“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38)
Some Calvinist friends are of the opinion that God is the one selecting whom to save and provides the holy Spirit to the chosen individuals – and in this fashion enables them to believe (while he shows no courtesy to the others who are chosen to be non-elect before they are even born). The Bible, however, teaches that God does not want anyone to perish and that the holy Spirit is given to a person after he/she has repented (after having come to Christ and confessed his/her sins). You can read my article about regeneration (being born again after having been cleansed from sins) here.
Based on the Bible we can deduce that the presence of the holy Spirit (the holy Ghost) operates in different ways between the old and the new testaments (this deserves an article of its own). Suffice is to say that one could of course be saved also during the time of the old testament, before the time of Jesus Christ who later died, was resurrected and provided the holy Ghost as our individual Helper. Before his time, there was a lot of focus on the prophets of God who could provide extra light on the Torah. Faith leading to righteousness has always been required for salvation ever since the time of Adam.
2 Pet. 1:21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
John 16:7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.8 And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:—.13 Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.
Acts 1:8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
Acts 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Cornelius – faith and righteousness before the indwelling of the holy Spirit
The apostle Peter describes the truth about salvation “in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him”. The ability to do this was available both in the old and the new testament, even if the holy Spirit operates in a different way today compared to the old times. One difference is that people did not speak in tongues in the old times, and miracles and healing were primarily connected to the prophets and holy men of God.
The story about Cornelius (Acts 10) is enough for us to understand that a person can believe in God, do many good works – before having been baptized in the holy Spirit.
Acts 10:1 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,2 A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.3 He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius.4 And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.—22 And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee.—33 Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:35 But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.—44 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.45 And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.46 For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.
Here is more evidence that faith precedes the indwelling of the holy Ghost:
Acts 19:1 And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples,2 He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.3 And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism.4 Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.
John 7:37 In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.38 He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.39 (But this spake he of the Spirit, WHICH THEY THAT BELIEVE ON HIM SHOULD RECEIVE: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)
Acts 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Heb. 11 he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently SEEK him.
Acts 17:26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us. —30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent
Acts 8:22 Repent therefore of this thy wickedness and pray God if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee
2 Tim 2:20 But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour.21 IF a man therefore purges himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.
Romans 12:2And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
James 4:8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded
Jeremiah 4:14 Wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved
Ezekiel 18:31 Make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die…
Rev. 2:21 And I gave her SPACE TO REPENT of her fornication and she repented not. 22 Behold I will cast her into a bed and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation except they repent of their DEEDS
Notice below that the order of events is 1) enlightenment to every man who comes into the world, 2) reception and belief in Jesus Christ, 3) resulting in becoming the sons of God (thanks to being cleansed and pardoned):
John 1:9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name
Notice also that “his own” did not receive him. If that would signify the chosen elect, it is strange why God did not enable them (predestine them) to believe in him. It rather seems like it is our own responsibility – to react on God’s calling. This is not the same as “saving ourselves” without God. We do not have the authority to forgive ourselves for our own sins, and we cannot be born again without the grace of God and unless he provides the opportunity for us to have all of our sins erased.