OK, now we come to one of my least favorite passages in the Bible. I thoroughly believe that all Scripture is God-breathed and error-free. And there’s nothing wrong with these verses. But this passage has been used by some to confuse people about the nature and work of the Spirit. We went over this a few weeks when we were focusing on the Third Person of the Trinity. A lot of churches teach the doctrine of subsequence, the belief that gaining the Holy Spirit is a separate event from salvation. In other words, it’s entirely possible (and actually the norm) for someone to be saved, redeemed, adopted into God’s family, etc., and still not have all of the Holy Spirit. This second level of spirituality, the baptism of the Spirit, is something that every Christian has to seek and strive for.
Nope, not buying it. Here’s why:
This passage is Exhibit A as to why we need to be careful in applying the book of Acts. Acts is a book of transitions, from the Old Covenant to the New, from the Law to the Gospel, etc. Acts is not the final word on how God operates in the church, nor is it the final word on how we’re supposed to do things. For that, we have the Epistles. You use the Epistles to interpret the book of Acts, not the other way around.
So does Paul say anything about this? Well, yes he does. Romans 8:9 and 1 Cor. 12:12-13 couldn’t be any clearer, could they? Romans tells us that “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” There’s no such thing as a person who’s A) saved and B) does not have the Spirit of Christ. 1 Corinthians says that we were all baptized by means of the Spirit into the Body. Again, there’s no such thing as a person who’s A) Saved, and B) Not Spirit-baptized.
So how do we interpret today’s passage? Simple. Up to this point, there was a question in the minds of people if the church was going to be a “Jews only” club or open to everyone. I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: It’s nearly impossible to overstate the animosity between Jews and Samaritans. To the Jews, Samaritans were half-breeds, and the term was synonymous with “person of bad character,” which was why Jesus was accused of being one by his enemies.
So the church in Jerusalem heard that a lot of Samaritans were coming to faith in the Messiah, and they sent a delegation of apostles to investigate what had happened. Peter and John arrived, and found out that the Lord had withheld the Spirit from these new believers until the apostles got there. Once the apostles verified that these were true believers, they placed their hands on them (in a symbol of affirmation and solidarity), and the Samaritans received the Spirit. What happened was similar to Pentecost (but not a repeat of it) so that the church as a whole could understand that the Church was now officially opened to half-Jews. The same incident happened when Gentiles believed for the first time, as recorded in Acts 10. Every time there’s a new phase of Acts 1:8 happening, you see an event similar to Pentecost in order to display proof-positive that God was behind what was occurring.
Now that we’ve got the controversial part out of the way, how can we apply this? Well, here’s one I see. It’s a wonderful thing that the Lord was now opening the doors to half-Jews and Gentiles, but it’s really sad that something like this was necessary. The Lord promised them multiple times that the wall between Jew and Gentile was not going to be an issue in the Body, but it took a trip made by apostles in order to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that God doesn’t care about skin color or religious background or ethnic identity or national affiliation. We're all one in Christ. A believer in China is my brother in Christ. A believing Arab woman is my sister in Christ. And there’s no people group in the world which is beyond the reach of the Good News. Have we got that?
Lord Jesus, you’ve laid claim to every people group, every nation, every person on earth. What can I do to be your instrument?