19 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. 4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.
When Paul returns to Ephesus, he finds some "disciples" and asks them if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed. There is much debate among commentators whether or not they were believers in Jesus, or just disciples of John the Baptist. There are some passages in the bible that say apart from the Holy Spirit one cannot come to faith in Jesus Christ. But then the questions if Jesus says, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?", he seems to assume they had already come to faith.
When I was in seminary one of my professors said that in the book of Acts the Holy Spirit was very "messy". Meaning the Holy Spirit worked in lots of different ways with different people in different circumstances.
Here is a great summary of the different ways and order of the way people believed, were baptized and experienced the power of the Holy Spirit.
On the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) the believers, who had been baptized, received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues without the laying on of hands.
In Samaria (Acts 8) the people believed in Jesus and were baptized. Yet they did not receive the Holy Spirit until Peter and John came down and laid hands on them. There is no record that they spoke in tongues.
In Acts 10, the Holy Spirit fell upon the Gentiles while they were listening to the word. The Gentiles then spoke with tongues and were soon baptized. There was no laying on of hands in this case.
Disciples Of John
In Acts 19, the disciples of John the Baptist believed and were baptized. The Holy Spirit then came upon them when Paul laid his hands upon them and they spoke in tongues.
When we look at these four instances of the unique reception of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts, no pattern emerges:
Acts 2: received the Holy Spirit, spoke in tongues
Acts 8: baptized with water, hands laid on them, received the Spirit
Acts 10: received the Holy Spirit, spoke with tongues, baptized with water
Acts 19: baptized with water, hands laid on them, received the Spirit, spoke with tongues
For those who are linear and like A leads to B, B leads to C, and so on and so forth, this can be frustrating.
In the book of Acts, Christianity is moving from a predominantly Jewish faith, where a personal relationship with God was more reserved for the heroes in the faith. E.g. Abraham, David, Jacob, Daniel, to a deep personal experience of God's grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
In this new movement, God was now coming to all people through their faith in Jesus Christ, and receiving the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the person of God who comes to dwell in us, as we receive salvation through Christ. We are also given gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are evidence of His working in our lives. Our body is called a "temple of the Holy Spirit" pointing to the fact that the Spirit lives within us in a very organic way.
Sometimes people take from this passage that there is a "second baptism" in the Holy Spirit. In this case however, these 12 disciples in Ephesus are not baptized a second time, but are baptized in the name of Jesus once and for all. They were disciples of John, and like Apollos, they needed further instruction in their belief and baptism in Jesus. John's baptism was a preparatory baptism for repentance. Jesus' baptism was a cleaning and forgiveness from sin and a giving of God's gift of the Holy Spirit.
For some people this experience was very evident in its manifestation. E.g. Speaking in tongues. For others it was a deep conviction and assurance of their forgiveness and justification before God. The gifts we receive from the Holy Spirit take time and practice to develop and cultivate. We all learn to live in deeper dependence on the Holy Spirit throughout our whole lives. We learn to pray and read the bible with the Holy Spirit's help. We share our faith using the Holy Spirit to guide our sharing.
You can see the Holy Spirit is not something we can bottle up and put in our own little boxes. While there are certain clear principles regarding the person of the Holy Spirit and It's work in our lives.The bible says, "The wind blows where it wants to, you don't know where it comes from or where it goes, so it is with those who are born of the Spirit." John 3:8 So there is a mysterious nature to the Holy Spirit. And yet since the Holy Spirit is part of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit will never act in a manner inconsistent with God the Father, and God the Son. I am hope you are not even more confused! LOL!