The Relationship of the Holy Spirit with Christians.

By F. M. Perry, August 27, 2002.

A dear Christian sister has a question concerning the Holy Spirit's relationship with the first century Christians whose conversions were reported by the inspired writer, Luke, in the Book of Acts. The question asks why there was a difference between the way in which the Holy Spirit was "received" by the Jewish converts as reported in Acts 2 and the way the Holy Spirit was "received" by the Samaritan converts as reported in Acts 8. Before attempting to answer her question I would like first to engage in a search of the scriptures to try to get before us some basic fundamentals of how God has related to human beings through His Holy Spirit in the past and how He relates to Christians today.

The Ramifications of the Fact that "God is Spirit."

  • "(24) God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. " (John 4:24).

This passage says that God is a spiritual being, living in a spiritual realm. All three of God's personality aspects, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are spiritual, not physical, existing in the spiritual realm. The spiritual beings of the spiritual realm, including God in all of His aspects, the angels, Satan and his demons, are invisible to the senses of our fleshly bodies. "A spirit does not have flesh and bones ..." (Luke 24:39). And human beings, created "for a little while lower than the angels" (Psalms 8:5, Hebrews 2:7) have each been given invisible spiritual aspects, namely, a soul and a spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

Furthermore, it appears that when God created the heavens and the earth and all the beings of the physical realm, He derived all His physical creation from inherently spiritual (unseen) elements and created a physical realm to exist within His greater spiritual realm. Apparently, He created the physical material elements to exist only for a finite time. But the invisible spiritual beings, not a part of the physical realm, He created to exist for eternity.

It appears that God created human beings to function on earth not only within the limited physical realm, but to some extent also in the boundless spiritual realm for He created the invisible human soul and spirit for infinite life in the spiritual realm. While He created the fleshly human body only for finite life on earth, He gave humans the substantive hope that eventually He would change the fleshly body to an imperishable spiritual body so that humans might be wholly spiritual to dwell forever in the spiritual realm (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). Paul made note of this as follows:
  • "(16) Therefore do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. (17) For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, (18) while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NASB).
So here we are, human beings confined temporarily to fleshly bodies on finite earth, desiring to commune with our invisible God dwelling in the infinite spiritual realm. Our feeble efforts to reach out across the boundary between the finite and the infinite to try to touch God are doomed to failure. But we find that God reaches in love across the boundary to touch us. It is not that we inherently love God and desire to commune with Him; but, amazingly, it is that He loves us and desires to commune with us. And that this might always be possible, even though He knew before He created us that we would fall away from Him through sin, He created us so that His communion with us, and us with Him, would always be possible.

He created within us personal spirits, existing in the spiritual realm, through which His Holy Spirit might "touch" us and have two-way communication with us. And He created within us personal souls, also existing in the spiritual realm, through which we might have our own personalities and might manage our personal fleshly lives in accordance with the divine guidance of His Holy Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 5:23). As creatures full of worldly biases, we tend to think it impossible to have mutual communication with God. But because of His love for us, He has taken the initiative and crossed the boundary between the spiritual and the physical, and planted His communications to us so blatantly within our notice that we either have to acknowledge them or stumble over them.

God Communicates to Humans through the Word.

In the fullest connotation, God Himself is the "Word." Consider the following scripture:

  • "(1) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. ... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, ..." (John 1:1, 14. NASB).
This seems to tell us that what God wants to communicate to us is Himself. When "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" it was God Himself communicating with us by causing one of His personality aspects to take on flesh as the Son of Man. God in the flesh is Jesus, the Christ. To reveal Himself to us, God communicates to us His Son, Jesus, the Man. Although first a wholly spiritual being, He took on flesh to become like His human creation, and so, as Jesus, He knows our fleshly lives and speaks our fleshly vernacular as no other spiritual being can. God, as the Son, is eminently qualified to communicate authoritatively with us.

But Jesus, the Son of God, no longer dwells on earth with us. He is still the Son of Man, but now He is in heaven preparing the way for the redeemed of the sons of men whom He will someday fetch to heaven with Him. And He is still, even now, an aspect of God Himself who communicates with us and guides us.

God Communicates with Humans in the Christian Age through His Holy Spirit.

