ACTS 8 – FULL BELIEVERS, YET WITHOUT THE SPIRIT
Can I just say that I love Acts Chapter 8? It is just awesome! There is so much here but in keeping with the topic at hand I want to summarize the events leading up to Act 8.
We left off in Acts 2 where Peter preached a message that invited people to repent, be water baptized and have their sins washed away, as a means to receive the wonderful gift Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit that the disciples both received and publicity displayed moments earlier. The Bible says the at least 3000 people became believers that day. And in the subsequent chapters of Acts we see that the church grew. It continued to grow despite some of the leaders being persecuted for preaching the message of Jesus. In fact, the persecution the ensued further emboldened them to preach and get the word out.
One of these mighty men of God was named Steven. Some folks in the opposition spread lies about him and stirred up trouble so much so that the Jewish religious leaders and people of the area stoned him to death. The persecution continued and was so threatening that in the first part of Acts chapter 8, in verses 1-4, it says that the believers who were living in the city scattered about to neighboring lands. But, as we’ll see, they shared the message of Jesus as they went as well.
When the church scattered it says that a follower of Jesus named Phillip went down and shared Jesus with the people in city of Samaria. It must have been an awesome show of power that accompanied the message of Jesus because even demons were coming out of people with a loud shriek and people were being healed of their diseases and ailments – great joy was in the city (Acts 8:5-8)! As a result of Phillip’s preaching of the good news, and corresponding public display of power, the Samaritans believed Phillip and became believers. They were baptized in water professing and confirming their faith. They were now official believers.
Now, according to traditional evangelical teaching they must have received the Spirit right at this moment as well, just as Billy Graham preached. Right??
But that’s not what this passage says had happened. Let’s pick up the story here and read what Acts 8: 14-17 says:
“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.”
It really doesn’t get any clearer than that. The Samaritans believed in Jesus and were water baptized in the name of Jesus to have their sins wiped away. But, they did not receive the Spirit at the same time – or if they did did not have the Spirit in its fullness or it was not yet fully manifested in the way the apostles thought it should be experienced and expressed as evidence.
We don’t know why Phillip didn’t pray for them to receive the Spirit when they were water baptized. Maybe he forgot. Maybe he was hindered. Maybe he was still learning and didn’t have it all figured out. We’ll never know.
But, what we do know is that these new believers were definitely missing something important – the tangibility of the Holy Spirit. And this tangibility of the Spirit did not automatically come to pass when they just believed in Jesus.
I know that sounds super controversial to some of you. I’m aware. Just hang in here with me a little longer. For now, let’s finish this passage out and see what else is in here.
SILENT RECEPTION OR VISIBLE SIGN?
Did the apostles just lay their hands on them for the Holy Spirit and then say, “poof, you got it.” and then move to the next one in line? Was it a silent ceremonial experience like when a priest sprinkles aspergillum on you for ceremonial rites? Or was it a ritualistic gesture like when a pastor gives a wedding couple a nice blessing?
Or were there indeed visible signs that accompanied these believed when they received the Spirit? Well, the story continues in verses 18-19 and the answer is self evident:
“And when Simon [the sorcerer) saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” (emphasis mine)
One of the new believers, Simon, saw that the Holy Spirit was given. What did he see? We don’t know, but there was some sort of visible or outward sign that confirmed that they were indeed in receipt of the Holy Spirit. Apparently these outward signs were so great that Simon wanted this ability because he saw that with this baptism of the Holy Spirit came witnessable “power”.
Clearly, something tangible was being expressed outwardly when the apostle came and laid there hands on the people. Something so great that someone incorrectly offered money in ignorance with a desire to be able preform this miracle also!
This doesn’t sound like an inward silent experience to me.
So, just as in Acts 2 (with the disciple’s speaking in tongues and acting drunk) there was some type of tangible experience in being baptized in the Spirit here in Acts 8 as well. We don’t know for sure but the tangibility was there. Let’s keep going, the book of Acts has more tangible examples of the Spirit.
