The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts

Lesson ▪ 2000
Tags: Holy Spirit; Acts; Power; Christian life; Church; Ministry
Excerpted from The Holy Spirit in the New Testament
Related Resources: The Filling of the SpiritSpeaking for the Lord: The Prerequisite of Spiritual Fullness


There is a lot of controversy concerning the role of the Holy Spirit in Christian life--both personal and corporate. This lesson will summarize the teaching of Acts on the Holy Spirit, emphasizing the Spirit’s baptism, the Spirit’s filling, and the Spirit’s power.

The Holy Spirit in Acts: The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

The book of Acts establishes the pattern that the Holy Spirit is imparted to genuine believers at the time of their conversion. This pattern is reinforced in several ways.

  • The imparting of the Holy Spirit to believers was foretold by Jesus before His ascension, a fact that Luke was careful to note (Acts 1:4-5: “ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence”). This promise was obviously fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost (2:1-4). Through the power of the Spirit the disciples spoke “with other tongues” (2:4). Peter interpreted this phenomenon as the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32 (2:16-21).
  • From Pentecost forward it became the norm that believers receive the Holy Spirit at the time of their conversion. At Pentecost Peter identified the receipt of the Holy Spirit as a consequence of salvation (2:37-39; note the language of conversion: “repent,” “remission of sins,” “call”). The apostles subsequently referred to the Holy Spirit as God’s gift to those who obey Him--presumably, by trusting Christ for salvation (5:32). Peter’s confrontation with Simon the sorcerer establishes without ambiguity the fact that the Holy Spirit is a gift given freely to believers (8:18-24).
  • The conversion of the first Gentiles in Cornelius’s home was accompanied by the falling of the Holy Spirit (10:44-48). Peter later reflected on this event, equating it with what occurred to the Jewish believers on the Day of Pentecost (11:15-18; 15:7-9).
  • A few variations from the norm are recounted in Acts, but these serve merely to reinforce the norm. Those who came to faith in the Samaritan revival did not experience the baptism of the Spirit immediately. Rather, the Spirit was imparted to them through the laying on of Peter and John’s hands (8:12, 14-17). Saul received the Spirit through the mediation of Ananias three days after his conversion (9:17). Perhaps the most puzzling impartation of the Spirit concerned a dozen or so disciples of John the Baptist (19:1-6). These men professed to have believed and had been baptized, but had no knowledge of the Spirit. Craig Blomberg suggests that they were not truly converted until their encounter with Paul (346). After trusting in Christ and being baptized, they received the Holy Spirit through the imposition of Paul’s hands. The fact that Luke described these incidents in some detail suggests that they were exceptional.
  • In summary, most converts in Acts were baptized with the Spirit at the moment they came to faith in Christ. The instances when water baptism and/or the laying on of hands preceded the impartation of the Spirit were extraordinary.

The Holy Spirit in Acts: The Filling of the Holy Spirit

The book of Acts illustrates that the Holy Spirit works his will by filling believers with His presence and power. Christians should therefore seek to be filled with the Spirit on a continual basis.

  • When Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit he boldly proclaimed Jesus as Christ to the Jewish leaders (4:8ff). When Paul was filled with the Spirit he confronted a sorcerer who was hindering the cause of evangelism (13:9ff).
  • The early church recognized the importance of designating faithful, Spirit-filled men to carry out the Lord’s work. The Jerusalem church refused to delegate food distribution to men who were less than Spirit-filled and wise (6:2-6). In addition, it selected Barnabas as its representative to Antioch because of his spirituality (11:22-24).
  • The filling of the Holy Spirit is associated with joy. The disciples experienced it even in the face of persecution (13:50-52).
  • The early church prayed for the filling of the Holy Spirit, seeking to represent the Lord boldly before the world (4:29-31). Paul made tentative plans in the Spirit; in other words, he sought the Spirit’s direction for his life (19:21).

The Holy Spirit in Acts: The Power of the Holy Spirit

The book of Acts demonstrates that the Holy Spirit leads and empowers the church for growth and service. The church’s success is vitally tied to its relationship with the Spirit.

  • The writer of Acts portrayed the Holy Spirit as the Source of spiritual power (1:8). He attributed Jesus’s success in ministry--particularly in training the apostles and performing healings--to the work of the Spirit (1:2; 10:38). Thus the earthly work of Christ serves as a model of ministry led and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
  • The Holy Spirit led and enabled the early Christians to witness boldly on behalf of Jesus (4:8ff; 5:30-32). Driven by the Spirit, Paul witnessed to the Corinthian Jews concerning the identity of Jesus as Messiah (18:5). The Spirit empowered Stephen’s message to his fellow Jews, forcing them to decide for or against Christ (6:8-10). Through the Spirit Paul confronted Elymas the sorcerer’s deceitful ways (13:9ff).
  • The Holy Spirit oversaw every aspect of the church’s advance in the first century. Acts specifically names Him as the Agent behind the church’s growth (9:31). The Spirit directed Philip to witness to the Ethiopian eunuch (8:29ff). He transported Philip from the desert to Azotus so he could engage in a preaching mission (8:39-40). He directed Peter to accompany men to Cornelius’s house, leading to the inclusion of Gentiles in the church (10:19-20; 11:12). He revealed to a prophet named Agabus that a famine was imminent, enabling the Antioch church to send relief to Jerusalem (11:27-30). He prevented Paul and his companions from pursuing their plans to minister in particular regions (16:6-7). And He warned Paul of the dangers of going to Jerusalem (20:22-23; 21:4, 10-11).
  • The church’s relationship with the Spirit is of paramount importance. This is perhaps nowhere more clearly portrayed than in the story of Ananias and Sapphira, who died because of their irreverence toward the Spirit (5:1-11). For the most part, however, the early church leaned heavily on the Spirit’s direction and empowerment. The Jerusalem church considered Spirit-filling to be so important that it required it of leaders who would perform seemingly insignificant tasks (6:2-6). It designated Barnabas, a Spirit-filled man, to journey to Antioch on its behalf (11:22-24). Its leaders sought the Spirit’s wisdom in making resolutions that would affect the Christian world of their day (15:28-29). The church at Antioch responded to the Spirit’s instruction to commission Barnabas and Saul for missionary service (13:1-4). And Paul recognized the Spirit’s role in appointing church leaders in Ephesus (20:28).

Learning Objectives

  1. To survey the core teachings of the book of Acts concerning the Holy Spirit.
  2. To clarify the distinction between the baptism and filling of the Spirit.
  3. To persuade participants of the vital role the Spirit plays in the life of the church.
  4. To encourage participants to seek the filling of the Spirit.