In this week’s reading we came across a passage that has caused much discussion and debate within churches for generations.
Acts 8:14-17 says “Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayer for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”
At first glance, this passage seems to teach that the Holy Spirit comes after salvation, at least for some who believe in Jesus. There are some Christian denominations, full of people who love the lord, that have used this passage as a proof-text for what is often referred to as the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and consider it a second baptism that is followed by the sign gift of speaking in tongues (proving the Spirit has come on the believer). This isn’t what we teach at Tribes, and here is why: We believe Scripture interprets Scripture.
Anytime you come across a text that is difficult to understand, before making assumptions on how to apply it to your life, consider other passages of Scripture that speak to the topic. In this case, we should study the following:
Ephesians 4:4-5 “There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–one Lord, one faith, one baptism…”
This passage clarifies that there is only one baptism for our faith, not two or more. We aren’t baptized in Christ and then later baptized in the Holy Spirit. Baptism is a singular act which is an outward announcement of an inward commitment. In baptism the individual announces Jesus as Lord, and is baptized not only into Jesus, but also into his body, the church. Also, in baptism, the person doing the baptism proclaims, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” again, declaring the unity of baptism.
Ephesians 1:13 “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, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
Here we discover that, from the moment we believe in the Good News of Jesus, we are given the promised Holy Spirit. This doesn’t happen some time later, it is at the moment of salvation for all believers.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
Again, we read that we all have the Spirit of God literally dwelling within us just as he did in the Temple of the Old Testament. The Spirit is in all who believe, whose sins are forgiven by Jesus, purchased with the high price of his death.
One final verse from the book we’ve been reading together this Summer.
Acts 2:38 “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Peter makes clear in his address on Pentecost, that all who repent and believe in Jesus, and are baptized, will receive the Holy Spirit.
So, what are we to make of Acts 8, where the believers in Samaria are baptized in the name of Jesus but don’t yet receive the Spirit. It is an odd, and seemingly singular occurrence (not the normal pattern) and should be dealt with as such.
God can do whatever he sees fit to do. In this case God seemed to have a specific purpose in delaying the coming of the Spirit to the Samaritan believers. It seems probable that God delayed the coming of the Spirit on the Samaritan believers for the sake of unity in the church.
Historically Jews looked down on Samaritans, viewing them as half-blood cousins who intermarried other nations and followed their gods. The early church was a distinctly Jewish movement that followed a Jewish rabbi, Jesus. While gentiles came to faith in Jesus’ ministry, the predominant people group were Jews who were awaiting the Messiah’s reign in Jerusalem.
In delaying the coming of the Spirit, God instructed Peter and John to go and witness the authentic salvation happening as Samaritans repented and followed Jesus. As they witnessed what was happening, it was a clear move of the Spirit of God, and they responded in unifying prayer that God’s Spirit would fall on them. God allowing Peter and John (as leaders of the Church in Jerusalem) to bear witness brought clear unity between diverse people groups, and made it abundantly clear God was moving. This was affirmed by the authority God gave to the church, the Apostles, who agreed with what God was doing in Samaria.
That day the church became a diverse, multi-ethnic movement which would continue through it’s formation. God’s plan to delay the coming of his Spirit brought unity to people groups that otherwise could have allowed division in the church.
Before closing, I want to give one quick word on being filled with the Spirit. We believe the Holy Spirit is alive and active today. He is given to all who believe, and dwells in the life of every believer. That said, while being “filled” by the Spirit initially happens for all at Salvation, it is not a one time thing. The Holy Spirit is constantly filling believers, empowering them to be a witness for Jesus. Often we are filled as we gather with others to worship Jesus, study God’s word, and take the Lord’s Supper together. At times we are filled in our private prayer times, and other times it happens as we step out in faith to share the hope we have in Jesus or to serve in some way. Believers constantly need to be filled with the Holy Spirit, much like a car constantly needs to be refilled with gas. We don’t control how or when he fills us, but it is our responsibility to make ourselves available and seek his gifting in our life.