ACTS 10 – NON JEWS RECEIVE THE SPIRIT
Acts chapter 10 gives record to another outpouring of the Spirit upon brand new believers. Through a vision God sent Peter to a house of a man named Cornelius. Cornelius was seeking God on his own and God told him to call for Peter to come. When Peter came Cornelius gathered his whole household and family to hear what Peter had to say. Peter then began sharing Jesus with them. The bible records some of what Peter said to Cornelius’s household in verses 34-43. Pay attention to what happens next in verses 44-48:
“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. “
What is love about this is how this passage shows that God moves in so many different way to accomplish His will. There isn’t always a predictable formula with God. It’s hard to put God in a box.
This time there wasn’t even enough time to get the believers water baptized and to lay hands on them to receive the Spirit as they did in Acts chapter 8. As Peter was still speaking Cornelius’s household believed the message of Jesus and Jesus baptized them in the Spirit right there on the spot! How did Peter know that they got baptized in the Spirit? The proof was clear in Cornelius’s house: they began praising God and speaking in tongues. There was an outward sign that gave witness to the Spirit’s baptism.
After the trip Peter returns home and recount the experience to his friends in Acts 11.
“And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”
In verses 15-17 above Peter directly links the manifestations of the Spirit that came upon these new believers (tongues and praising God) to the very experience of what Jesus said He do when He said he would “baptize [them] with the Spirit”.
Peter’s reasoning was, “Hey, they spoke in tongues and praised God just like we did when we received the Spirit. Just as He said he would do, and so did to us, Jesus must have baptized them in the Spirit as well!”
I want to GREATLY emphasize this point. It is usually taught that the only the born-again experience, which is repenting and putting full faith in Jesus and His work on the cross, is solely what Jesus meant when He said He would baptize people with the Spirit. And, if you also believe that the baptism of the Spirit and putting faith in Jesus are the same thing you will likewise come to that same conclusion. But Peter specifically links the tangibility of the presence of the Spirit, in this case speaking in tongues and magnifying God, as explicitly defining what Jesus meant by baptizing in the Spirit.
That is absolutely profound. This should give us no question as to what Jesus meant when we said He would baptize us in the Spirit.
So to recap, the example in Acts chapter 8 gives pretty compelling evidence that people can come to believe in Jesus and be baptized in water and still not yet received the Spirit. And yes, a new believer absolutely can receive the Spirit of God at the same time they come to believe in Jesus, like in Acts 10 at Cornelius’s house. But, Acts 8 shows us that it isn’t necessarily an automatic experience. And I don’t believe the baptism of the Spirit is something we should assume just silently happens when believers receive Jesus today. Furthermore, Peters recounting of Cornelious’s household being baptized in the Holy Spirit in Acts 11, and along with what we saw in chapters 2 and 8, gives evidence that the baptism of the Spirit should be synonymous with tangible outward signs.
The examples we’ve covered so far in themselves make a very compelling case for seeking out the baptism of the Spirit with accompanying outward signs. But wait, there’s more. We will also see the same thing take place in in Acts 19. That is where we will start off in Part 5.
But before we get into Acts 19, lets address the question that is that elephant in the room.
BUT DON’T I ALREADY HAVE THE SPIRIT?
If you are a believer in Jesus but you’ve never had an experience with tongues and/or flowed in a gift of the Spirit as Paul describes in I Corinthians 12 and 14 then you might be saying to yourself, “Vinnie thinks that I don’t even HAVE the Spirit”.
Am I saying that believers don’t have the Spirit unless they’ve had some charismatic expression of the Spirit? I intend to do another post on specifically on this topic but let me say a few things in advance just to corral these thoughts in a bit.