Just before Jesus, the Man, was taken by God the Father from the earth and into heaven, Jesus spoke to His disciples as follows:

  • "(18) ... All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. (19) Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20, NASB).

    "(15) ... Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. (16) He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. (17) And these signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; (18) they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it shall not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover." (Mark 16:15-18, NASB).
Jesus, the Son of God, had provided the necessary knowledge and miraculous signs that accompanied His entourage as He lived on earth with mankind. But how did He provide for His disciples in their preaching missions after He left them to ascend into heaven? And how is He with them "always, even to the end of the age" after He has ascended into heaven? Jesus had spoken earlier to His disciples during His life on earth with them, as follows:

  • "(16) And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever." (John 14:16, NASB).

    "(26) But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." (John 14:26, NASB).

    "(26) When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me, (27) and you will bear witness also, because you have been with Me from the beginning." (John 15:26-27, NASB).

    "(13) But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come." (John 16:13, NASB).
These scriptures inform us that Jesus intended to guide His disciples even after He had ascended into heaven by communicating with them through the Holy Spirit, who is both the Spirit of the Son as well as the Spirit of the Father. And we are informed that the accomplishment of the miraculous signs which were to accompany the work of His disciples on earth was to be the spiritual work of God's Holy Spirit. The continued guidance of the Son of God through the Holy Spirit was indeed an innovation for the coming Christian Age which was not provided during the Old Testament Age.

With this background we are ready to go to the New Testament Book of Acts in which the writer, Luke, being inspired by the Holy Spirit, recorded the Acts of God's Holy Spirit in guiding and working alongside the apostles and other disciples after Jesus had ascended into heaven. One of the first great actions of God's Holy Spirit to be noticed in the Book of Acts was:

The Holy Spirit Was Poured Out on All People.

Some 800 years before the Christian age began God's Old Testament Prophet Joel spoke to the Israelites concerning a future time when God would approach mankind in general much more closely than He had ever approached mankind before that time. The Prophet Joel said:

  • "(28) And it will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind (all flesh); ..." (Joel 2:28, NASB).
Joel did not stop there. In addition to a general outpouring of God's Holy Spirit on all mankind, he forecast additional great things that would occur at that time to specific people and great happenings that would occur in nature.

  • "(28) ... And your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. (29) And even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. (30) And I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth, blood, fire, and columns of smoke. (31) The sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord come. (32) And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be delivered; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be those who escape, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls." (Joel 2:28-32, NASB).
Some 800 years after the Prophet Joel forecast these things, upon the day of the Jewish feast of Pentecost, the specific Pentecost which occurred 50 days after the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Apostles of Jesus were all gathered in one place in Jerusalem, presumably in a building upon theTemple Mount. The inspired writer Luke recorded the following:

  • "(2) And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent, rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. (3) And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. (4) And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance." (Acts 2:2-4, NASB).
The loud sounds and spectacular things that happened to and around the apostles that day attracted the attention of the multitudes of Jews from many lands who were gathered on the Temple Mount to celebrate the feast of Pentecost. The Apostle Peter raised his voice and spoke to them:

  • "(16) This is what was spoken of through the Prophet Joel: (17) 'And I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all mankind.'" (Acts 2:16-17, NASB).
The inspired writer Luke went on in Acts 2 to tell about a number of things which the Holy Spirit did with the Apostles that day. But I want us to notice first what God did with His Holy Spirit. He poured out His Spirit not only upon the apostles but upon all mankind. This is what the Prophet Joel had foretold. And the apostle Peter said that Joel's prophecy had come to pass.

What did it mean for God to pour out His Spirit upon all mankind? It appears to mean that God's Holy Spirit, invisible to the fleshly senses of mankind, had been spiritually poured out to engulf all mankind, that is, engulf everyone on the earth. This occurred without mankind normally being aware of it for a spirit is not discerned by the fleshly senses. When the Holy Spirit is "poured out" on all mankind, surely the Holy Spirit completely immerses all mankind, spiritually baptizing mankind in the Holy Spirit. This thought reminds us that John the Baptist previously had forecast to all to whom he preached that they would be baptized in God's Holy Spirit:

  • "(16) ... As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with (in) the Holy Spirit and fire." (Luke 3:16, NASB).
And later Jesus reminded His apostles of what John the Baptist had said when, just before His ascension into heaven, Jesus said:

  • "(5) John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with (in) the Holy Spirit not many days from now." (Acts 1:5, NASB).
It appears that Jesus was reminding His apostles not only of what John the Baptist had said, but what the Prophet Joel had said hundreds of years before, something of which Peter became fully aware when he preached His Pentecost sermon recorded in Acts 2.

