When Do We Receive the Holy Spirit and What Is the Primary Purpose?


I am taking a doctrine and theology class and some of the teachings are raising questions in my reformed faith. I am wondering, at what point in ones life do we receive the Holy Spirit? And what is the primary purpose of the Holy Spirit? 

Posted in:

The Network hosts user-submitted content.
Posts don't necessarily imply CRCNA endorsement, but must comply with our community guidelines.

Let's Discuss…

We love your comments! Thanks for your help upholding the Community Guidelines to make this an encouraging and respectful community for everyone.

Alex, that's a great question and one that I'm glad you're getting the opportunity to wrestle with.  Maybe the first thing that we should look at is defining our terms.    What do you mean when you use the phrase "receive the Holy Spirit"?  There is, shall we say, a lot of freight in that truck.  It's a phrase that not only appears in Scripture but has taken on nuances of meaning from various theological traditions...pentecostalism, etc., as well as specific meanings in more liturgical traditions.  So to unload the truck a bit, what's the particular understanding of that phrase that you're wrestling with?


In terms of the primary purpose of the Holy Spirit, that's another important discussion.  I guess off the bat I've been helped by Max Ander's illustration of the spotlights that ring the Washington Monument.  The spotlights do not draw attention to themselves but to the monument.  In the same way the Spirit is "the shy member of the Trinity", tending to draw attention not to himself but to the work and the person of Christ.  Christ says that "he will take what is mine and make it known to you".

Do we receive the HS at baptism or our second birth (as in profession of faith and our acceptance of Jesus)? 


Hey Alex,

Good questions to be asking! I grew up in a different tradition and was taught a few things that I later found were very much less than biblical. Regardless of the label "Reformed" or not (which is also a nuanced term depending on who you speak to) our goal should be to define according to the standard of God's Word.

Biblically understood, one receives the Holy Spirit by an act of God's grace and not as a response to our faith. The tradition I grew up in sadly reversed this order and made it seem as though the new birth (being born again) takes place once you repent and believe. However, biblically understood (read John 3 for example which talks about the new birth) we are dead in our trespasses and sins and are not capable of such things and need to be made alive to the things of God and thus are given the Holy Spirit as a gracious gift of God's choosing according to nothing more than His good pleasure. What takes place as a result of the new birth are also gifts: repentance and faith.

While the word is not found in the bible, historically theologians have called this "regeneration," another term for being born again, or made alive by God's Spirit.

Hope that helps. Not sure if the second question can be narrowed down to one primary role that the Holy Spirit does within the role of the Triune God. He leads us in all truth, empowers for gospel ministry, glorifies the Son and proceeds from the Father and the Son and countless other things.



Also as a side note Alex, you mentioned when in one's life does this take place. Truth be told, we may not be aware of or know when this takes place. For example, there is a good chance (and many theologians believe this) that the Holy Spirit could be given in the womb as in the case of the baby in the womb of Elizabeth when she was greeted by Mary who was pregnant with Jesus at the time. (see Luke 1:39 and on) In such a case the baby who would have been regenerate by the Holy Spirit would rightfully respond in faith when he would grow to understand and first hear the gospel (as faith comes by hearing of the Word.) For others, this may take place later in life as an adult who never grew up trusting in Jesus, and upon hearing the Word of God, they respond in faith because at some point prior to that (we don't know when/could happen immediately prior) such a person's heart had been changed from a dead heart of stone to a heart of flesh, made alive by the power of God to see, hear and respond in faith. Does that make sense?