Scripture Reference: Acts 8:1-13
We read in Acts chapter 8 about a man named Saul who was consenting to Stephen’s death and afterwards brought great persecution against the church at Jerusalem. The church blossomed throughout the persecution as people fled into surrounding areas of Judea and Samaria preaching and teaching the gospel everywhere they went. This flourishing of the gospel culminated in Samaria where Philip, one of the first Grecian deacons, went out as an evangelist and preached Christ unto them.
In this context, we learn of Simon the sorcerer whom the people of Samaria thought to be the great power of God. Simon astonished the people of Samaria for a long time with his sorceries. It’s interesting that Simon was astonished at the power of God and miracles, signs, and wonders through Philip. We see in this a contrast of astonishment between the power of God and the power of the devil. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 8:4 that idols in and of themselves are nothing. They are wood, stone, or precious metals. That’s it. There’s no power in any idol itself but there is power behind the idol that is demonic and it is real. It is the same today for those in the occult and those who practice witchcraft and sorcery. The reality is that power pales in comparison to the power of the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit is God. There is no comparison between the might and power of God and the power of the devil. The moment their demonic power comes in conflict with the power of God they are astonished and wonder why do these Christians have power that surpasses the power that we believe in? They are confronted with an obstacle that they can’t quite comprehend and that is, “Why do I want to worship something weaker in power?” This is exactly what was happening in Simon but that is not exactly the context I’m wanting to look at. There’s something interesting that happens here that a lot of people don’t really take into consideration when reading this and I can tell you, in all honesty, the first hundred times I read this it never clicked and I never saw this. So, let’s read Act 8:12-19 again.
"But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done. Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost." (Acts 8:12-19)
Hold on a second! It already said that they believed in Jesus and were baptized in Jesus name. The apostles show up and pray for them to receive the Holy Spirit? Why? Because “He had fallen on none of them.” (Acts 8:16). I thought we received the Holy Spirit when we were saved? What’s going on here? It seems like a contradiction of terms doesn’t it? When you look at Romans chapter 10 it says “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe with your heart that God raised Him from the dead you shall be saved.” There’s no wait for a couple of days and give it some time to soak in. We’re told we will be saved. A spiritual transaction occurs the moment we accept the payment of Jesus‘s blood being sufficient for our sins and instantly we are translated from darkness into light. We are taken from death into life by the blood of Jesus and the power of his resurrection. That is immediate and that is instant. So why do we see them waiting for the Holy Spirit? Let’s first look at John 20:19-23.
"Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. 20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: 23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained." (John 20:19-23)
I want you to understand this progression and understand this context. We have to get a deeper and broader understanding of what the gospel of Jesus Christ does. What does His death, burial, and resurrection perform for us? What did it provide? When you go back to the fall of Adam and Eve, we learn The Lord said, The day you eat of this you shall surely die (Gen. 2:17). They took the fruit anyway in disobedience. There was nothing in the fruit itself that caused them to die as if it was poisonous. It was the act of disobedience against the commandment of God that brought death. They who once walked in the cool of the day with God clothed in glory were now ashamed. They knew they were naked. They knew a separation occurred between them and God because at that moment they died spiritually. There was no longer fellowship. There was no longer intimacy. There was no longer a love created in the image of God joining them together in union any longer. They were dead.
From that moment forward, jumping all the way to Jesus preaching to Nicodemus, Jesus says you need to be born again (John 3:3). Nicodemus says “Shall I enter again into my mother’s womb? How can this be? I don’t understand.” Jesus says “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” There needs to be a spiritual renewal. There needs to be a transformation. There needs to be a resurrection spiritually from death to life; you must be born of the Spirit. The moment you believe in Christ Jesus, your spirit, which was once dead, is once again made alive in Christ Jesus and then He places His Spirit on the inside of you as a seal of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba Father (Rom. 8:15). It is a seal of redemption. It is a seal of adoption. We are no longer our own. This happens at salvation.
Yet, what do we see in John chapter 20 after Christ had risen from the dead? The disciples had believed in Him for 3 1/2 years. They did not rebel but they still could not receive the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit until the payment for sin was provided. In John, chapter 7, there’s this picture of Jesus telling us “If anyone thirsts, let him come and I will give him drink.” Jesus, who is living water says “all who believe in Me, out of their belly will flow rivers of living water.” We have this commentary by the apostle John telling us that Jesus was speaking concerning the giving of the Holy Spirit, who was not yet given (John 7:37-39). Why? Because Christ has not yet risen from the dead to provide the forgiveness of sin. God, who is holy, could not dwell in that which is unholy. There has to be forgiveness so we can be made holy for Him to dwell in us.