This, then, was a one time "pouring out" on all mankind. It was forecast by God. The inspired Apostles announced its occurrence. There is no indication that the Holy Spirit, after being "poured out" in such spiritual closeness to mankind, was ever to be pulled back from mankind during this Christian Age. People born into the world since that first century day of Pentecost, come into a world in which they become "immersed" in the Holy Spirit. It appears that God "poured out" His Holy Spirit not only upon mankind living on earth at the time of Peter's sermon in Acts 2, but also upon all mankind destined to live during this Christian age. It is a spiritual baptism, occurring in the spiritual realm, wholly invisible to the senses of the flesh of mankind. It appears that no one in the world outside the small circle of inspired apostles knew what was really happening when it happened. It happened in the spiritual realm which engulfs all mankind, but very few of mankind knew it happened at the time. No one who has been born into the world since that time becomes aware that he is immersed in the invisible Holy Spirit of God until it is revealed to him by his study of the Bible.

It would be presumptuous of us to try to explain the infinite mind of God concerning why, for the first time in history, He immersed all mankind in His Spirit. But, since God brought it about at the time of the inauguration of the Christian Age, it appears to fulfill a primary purpose of God to place Himself closer spiritually to human beings for the Christian Age to come than He had previously done during the Old Testament Age which was coming to a close. It behooves us to simply read on in the New Testament, especially the Book of Acts, to see how God further developed the relationship of His Holy Spirit with mankind.

At this point it might be worthwhile to point out something that should be obvious, but for many years was not obvious to me:

Baptism in the Holy Spirit Puts the Person in the Holy Spirit But It Does Not Put the Holy Spirit in the Person.

Let us compare the analogy of baptism in water to the baptism in the Holy Spirit. When a person is baptized in water as commanded by Jesus in His gospel, he is immersed in the water but no water enters into that person. The person enters the water and is immersed in it, but no water enters the person. With similar reasoning, a person must not assume that baptism in the Holy Spirit places the Holy Spirit within the person. One can assume only that the person is immersed in the spiritual essence of the Holy Spirit. Until the person becomes informed of his immersion in the Holy Spirit, he is not aware of it. And baptism in the Holy Spirit does not bring about the spiritual indwelling of God's Holy Spirit within one's body simply by one being immersed in the Spirit. Let us continue our study.

The Holy Spirit Is Given to Indwell Those Who Obey God.

  • "(37) Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brethren, what shall we do?' (38) And Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'" (Acts 2:37-38, NASB).
These scriptures from Acts 2 reveal that many of the Jews to whom Peter was preaching, in that first sermon of the Christian Age, began to believe that Jesus, the man whom they had crucified some seven weeks before, was actually the Son of God and that He had been resurrected from the dead and had then ascended into heaven. They were "pierced to the heart" with guilt and asked Peter, "What shall we do?" Peter commanded these believers to "repent, and let each of you be baptized." Peter said that the result for them would be "the forgiveness of their sins," and the reception of "the gift of the Holy Spirit."

These believing Jews could readily understand the necessity of obeying the command to repent and be baptized, and they could readily understand what it meant to be forgiven of their sins for that was just what they realized that they needed. But what did they understand to be the meaning of "the gift of the Holy Spirit?"

  • "Peter and the apostles said, ... '(32) And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.'" (Acts 5:32, NASB).
Peter and the apostles later explained, as reported in Acts 5:32, that "the gift of the Holy Spirit" was actually the Holy Spirit Himself as a gift from God given to those who obey God. To this point in the book of Acts the only commands to be obeyed by believers were the commands to repent and be baptized. The message of the gospel was that upon a believer's repentance and baptism, he would receive not only the gift of forgiveness of his sins, but that he would receive also the Holy Spirit as a gift.

What Did It Mean to a Believer's Life to Receive the Holy Spirit of God as a Gift?

