I wrote a devo last week about the Mach 20 aircraft and said that we all have the Holy Spirit sealed within us when we become Christians. Then a friend basically asked, "If that's true, then why do the Christians in Acts 8 have to wait for the apostles to pray over them before they receive the Holy Spirit?"
Let me start by saying that this is not something that all Christians agree on. When it comes to Christian theology, there are closed issues and open issues.
The closed issues are the things of central importance to our faith. These are things like the Trinity, the deity and humanity of Christ, salvation by faith in Christ's finished work alone, etc. If someone does not hold to these teachings, then they are not my brother nor are they a Christian. If they claim to be a Christian, then they are a heretic and any "church" that doesn't teach these things is a cult.
The open issues are things that, while important, are not of central importance to our faith. This includes things like the age requirements for baptism, timing of end times events, Calvinism versus Arminianism, the age of the earth, and today's topic: receiving of the Holy Spirit. These issues are not by any means unimportant. However, they are issues that we Christians can agree to disagree over and still consider each other brothers/sisters and happily work together as one Church on the same team for Jesus despite our differences. I won't consider you a heretic for disagreeing with me on these things.
So today, the question is "When does a Christian receive the Holy Spirit? Is it when we first believe or at some later point when we are baptized with the Spirit?" The confusion arises from the apostles being baptized with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the Samaritans later in Acts 8. They were believers for a long time, yet they weren't baptized with the Holy Spirit until then. Why? How do we modern believers get baptized with the Spirit? Does it happen when we believe or is it something extra we get later?
I believe a person receives the Holy Spirit the moment they put their faith in Christ and become a Christian.
- Ephesians 1:13 makes this pretty clear to me. It says, "And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit..." Here, Paul says that when you believed the gospel, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit.
- Romans 8:9 says that if you do not have the Spirit, you are not a Christian! "You, however, are not controlled by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ." So, if you don't have the Holy Spirit, then you are not a Christian. Logically, that means that if you have truly believed in Christ, then you definitely have the Holy Spirit!
- Finally, Paul says something interesting in 1 Corinthians 12:13. Speaking to all of the believers in Corinth, he says, "For we were all baptized with one Spirit into one body...". Paul seems to believe that all of the believers in Corinth have been baptized with the Holy Spirit. That means that Paul either believed that every single believer in Corinth had received an "extra" baptism in the Holy Spirit or that baptism in the Holy Spirit occurs when you become a believer. With the other two verses to help and considering the only other option (that all the Corinthians had experienced an extra Holy Spirit baptism), it seems to me that Paul believed baptism with the Spirit occurred the moment you became a Christian.
Peter and the other apostles as well as the other 120 disciples were all baptized with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. But that was after they were believers in Christ! Also, the same thing happens to people who were already believers in Acts 8! Doesn't that disprove what you said above? Well, the above verses seem pretty clear to me. My normal method is to use verses that are crystal clear to guide my understanding of confusing passages.
So if believers receive the Holy Spirit the moment they believe, then why did the 120 not receive the Holy Spirit until Pentecost? Because the Holy Spirit had not yet been sent. Jesus told His disciples in John 16:8 that He must go away in order to send the Counselor (Holy Spirit) to them. Fifty days after Jesus' resurrection and ten days after His ascension, He sent the Holy Spirit. The 120 received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost after they had believed because it was the first time the Holy Spirit had actually been sent to the church in this way. They were believers before the sending of the Holy Spirit, so they were baptized in the Holy Spirit later when the Holy Spirit was finally sent.
Then why did the believers in Acts 8 receive the Spirit way after they believed? Well, these believers were Samaritans. They were half Jewish and half Gentile. The Jews had a long standing racist hatred toward them. Here is how it happened. Phillip preached to the Samaritans and they believed the gospel. At that moment, they were Christians. But it wasn't until days later that the Christians in Jerusalem heard about this. These were the 100% Jewish Christians who likely had been brought up to hate the Samaritans. They sent Peter and John, the leaders of the Jerusalem church which was almost completely Jewish to investigate. When Peter and John arrive, they agree that the Samaritans have become Christians. They pray for them and the Samaritan believers received the Holy Spirit. I think God waited for the Holy Spirit to fall on them until Peter and John were there for a reason. This was the first time the Holy Spirit would be given in great number to those who were not fully Jewish. God was demonstrating with Peter and John present as witnesses that the gospel and the Holy Spirit and salvation were truly for everyone, including the Samaritans whom they had held racist attitudes towards for most of their lives.
I have to admit. My explanation for the Samaritans in Acts 8 is definitely speculation. I can't prove it from the Bible. To some degree, this is true of my understanding of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Although, I think that is much more backed up by John 16:8.
However, I am convinced by the three verses I shared that every believer receives the Holy Spirit the moment they put their faith in Christ. These verses seem quite clear to me.
Pentecostals and Charismatics disagree here. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ and I think we can learn a lot from them, especially about enthusiastic worship! They have traditionally taught that Christians have to receive an extra baptism of the Holy Spirit after they become believers to be filled with the Holy Spirit. They point to Pentecost and Acts 8 as proof of this. However, to take this viewpoint, you have to figure out a way to explain the three verses I pointed out. You would also have to show an extra "baptism of the Holy Spirit" as being normal throughout the New Testament. But its not.
So, I try to use the clear verses to ground what I believe and to help me interpret what is happening at Pentecost and Acts 8. I believe the moment you put your faith in Christ, you receive the Holy Spirit within you as a constant Guide, Counselor, Friend, Healer, Comforter, Encourager, Witness, and Guarantee of your salvation. What do you believe? I'd love to hear your thoughts!