While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul went through the inland regions and came to Ephesus. He found some disciples there and said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul said, “Into what then were you baptized?” “Into John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and when Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they began to speak in tongues and to prophesy. (Acts 19:1-6 NET)
Many people today are like these people in Ephesus, they know little or nothing about the Holy Spirit and have not received Him as a Helper and Teacher, as God intended. As a test of where these people were in spiritually, Paul asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” When they answered that they had not even heard of the Holy Spirit, Paul knew that something was fundamentally wrong. On the day the Church began (Pentecost), people were told to repent, be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins, and that they would then receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:37,38). As Paul discovered, these people had heard of the preaching and baptism of John the Baptist, but were completely ignorant of the teaching of Jesus that came afterwards. Today, we know something is fundamentally wrong when people who claim to be Christians have little or no experience of God’s Spirit.
Water baptism is connected to the Holy Spirit, it is a preparatory act for the baptism in the Holy Spirit, not an isolated act. When Paul rebaptized these people in Jesus’ name, and laid his hands on them, they were baptized in the Holy Spirit, indicating that they had been doing their best with the limited knowledge that had had. It is important for all of us to realize that the Holy Spirit is absolutely necessary for every Christian—without Him we are like a puzzle with a missing part, or a car without gasoline. We should not neglect the gift of God’s Spirit.
Another interesting aspect of this passage is Paul’s interest in leading these newly acquired friends to the Spirit. When we have God’s Spirit we look for opportunities to share Him with others, sharing all that we know.