Paul, in his first Corinthian letter, gives us some inkling of what it means for Christians to have the Holy Spirit dwelling, as a gift of God, within them.

  • "(17) But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. (18) Flee immorality. Every sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. (19) Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? (20) For you have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body." (1 Corinthians 6:17-20, NASB).
Here Paul taught the Christians of Corinth how the Holy Spirit, dwelling within them since the day when they first rendered obedience to the gospel message, was intended to be their "Helper" in dealing with their propensity to commit sins of the fleshly body.

In Paul's letter to the Romans, chapters 6, 7, and 8, Paul explained in great detail how the Holy Spirit lives within the Christian and guides him in his daily life. In Romans 8 he explained how one who is "in Christ Jesus," that is, one who has received the Holy Spirit to indwell him, is set free from the "law of sin and death."

  • "(1) There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (2) For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. ... (11) But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you. ... (14) For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. ... (16) The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God." (Romans 8:1-2, 11, 14, 16; NASB).
As we contemplate the reality of the fact that Jesus Christ gives His Holy Spirit as a gift to indwell the fleshly lives of Christians, let us not forget that one would not know about this possible relationship with the Holy Spirit had they not learned about it from God's inspired prophets of the first century who then were directed to write about it in the Holy Scriptures. Humans have no fleshly sensor which detects God within them. All that is known about the "mechanics" of this great relationship must be learned from the Bible.

Contrary to some peoples expectations, the Holy Spirit does not manifest Himself in Christians by spectacular outward signs. Even when God "spoke" to His Prophets in an earlier age, He did not do so in outwardly spectacular ways. For example, consider what Old Testament Scripture says of the Prophet Elisha when he went out to receive a message from God. As Elisha stood on a mountain to receive the word of the Lord, the Scripture says:

  • "(11) ... And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains, and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. (12) And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire, a gentle blowing. (13) And it came about when Elisha heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold a voice came to him ..." (1 Kings 19:11-13. NASB).
The Holy Spirit of God spoke only in "a gentle blowing," or, as in another translation, "a still small voice." If today the Holy Spirit communicates with Christians in "a gentle blowing," it is not a fleshly voice or an outwardly spectacular event. The message will most likely come into the soul of the Christian through conscience or intuition which seem to be avenues of spiritual communication to humans.

But let me say again: we learn about the Holy Spirit from the Bible, not from experience of physical manifestations. The books of the Bible were communicated to inspired men by the Holy Spirit for the benefit of mankind. These Holy Spirit inspired Scriptures contain the gospel concerning God's Son, which is "the power of God for salvation." So, by far the most important way in which the Holy Spirit speaks to us today is through the inspired words of the Bible. Through Scripture the Holy Spirit communicates with human souls in human languages through the eyes and ears of the fleshly body. Therefore, Christians must go primarily to the Bible to "hear" the Holy Spirit in His leading. And the Holy Spirit informs Christians through Scripture how He helps Christians in their communication back to God:

  • "(26) And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; (27) and He who searches the hearts know what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (28) And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:26-28, NASB).
Does the indwelling Spirit sometimes give spiritual "nudges" to Christians by means of "a gentle blowing" through conscience and intuition? Yes, I am very much inclined to think so. But even these kind of "nudges" today are likely connected with the Christian's prior knowledge of God's word, the Bible. God's Spirit within us may help us get a more full and deeper spiritual understanding of what we have already studied in God's word. But we must not expect to receive from God's Spirit anything that would change, contradict, add to, or subtract from those things already taught in the Holy Spirit's word, the Bible. The Holy Spirit inspired the writer Jude to express the following:

  • "Beloved, while I was making every effort to write to you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 3, NASB).
Today, the things, in which we are to have faith, have been "once for all delivered" to us in the New Testament. But for a period of many years after that Pentecost day on which Peter preached the gospel of the Christian age for the first time, the apostles who were to propagate that gospel did not have the collected books of the Holy New Testament. The books of the New Testament were only then beginning to be written by the men who were being selected and guided by God's Holy Spirit to write them. It is clear as we read the history of those early years of the Christian age in the book of Acts that the Holy Spirit of Christ used His own supernatural spiritual means to reveal "the faith" to the apostles and through them to the world.

