The Holy Spirit is that part of the Trinity that lives inside all believers. When and how He enters our hearts is debated for a couple of reasons. The first is the confusion over the terms "indwelled with the Holy Spirit," "filled with the Holy Spirit," and "baptized by the Holy Spirit." The second reason is the tendency of some to see the receiving the Holy Spirit in the early church as recorded in the book of Acts as the model for us today.
When do we receive the Holy Spirit?
Scripture clearly indicates that believers are indwelled with the Holy Spirit—that is, the Holy Spirit moves into their hearts—at the moment of conversion. "For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:13). All believers have the same spirit—the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13 is more specific about the exact moment we receive the Holy Spirit: "In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit." Romans 8:9 explains simply that "Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him."
If the Scriptures so plainly state that all believers have the Holy Spirit, why the controversy? There is a distinct difference between the Holy Spirit indwelling us and the Spirit filling us. The filling of the Holy Spirit was a tool used by God since the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 34:9, Joshua is filled with the Holy Spirit to take on Moses' responsibilities. In 1 Samuel 19:18-24, King Saul and his servants are filled with the Spirit and prophesy. And in Luke 1:15, the angel explains to Zacharias that his son, John the Baptist, will be filled with the Spirit. After Jesus' death and resurrection the Holy Spirit continued to fill people, including Peter (Acts 4:8), Paul (Acts 13:9), and the other disciples (Acts 13:52). This is different from the simple indwelling of the Spirit experienced by all believers. Some also confuse the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We believe it is the same as the indwelling of the Spirit, although others think it is more similar to the filling of the Spirit.
The book of Acts is a fascinating look into the change from the age of Judaism to the age of the Church. Jesus was a Jew. The disciples were Jews. But the Church is distinctly Christian. The disciples didn't become Christians until John 20:22 when Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into them. In Acts 2:4, they were filled with the Holy Spirit. In Acts 8:14-17, however, God waited to give the Samaritans the Holy Spirit until Peter and John could see. We aren't told why, although perhaps it was so these devout Jews could witness the coming of the Spirit upon a group of people so despised by them. Acts 10:45 seems to corroborate this as the "circumcised believers" (Jews) "were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles."
Today and always, we receive the Holy Spirit the moment we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. In John 3:5, Jesus says, "…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." When we accept Christ, God immediately seals us with His Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:22).
Who is the Holy Spirit?
What is the baptism of the Holy Spirit and when does someone receive it?
How does the Holy Spirit seal us? What is the seal of the Holy Spirit?
What is the role of the Holy Spirit? How is the Holy Spirit active in our lives today?
What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?
Truth about the Holy Spirit