul and Luke cannot be reconciled. I cannot accept this. In Luke’s telling of the things that Paul did and the things that happened to him, Paul and Luke are in agreement. This leaves me no alternative than to say that the common Evangelical understanding of soteriology, how salvation is to be understood, is in error. Paul’s own statements in Acts cannot be made by the Paul envisioned by the Evangelical.
But where is the error? Here are some suggestions:
1. Receiving Jesus is not the same as receiving the Spirit. When my oldest son was four years old he asked me if Jesus was in his heart. I said that He was. Then he asked me if Jesus is in heaven. I said that that was true too. He then responded by saying that this was really tricky. Our encounter with Jesus is through the Spirit, yet we receive Jesus.
2. That being born of the Spirit and being baptized in the Spirit are not the same thing.
3. That conversion is not necessarily punctilliar, a single turning point, but a complex of events/experiences/beliefs that may or may not happen simultaneously. The baptism in the Spirit is part of our conversion in that it is the part where we receive the down payment of our inheritance as a child of God.
4. That the theme of the already/but not yet that pervades our understanding of the kingdom is applicable not only in the macro scale but also in the individual or micro scale.
5. That the baptism in the Holy Spirit has more to do with the blessings and powers of the kingdom than effecting our salvation.
6. That some verses that could grammatically indicate that receiving the Spirit is based on our salvation or being a child of God actually mean that. In Eph 1:13-14 NIV it reads “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession — to the praise of his glory.” Having believed could also be translated after you believed based on your understanding of the context. See also Gal 4:6 “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." Yet to teach subsequence by these verses is more than they can bear.