Let us go through the New Testament, especially the Book of Acts, and note some of the supernatural ways in which the Holy Spirit taught and directed the propagation of the gospel during the early years of Christianity. As we start let us note an important principle which seems always to govern the Holy Spirit's actions. The principle is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit Himself through Paul.

The Holy Spirit Works All Things Just As He Wills.

  • "(11) But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills." (1 Corinthians 12:11, NASB).

The Apostle Paul lived and taught in those early days before the New Testament was completed and collected. His inspired writings came to form a great part of the New Testament as we have it today. In the declaration of this principle, that "one and the same Spirit works all these things ... just as He wills," Paul had just mentioned in 1 Corinthians, chapter 12, that the Holy Spirit had imparted a variety of special supernatural spiritual gifts to the early Christians as "manifestations of the Spirit for the common good." Some of the special gifts mentioned were "the word of wisdom," "the word of knowledge," "faith," "gifts of healing," "the effecting of miracles," "prophecy," "the distinguishing of spirits," "various kinds of tongues," and "the interpretation of tongues." Whatever the meaning of these terms describing these gifts, they were clearly imparted to certain Christian recipients in a supernatural way by the Holy Spirit to accomplish the gospel objectives of the early days of Christianity. In reading 1 Corinthians, chapter 12, it is clear that each gift was given to certain individual Christians, not all Christians, and that they were not given according to the wishes of the individuals themselves but "to each one individually just as He (the Holy Spirit) wills." Also the gifts were given for a seeming special purpose, the "common good" during Paul's day, Noting this principle should prepare students of Christianity today to understand that if and when the Holy Spirit ever ceased to "will" that such supernatural gifts be imparted, the gifts would "cease" to be imparted and thus cease to be exercised by Christians. Do certain Christians receive any such supernatural gifts from the Holy Spirit today? Did the Holy Spirit ever cease to will them to Christians? Let us continue our study.

As we have already noted, it was prophesied by the Prophet Joel that supernatural signs would accompany the introduction of Christianity into the world. And Jesus Himself also prophesied that in certain supernatural ways His Apostles would know that He was with them in the spiritual form of His Holy Spirit. And so, in the Book of Acts, we see the Holy Spirit of Christ directing and assisting the Apostles just as promised. In Acts 2 we read of the "noise, like a violent rushing wind," and the "tongues as of fire distributing themselves ... on each one" of the Apostles. This manifestation of the Holy Spirit called the multitude of Jews before the Apostles to miraculously hear the gospel of Christ preached in their own native tongue. And the Holy Spirit spoke through the Apostles that day in a variety of tongues (languages) which the Apostles had not learned so that all people present heard the gospel call in their own language. In one day the Holy Spirit, using the Apostles as vessels, effected the belief, repentance, and baptism of 3,000 people who received forgiveness of their sins and the gift of Christ's Holy Spirit to indwell them.

After the first 3,000 souls were added to the church of Christ that first day, it was reported that the Holy Spirit continued to give the Apostles power to perform miraculous signs and wonders to support their preaching of the gospel.

  • "(43) And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles." (Acts 2:43, NASB).
Apparently, for some period of time as the church in Jerusalem grew, the Holy Spirit gave power to perform miraculous signs only to the twelve Apostles. But at the time of the events of Acts chapters 6 and 7 it is mentioned that certain Christians other than the twelve Apostles were given power by the Holy Spirit to perform miraculous signs. In chapter 6 the twelve Apostles summoned the congregation of Christians together in order to have them appoint some men to look after the daily serving of food to the widows. Seven men were chosen and brought before the Apostles. The Apostles are said to have "laid their hands on them." A Christian named Stephen and another Christian named Philip (not the Apostle Philip) were of the seven. After that Stephen and Philip were said to perform miraculous signs much as the Apostles were performing them. First, we read about Stephen:

  • "(8) And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people." (Acts 6:8, NASB).
In chapters 6 and 7, we learn that Stephen was stoned to death by a mob of Jews.