First, let’s not get caught up in terminology. When it comes to grasping the in’s and out’s of this unique event we must yield to the fact that we are talking about the deep hidden things of God. He alone has the full picture as to what exact inward process(es) and mechanics are taking place during what we call the baptism of the Holy Ghost. It’s intricate. It’s literally miraculous. How exactly, in human terms, does the Spirit of God come to live in us? How does a human being merge with the very essence of God?? Any definition, no matter how thorough by human words or human understanding, is going to come up short. God has however revealed quite a bit about this experience in the Bible. This is great. But in my opinion for me to put forth a be-all and end-all declaration would be grossly presumptuous.
Regarding the terminology, there are different terms/expressions used in the Bible to express this experience:
-baptize with the Spirit (Luke 3:16 and Acts 11:15-16)
-the Spirit falling on believers (Acts 8:16, 10:44, 11:15) – which has also been translated in other Bible versions as come upon, and given, came on, came down, took control, rested.
-Then there is filled or being full with the Spirit as in Acts 2:4, Acts 9:17, and a few other places in Acts.
All of these are different ways the Bible uses to express the same event. They all invoke slightly different connotations. If we get caught up in bulldozing our personal beliefs of what we think are the exact processes happening between a believer and the Holy Spirit we will easily dissuade or build a wall in preventing someone from receiving the actual end-goal intent of the Lord – which is probably NOT to come up with a dogmatic description of the process and beat people over the head with it but it is for Gods beloved children to reap the benefits of the baptism.
I’d much more rather place my emphasis on encouraging the outcome of the baptism of the Spirit rather than get caught up in the actual semantics or metaphysics of what specifically happens behind or during the experience.
FACTS: Our relationship, right standing, or righteousness with God does not change with this baptism. Our maturity and character does not change with the baptism. The love that God has for us doesn’t increase with the baptism. And we are most certainly not entered into a higher special class of Christians if we receive the baptism.
Those facts aside, YES, indeed we should press on because there ARE many benefits!
BENEFITS: Looking at the bible we see that folks who experienced this baptism received boldness, were able to hear specific words and guiding from the Spirit, and received greater power to accomplish Gods ministry on earth. And for me personally I have identified this experience with receiving an enhanced ability for intimacy with God in prayer and praise and worship, hearing His voice in general, understanding into the Scriptures, and increased effectiveness in communicating my faith.
So yes, there are great and immense benefits. But rather than trying to convince, barrage, and insist that some folks don’t have the Spirit by arguing terminology I would rather encourage people with simply this: there is an experience out there that is biblical, usually comes secondary to receiving Jesus, that will change your life forever. You’ll never be the same when you receive and enter into it. I PROMISE. Just as Samuel told Saul, “When the Spirit of God comes upon you you will be turn into a new man.” I Samuel 10:6
Is it that a person doesn’t have the Spirit at all? Or is it that they DO have the Spirit but the full immersion and outflow of the Spirit just hasn’t yet taken place? This is at the center of the debate in some schools of thought surrounding the baptism of the Spirit. Maybe you are wondering the same thing.
Either way, for me to cement myself on one side of the fence or the other is not my approach. I am more focused on the the end results and the outflow of the Spirit rather than defining the exact process by how we come to receive it.
FOCUS ON THE FLOWAGE
“Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said: ‘Streams of living water will flow from within him’” He was speaking about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive. For the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.” John 7:38-39
It is this flowage of the Spirit that we are after. This is the end result God wants for us and this is our ultimate focus. Jesus tells us that this flowing experience is to be expected when we enter into relationship with Him. And the writer of the Gospel of John helps us understand that this flowage is not just saying a sinners prayer so we no longer go to hell, but it is specifically referring to receiving the Spirit.
For me, if I just look at the the book of Acts literally without adding in any personal interpretation, it reads like the apostles believed a person didn’t have the Spirit automatically when they first believe. And furthermore from the Book of Acts, when you do receive the baptism of the Spirit you will at minimal speak in tongues or display an outward sign as confirmation of the Spirits indwelling. Many charismatic folks and churches / organizations I’ve had relationships with see the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the same way.
