On Receiving the Holy Spirit

Acts 8

We see the Samaritans, men and women, each baptized in the name of the Lord. And, when the apostles hear that the Samaritans have received the word and been baptized, what is their first response? Scripture tells us that, immediately, they send Peter and John to them to pray that they might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Scripture tells us that “as yet, He had not fallen on any 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. (V 16-17).

This is so important for us to learn. So often, in our generation, we teach that this is all one act. Especially in the Western Church, we teach that the moment someone is baptized, they immediately receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the “seal” of their baptism. Yet, not once, Scripture directly contradicts this teaching. We see it later in the Book of Acts also. Paul asks Apollos, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” to which Apollos responds, “We have not so much as heard whether there was a Holy Spirit.” (Acts 19:2-3), and this to the same end, “when Paul laid hands on them, they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 19:6).

See, it’s important for us to recognize and understand that, as early as the Book of Acts, baptism and the reception of the Holy Spirit have always been separate Sacraments in the Church. Our baptism is referred to as “sealed with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13), and yet, consider the writing of a letter. We write the text of the letter (Baptism) and then after is sealed. The process of sealing the letter completes the writing of it, but it is not a part of the writing. An unsealed letter is still a fully completed letter, the process of sealing it is a separate process completely. Yet, though separate, they are equally important in allowing the letter to fulfill it’s purpose. An unsealed letter could not be mailed, and a sealed but unwritten letter is of no profit to anyone, either writer or receiver. Likewise, in Baptism, each the Baptism for the remission of sins and the reception of the Holy Spirit of of equal importance for us to fulfill our purpose given us by the Lord, but each is a separate process. As Apollos and as the Samaritans learned, baptism alone will free us from the guilt of our sins, but leave us powerless to guard against them; for without the strength and presence of the Holy Spirit within us, we are left to our own willpower and desire to fight against these sinful desires that we hold.

We see a firsthand account of this almost immediately. In the account of Simon the Sorcerer. We read that he comes to the faith and is baptized; yet having come to the faith he is led astray by his own hardhearted desires. He had not received the Holy Spirit. Scripture records this account, stating, “When Simon saw that through the laying on of the Apostles’ hands, the Holy Spirit was given, he offered money, saying ‘Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.'” (v.19). Even Simon, whom tradition tells us ultimately became a fierce opponent of the Church, understood that it is through the reception of the Holy Spirit that the Lord allows miracles to be worked through those who follow Him.

Consider this for a moment. Someone who became a fierce opponent of the Church understood better than what we in the West teach our own generation. A baptized believer, he understood that it was through the anointing of the Holy Spirit that the Lord worked the supernatural through His people. Even he, “poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity” had a clearer understanding of this teaching of the Apostles than our wisest theologians teach today. Scripture is quite clear on the path to salvation, “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38). Repent, turn away from your life and embrace the life that is offered in Christ; be baptized for the remission of your sins, and then receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Three separate steps. It is to our detriment if we neglect any of the three of them. And Scripture multiple times shows each of the three of them happening at different times. We see, after Jesus’ ascension, Apollos and the Samaritans, having been baptized, and then later receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. If it were the same thing then John and Peter would never had to go to Samaria, and Paul would never have had to visit Apollos.

May we learn from this and recognize that there is no shortcut to salvation. There is no abbreviation, no way around it. Jesus was very clear on this teaching; “He who does the will of my Father in heaven, he it is who is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 7:21) And again, “whoever hears the words of My Father and does them, He is like a man who built his house on the rocks, and when the storm came, the house stood, because the foundation was strong.” (Matthew 7:24). And again, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14). When we start abbreviating the path to salvation, when we start searching for the broad gate and the easy path, we will find it, but it will not lead us to where we wish to go. Obedience to His words lead us to the humility that we need to be healed of the sickness of sin which we love so strongly.

May the grace of the Lord be with us all. Christ is in our midst.

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