  • "(1) ... And on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles." (Acts 8:1, NASB).
Note that, when the persecution arose and the Christians were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria, the Apostles were said to have remained in Jerusalem. Then we read about Philip:

  • "(5) And Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them. (6) And the multitudes with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. (7) For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed." (Acts 8:5-7, NASB).
At this point we have two Christians, who were not Apostles, who have been given by the Holy Spirit power to perform miraculous signs. Of both of these Christians it was said that the Apostles had "laid their hands on them." Let us read on.

  • "(14) Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, (15) who came down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit. (16) For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; for they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (17) Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit." (Acts 8:14-17, NASB).
Now we can take up the question of the dear Christian sister mentioned at the very beginning of this article. The question asks why there was a difference between the way in which the Holy Spirit was "received" by the Jewish converts as reported in Acts 2 and the way the Holy Spirit was "received" by the Samaritan converts as reported in Acts 8.

In the cases of conversion recorded in Acts 2 the people to whom the Apostles preached were told to believe the gospel message, repent, and be baptized. After obeying these commands they were to have received forgiveness of their sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Later in Acts 5:32 it was made clear that it was the Holy Spirit Himself who was given by God to those who obeyed Him, presumably to those who obeyed the commands to believe, repent, and be baptized. There is no mention here that the Apostles "laid their hands" on any who received the Holy Spirit as a gift at the time of their baptism. Nor was there any indication that those receiving the Holy Spirit were given the power to perform miraculous signs. Apparently, the gift of the Holy Spirit given to indwell these new Christians at the time of their baptism, was a gift that was given to all those who obeyed God at that time in the first century and, presumably, to anyone who similarly obeys God even today as the Christian Age continues. As has already been discussed, the indwelling Holy Spirit has never been given to Christians to enable them to perform miraculous signs like those performed by the Apostles in the first century.

When we go to Acts 8 and read of people of Samaria "receiving the Holy Spirit" after they had already become Christians through belief, repentance, and baptism, we must conclude that the phrase "receiving the Holy Spirit" had a different meaning than it did in respect to the people converted in Acts 2. We must conclude that the people of Samaria who "had been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" had received "forgiveness of their sins" and the same "gift of the Holy Spirit" as had those in Acts 2.

What the Christians of Samaria had not received at that time was power from the Holy Spirit to perform miraculous signs. The Holy Spirit, who gives such power only to "whom He wills," had given it only to the Apostles and certain ones on whom the Apostles had "laid their hands." Now, since the Apostles remained in Jerusalem and the gospel message was being propagated outside of Jerusalem, the gospel did not have the Apostle's support in "wonders and signs" until the Holy Spirit gave the power to perform such signs to certain other Christians. It appears that the Holy Spirit did give such power in Samaria by having the Apostles Peter and John go to "lay hands on" certain selected Christians there (Acts 8:14-17).

As we continue to read on through the Book of Acts it is revealed that the Holy Spirit continued to act under His own volition to enhance the preaching of the gospel of Christ to the world by the Apostles and other Christians. Sometimes the Holy Spirit took direct action in a situation, and sometimes the Holy Spirit gave miraculous power to Christians to act in other situations. Some examples of direct action by the Holy Spirit are cited below:

  • The Holy Spirit sent Ananias to heal the blinded Saul and to baptize him (Acts 9:10-22);

    The Holy Spirit gave a special vision to Peter concerning things clean and unclean, and directed Peter to take the gospel to the Gentile Cornelius and his family (Acts 10:1-33; 11:5-14);

    The Holy Spirit caused the Gentile Cornelius and his household to "speak with tongues and exalt God," indicating to Peter and the Jews God's acceptance of Gentiles into the church of Christ (Acts 10: 34-48; 11:15-18);

    The Holy Spirit "set apart Barnabas and Saul" for a special mission (Acts 13:1-5);

    The Holy Spirit forbade Paul, Silas, and Timothy from preaching in Asia or Bithynia but sent them instead into Macedonia (Acts 16:6-10).
On certain occasions it is revealed also in Acts that angels appeared to Cornelius (Acts 10:1-9), Peter (Acts 12:6-11), and Paul (Acts 27:23-25), directing them to do certain things. It seems likely that the Holy Spirit had a part in directing these angels. And of course there were other occasions when the Apostles and Christians upon whom the Apostles had "laid their hands" exercised the miraculous gifts which the Holy Spirit had given them (Acts 9:32-35, 36-41; 13:9-12; 16:16-18; 19:6, 11-12; 20:10; 28:8-10).