This is certainly one valid way of understanding the baptism of the Spirit. I think the Bible makes a strong case for it and currently I tend to lean more towards this conclusion.
But, in all honesty, I dither somewhat between that and this other possibility:
Another approach that I identified with personally early on in my walk with Jesus was calling baptism of the Spirit as just an outflow of the Holy Spirit that was already in me after I received Christ and became a believer. I liken this to a “breaking of the seal”, or “opening a pop top”.
This understanding affirms that a person, either at conversion or somewhere later on in their walk with Jesus, has already received the Spirit. The Spirit resides in the believer. The baptism of the Spirit is then a personal immersion of the Spirit that generates the outflow of the Spirits power and indwelling that is characterized by what we see in Acts: speaking in tongues, prophesying, glorifying God, etc.
This approach can be helpful to those preexisting Christians who are offended at the idea that they don’t have already have the Spirit.
I too was an longtime Christian before I received the baptism. And since I had been told in church that I already received the Spirit I created this explanation to try to understand my experience.
Is there an scripture to back this alternate? I didn’t think so at the time but years later found this:
John 20:21 says, “And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.“
Jesus apparently makes this statement to his disciples before He ascended into heaven. And, this breathe of the Spirit that Jesus gave happens before the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 when the disciples said they were then filled with the Spirit. This verse could loosely validate this alternate viewpoint or at least leave a backdoor open for other interpretations.
So, perhaps then the baptism of the Spirit as described in the book of Acts is really just a release or flowage of the Spirit rather than a receiving it entirely. Perhaps…
Again, regardless of where you see yourself on this question my heart leads me to focus more on the end results rather than getting dogmatic about the mechanics behind it.
Bottom line is this: If you agree that you don’t yet have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and want the baptism, then great! Let’s help you get the baptism! Or, if you believe that you already received some measure of the Spirit when you believed but are wanting to experience an outflow more similar to what you read in the book of Acts, then great! Lets help you get the baptism!
To recap, perhaps we should not allow ourselves to get caught up in terminology and arguments over the process and instead focus on the fruit.
Yes, some call it the baptism of the Spirit, some call it receiving the Spirit, some call it a filling, some call it a second blessing, or maybe you want to consider it a “breaking of the seal”. You can label it whatever you want. But I think the Bible shows strong support that this outflow of the spirit is a separate event accompanied with outward signs.
BILLY GRAHAM ONE LAST TIME
I’ve mentioned Billy Graham a few times in this blog series. I love the guy and admire much about Him. But I do find problems with his presentation of His message of Jesus. He actually wrote a nice segment on the Baptism of the Spirit (or lack there of) in a 1978 book “The Holy Spirit” – here’s an excerpt where he counters some of the same arguments I just made:
There’s stuff I agree with Billy on and stuff I don’t. I don’t agree with his interpretation of Acts 2 and 8). I can only speak of my own experiences and to what and where I feel God has placed a spark on my heart. For me, Billy might have been like a Phillip – strong on preaching Jesus, but maybe not that strong on promoting the baptism of the Spirit just as Phillip didn’t emphasis in Acts 8. For me, this is a clear point to how we all need the entire community of believers around us and sharing/speaking in our lives. We rarely see the full picture of Jesus when we don’t cooperate with the rest of the church. Some have gifts in prayer, or finances, or healings, or preaching, or ministry of the Spirit. All are facets of the Truth and everyone has certain facets they emphasis more than stronger than others. Having the company of many believers helps keep our pet doctrines in balance.
P.S., strangely enough Billy did claim to have an experience with a “filling” of the Spirit in 1946. You can read what he wrote here: https://kehilanews.com/2018/02/24/billy-graham-and-the-baptism-of-the-holy-spirit/
Okay, let’s move on to Acts 19 and part 5!
*As always, I’d love to hear what’s on your mind so please drop your thoughts in the comment section below!