“Do you not know that you are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16) He has redeemed you. He has cleaned you. You have been made the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. Now there is this thing of being born again and made alive in Christ but there is also this thing of Him dwelling in you. This is what we see happen to the disciples in John chapter 20. This was not yet Pentecost. Pentecost came 50 days later. It wasn’t until Pentecost had fully come that the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples. What was it Jesus commanded them before His ascension? Go and tarry at Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). But I thought the scripture said they already received the Holy Spirit (John 20:22)? What is this distinction being made? At salvation you receive the redemption of life and you are made alive, transformed, and translated from death into life. You received the Holy Spirit who made your dead spirit alive to His Spirit. You now have a renewed union and fellowship that was lost by Adam. Now you have intimacy, spirit to Spirit. Yet there is something more. There is more than just the renewing of the Holy Spirit. There is a falling upon. There is an empowerment that was not yet received by the apostles until the Holy Spirit was sent after Christ ascended.
This is what we see taking place here in Acts chapter 8. All those in Samaria who saw the miraculous works of Phillip were baptized in the name of Jesus and yet the Holy Spirit had not yet fallen on any of them. So for us, what we need to look at is, what is this difference between salvation and baptism with the Holy Spirit? This instance in Samaria is the same type of thing we see happen with the disciples in John 20. There is salvation and the ministry of the Holy Spirit within you but there is also a baptism of the Holy Spirit which is the empowerment Jesus spoke of saying, "you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit shall come upon you” (Acts 1:8). The baptism of the Spirit is an empowerment to be bold in performing the miraculous to the extent that people will believe and be saved through the preaching of the gospel. This is what Philip did in Samaria. Philip preached the gospel and the miraculous followed just as it says in Mark 16, “And these signs shall follow them that believe.” Philip preached the gospel, the miraculous came about, people saw it, they believed it, they were saved. Then the apostle Peter and John were sent.
“Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 8:14-17)
If you have not received this empowerment of the Holy Spirit following salvation, it does not make you less than a believer in Christ. It is the blood of Jesus that makes you a believer in Christ and a child of God not the empowerment of the Spirit. You are his child through faith. By grace through faith, you are His child. Do not get hung up and believe the lie that says, since you haven’t been baptized with the Spirit, you’re not a Christian. That is a lie and it is heresy. We need to understand what the scripture says and that is that they first believed in Christ Jesus and then they received the Holy Spirit. They understood there’s more. The apostles came and laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. There is something for us to see along these lines in the book of Hebrews.
“For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permits.” (Hebrews 5:12-6:3)
Two of these elementary principles spoken of here are found in Acts chapter 8: the doctrine of baptisms and the laying on of hands. “They laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:17). I want you to understand this. I grew up as a fundamental Baptist, which was about as secessionist as you can get. There was not an understanding of these things but then I started to read the Bible and saw the miracles and empowerment for boldness required to demonstrate the love of Jesus to everyone around us. The gospel frees us from the bondage of sin and the Holy Spirit empowers us to stay free, breaking the cycle of sin, rinse, repeat. It is no longer us who live but Christ Jesus who lives in us and the power of the Holy Spirit enables us to live in the Spirit and not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
What does this look like for us? We are going out led by the Spirit to preach the gospel but there needs to be a recognition that there is more to this Christian life we are calling people into than simply trying not to sin. How many of us have tried and tried to stop sinning the same old sin but keep doing what we don’t want to do knowing we are supposed to do something else and, like a dog returning to its vomit, we come back to the same sin? The beauty of the gospel of Jesus is that He cleanses you and forgives you. You need to believe that, trust that, and understand that you cannot continue in the flesh being saved by the Spirit. You must continue in the Spirit. He is the One who keeps you, He is the one who saves you. He is the One who sustains you.
There needs to be a balance of Spirit and Truth. I see now what it means to truly trust and believe that these things are true. It is a journey. A journey that starts by seeing these truths in the Word of God first and then seeing them experienced in your life. When you were saved it had nothing to do with you. There was a conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit that drew you to Christ who graciously forgave you. God did not come to save you and leave you alone. When Jesus said I must leave you, He promised to send a Comforter to guide you in all truth, lead you in understanding, and provide a way of escape from every avenue of sin (John 14:15-18). You can trust in His empowerment to hold you and sustain you so that sin becomes less appealing and He becomes more appealing causing you to trust in Him day by day, moment by moment, no longer living by your own strength. You are dead to sin and alive to Christ. You are diligently entering into His rest when you decide to serve Jesus Christ instead of yourself and recognize you can’t do it without Him. You need the Holy Spirit to come upon you and empower you to walk in righteousness as God has called you.
The apostles knew those who believed in Samaria had not yet received the Holy Spirit. “For He had fallen on none of them” (Acts 8:16). They came and laid on hands with the impartation of prayer and the Samaritans received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and were empowered to sin no more. Salvation alone is not the end all be all to relationship with God. Salvation is a provision and invitation to step into an intimate relationship with God where we are no longer separated from Him. Jesus has now ascended to the right hand of the Father and given us the Holy Spirit so we can boldly go to the throne of grace by the power of the Spirit to no longer live unto ourselves but unto Christ Jesus. You need the baptism of the Holy Spirit today. It is for you. Not so that you can achieve the next level of Christianity but so that you can walk in deeper freedom and intimacy with the Creator.