Another Explanation of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.

A common teaching among some Christians today, which I believe to be a misunderstanding, is that the Apostles, and the Apostles only, were baptized in the Holy Spirit upon the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and that their baptism in the Holy Spirit enabled them to speak in the various tongues through which the people heard the gospel that day. The teaching points to the other miraculous manifestations of that day also as indication that Baptism in the Holy Spirit was taking place. This teaching holds that the Baptism in the Holy Spirit was administered on only one other occasion, to Cornelius and his household, enabling them also to speak in tongues (Acts 10:44-48). With the special Baptism in the Holy Spirit of the Apostles, who were Jews, and a similar special Baptism in the Holy Spirit of Cornelius and his household, who were Gentiles, the teaching says that the prophecy of Joel was fulfilled. That is, the teaching holds that the prophecy, that the Holy Spirit would be poured out on all mankind, was fulfilled representatively to a few Jews and a few Gentiles only. This is accepted by some Christians as a complete fulfillment of Joel's prophecy as well as the complete fulfillment of the prophecies of John the Baptist and of Jesus concerning the Baptism with the Holy Spirit.

However, the Baptism in the Holy Spirit had been prophesied by John the Baptist to be for all people, not just for certain selected people only. And Peter had acknowledged in his Pentecost sermon that Joel's prophecy of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on "all mankind" had just occurred. It can only be worldly bias, all-be-it unrecognized, that requires that Baptism in the Holy Spirit must be spectacular or be accompanied by other visible supernatural happenings. The requirement that the prophecies be "representatively" fulfilled, rather than literally fulfilled, seems contrived at best.

That the Holy Spirit brought about spectacular and supernatural happenings on that Pentecost day are without doubt. And that the prophesied Baptism in the Holy Spirit occurred more or less simultaneously with other supernatural happenings are also without doubt. However, there is no reason to believe that baptism in the Holy Spirit automatically gives anyone any gifts of supernatural power. The Holy Spirit gives supernatural gifts to whomever He wills, having once given a donkey the ability to speak as a human (Numbers 22:28). So it should not be hard to understand that the Holy Spirit, for His own very special reasons on this providential occasion, saw fit to bring about the supernatural happenings in the way that He did.

Why can't the facts as stated in Scripture simply be accepted? The Holy Spirit was silently and invisibly poured out that day by God on all people of the earth, as stated, and as obviously clear to God Himself if not to us. On the same day the Holy Spirit brought about the spectacular and supernatural happenings to set the gospel on its course of being revealed to all mankind. The Apostles were the chosen vessels being used by the Holy Spirit that day to establish the church of Christ on the earth. This was simply the beginning of the Holy Spirit's use of Christ's prepared Apostles to conduct Christ's work of offering salvation to mankind.

Does the Holy Spirit Still Give Christians of Today the Power to Perform Miraculous Signs?

In reading the New Testament it is evident that there were Christians in various first century churches who did receive certain miraculous gifts from the Holy Spirit. But there is no indication in the New Testament that the Holy Spirit ever gave power to any Christians to support the preaching of the gospel with miraculous signs except those upon whom the Apostles "laid their hands" for that purpose. Thus, as the years progressed after Peter's first sermon of the Christian Age on Pentecost, and as the Apostles and those upon whom they "laid their hands" passed away, we are led to believe that such miraculous gifts from the Holy Spirit eventually ceased. That such miraculous gifts have disappeared is a fact of observation and revelation and not a judgement that the Holy Spirit cannot do anything "that He wills." Paul discusses the miraculous gifts of the first century in chapters 12 and 13 of his First Corinthian letter. He concludes his discussion as follows:

  • "(9) For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; (10) but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. ... (13) But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; ..." (1 Corinthians 13: 9-10, 13, NASB).
If "the partial" to be done away was the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to certain Christians to support the preaching of the gospel in the first century, then perhaps "the faith once for all delivered to the saints" in the Holy Spirit's New Testament Scriptures is "the perfect" which at that time was coming. With the miraculous gifts done away, the effective gifts of the Holy Spirit for propagating the gospel in the Christian Age are now "faith, hope, and love."

With love, F. M. Perry.

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