he issue of how the Holy Spirit works is one that many have contended for years. I get it that people read the Scriptures in different ways and come up with interpretations at odds with each other. Still, it seems to me that when we use some logic in certain passages, that should give us a more common understanding. No doubt, many will continue to disagree with what I explain here, but it’s certainly clear to me. If you have read anything else by me previously, you’ll know that I don’t shrink from these contentious subjects. With this caveat that what I’m about to discuss causes disagreement, we’ll dive in.
Of course, given the verse as the title for this piece, you’ve probably already suspected that I’m dealing with the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. As I said, I know that many disagree with this whole issue surrounding how the Holy Spirit works. Is there a separate Spirit baptism? Do salvation and Baptism of the Spirit happen simultaneously? When does this phenomenon happen, if it does at all, etc?
We’re looking specifically in Acts 8 today for what occurred in Samaria. A magician by the name of Simon had mesmerized people for years, proclaiming his great deeds and how wonderful he was. When Philip came and performed signs and wonders that were actually of the Lord, they far exceeded anything Simon had done. People turned to Christ, and even Simon wanted a piece of what others were experiencing.
Here’s where we get to the first schism. In Acts 8:12-13 we see:
But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.
First question: When these people believed and were baptized, were they born again? In other words, did they experience true salvation?
Second question: When Simon believed, was he saved?
Third question: What does it take to be saved?
Summary question: In either of these two instances, did the Holy Spirit come to dwell within any of these people?
I think we have to answer question #3 first. What does it take to be saved? If we travel down in the text a little further, we see Peter’s admonition to Simon in Acts 8:22:
“Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.”
I’ve always maintained that true repentance is the key to salvation. Without repentance there is none. From this verse, I think we can conclude two things:
- Simon had not previously repented. Thus, though he believed, he had not experienced salvation, i.e. he had not been born again.
- Because this rebuke came only to him and not to any of the others present, I think that they had repented and had entered the Kingdom of God through the salvation experience.
In response to hearing about what had happened in Samaria, Peter and John came there to verify. As I read the text, it appears to me that Peter believed the majority of the people had indeed been saved, i.e. that they had been indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Why do I say that? What does the text say in Acts 8:15-16?
[Peter and John] … who came down and prayed 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.
Questions: If they had been baptized in the Name of Jesus, were they saved? Did the Holy Spirit at that time, from their initial belief, dwell within them?
If He didn’t, obviously their receiving the Holy Spirit upon the prayers of Peter and John, would be the initial indwelling. If He already did, then what happened as a result of the prayers is something else.
Can we gain more information to determine an answer? I think we can. It comes from the next two verses in Acts 8:17-18:
Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands…
When the apostles laid hands on the people, it was then that they received the Holy Spirit. But, what instance of receiving Him is in view?
Question: In the typical salvation experience, must hands be laid on someone for him to be born again?
The answer is a resounding NO.
That being the case, it would seem that by their laying on of hands, the apostles were imparting something different, something beyond basic salvation that results in the Holy Spirit indwelling an individual.
Another question: What other evidence do we have for this?
One more question: In typical salvation, is there anything apparent that others can immediately see or hear that would tell them that a person is saved and indwelt by God?
The answer once more is NO.
But, the text tells us that Simon saw something, and it came about through the laying on of the apostles’ hands. This certainly indicates something unusual. What could it be? What was different at this point for Simon that he was willing to pay for it?
Elsewhere in Acts, we read about a unique experience. For instance, in Acts 10:45-46 we see:
And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God…
Likewise in Acts 19:6, we come across the same situation:
And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.
What happened in each of these subsequent circumstances? Hands were laid on people by those anointed by God and they began speaking in tongues. From this we can conclude that it’s very likely this is exactly what Simon witnessed. When he saw it, he saw the power and majesty of God in the act, and he wanted it.
When we logically examine these passages, I’m not sure that we can come to any other conclusion besides the one that says the Baptism of the Holy Spirit came subsequent to the initial salvation experience and that the evidence of it was the speaking in tongues. Of course, never forget the initial such demonstration at Pentecost in Acts 2:4:
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Now, we can argue whether or not what they spoke was another earthly language or a heavenly tongue, but one thing is evident. When the fire of the Holy Spirit came down on the apostles, they were definitely already saved. This happened in John 20:22:
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
At this point the apostles were saved and had the indwelling Holy Spirit, having received Him from Jesus Himself. What occurred at Pentecost was something more; it had to be the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, something beyond salvation and evidenced through the speaking of tongues.
No doubt, because of prior teaching and ingrained belief, many will reject my conclusion: There is a salvation experience with the result being the Holy Spirit indwells an individual. This can be followed by a separate Baptism of the Spirit that has as its evidence another language spoken.
I would simply urge you to again read these passages and prayerfully consider all the issues I’ve brought up today. Perhaps you’ll agree; perhaps not.
What we who believe can agree on is that we serve a great and mighty God, and because of what He has done in our lives, we can give joyful thanks!