This SEEMING contradiction has puzzled many but we believe the SOLUTION to this problem is simple. In the Book of Acts the Holy Spirit was received (as we shall see) in THREE different ways because it was a “transitional period” where God had special reasons for imparting the Spirit differently to various groups of believers. As time went on the Holy Spirit was given immediately to those who, as you say, “accept Christ as our personal Lord and Savior.” The Apostle Paul teaches this clearly and emphatically in Ephesians 1:13, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, HAVING BELIEVED, YOU WERE SEALED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT OF PROMISE” (NKJV). Let’s take a look at the three ways the Holy Spirit was given during the early church period as recorded in the Book of Acts.

1) In Acts 2:38 we read, “Then Peter said to them, ‘REPENT, and let every one of you be BAPTIZED in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and YOU SHALL RECEIVE THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.” Here we see that “repentance and baptism” preceded the reception of the Holy Spirit. Many believe (including the writer of this answer) that baptism, which is an outward confession of Christ as Lord, was a condition given to those Jews that day because of their former rejection of Christ as a nation. They were still “saved by grace through faith” (see Ephesians 2:8), but the Holy Spirit was withheld from them until they publicly declared their faith in Christ by being baptized.

2) In Acts 8:14-17 we read, “Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then THEY LAID HANDS ON THEM, AND THEY RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT.” We see this same pattern in Acts 19:1-3, 6, “And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ So they said to him, ‘We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit….And WHEN PAUL HAD LAID HANDS ON THEM, THE HOLY SPIRIT CAME UPON THEM.” In both of these cases the “laying on of the hands of an apostle” preceded the reception of the Holy Spirit. Why was this necessary? One valid reason may be TO AVOID A DIVISION. Let’s remember there was a definite division between the Jews and Samaritans (see John 4:9) and the Jews and Gentiles (see Ephesians 2:11-12). God used the Jewish apostles in both cases to convey the Holy Spirit in order to show the Samaritans and these men who would be part of a Gentile church in Ephesus THE UNITY BETWEEN THE CHURCH AT JERUSALEM AND THE CHURCH IN SAMARIA AND EPHESUS. This would result in a healing of these age-long divisions.

3) In Acts 10:43-44 we read, “To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins. While Peter was still speaking these words, THE HOLY SPIRIT FELL UPON ALL THOSE WHO HEARD THE WORD.” Here we see the pattern outlined in Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 1:13, for those who heard Peter preach the gospel “believed and were sealed with the Holy Spirit.” They did NOT need to be baptized or have Peter lay his hands on them; they simply needed to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit.” Because Paul specifically taught this pattern in Ephesians 1:13, we firmly believe this is the pattern for today.  (349.5)  (DO)