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Holy Spirit Baptism: The examples in Acts - Part II

Are there instances in Luke’s accounts when time separates the Spirit’s work in the regeneration and Spirit-baptism of individuals? Are regeneration and Spirit-baptism separate experiences (in time) and therefore distinctive experiences (in identity)? Pentecostalism insists there are such instances, using five narratives in the book of Acts – The day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-42); the Samaritans (Acts 8:4-24); Saul (Acts 9:1-19); Cornelius (Acts 10:1-48); and Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7) – as a basis for their unique doctrine in which conversion (or regeneration) is separate in identify from baptism in the Spirit. However each of these examples in the Acts narrative actually demonstrate that baptism with the Spirit is the gift that Christ gives individuals in the New Covenant that causes conversion/regeneration; that is, Spirit-baptism makes people Christians.

As discussed in Part I, the case of the original disciples (Acts 2), Paul (Acts 9), Cornelius (Acts 10) and the Ephesian disciples (Acts 19:1-7) are all examples of the gift of the Holy Spirit being given for the first time to groups people previously living under the Old Covenant or living outside of the New Covenant.

The only instance in the New Testament where it may be more difficult to see that conversion/regeneration occurs by Christ giving his baptism in the Spirit is the Samaritan experience (Acts 8:4-24).

The Samaritan experience (Acts 8:4-24)

The Samaritans "believed Philip" after his gospel preaching and had been baptised in water by him before Peter and John prayed that they might receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:12-15). Therefore, Pentecostals believe that these Samaritans were converted/regenerated under Philip’s ministry and that their reception of the Spirit at the laying on of the Apostle’s hands was a separate and distinct experience.

"The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them"

Although Luke records that the Samaritans had “believed Philip” and been baptised, the also text explains that the Spirit had "not yet come upon any of them" (Acts 8:16). This point of explanation is given by Luke during the narrative to enable us to understand the actions and events that follow. Luke points out that the Spirit had "not yet come upon any” of those who had appeared to Philip to be genuine believers (for otherwise he would not have baptised them).

"Receive the Holy Spirit"

Luke does not use the language of "baptism in the Spirit" to describe the event that follows. Instead he records that the Apostles, Peter and John, prayed for them that they might "receive" the Spirit. The reason is obviously: they had not yet recieved the Holy Spirit. Luke avoids any confusion, for he emphasises again that after the Apostles had prayed for them, they did then "receive the Holy Spirit". This eliminates the possiblility that the narrative is reporting a second-stage experience of the Spirit, where after initially receiving the Spirit they then experienced baptism in the Spirit. Luke is clear and his words are unambiguous: these are people who had previously not received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

"If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ"

The wider context of Scriptural teaching regarding the reception of the Spirit is helpful here. The consistent teaching of the New Testament is that anyone without the gift of the Spirit is without Christ: "if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ" (Rom 8:5). These disciples could not therefore have previously been genuine believers; although they "believed Philip," they had not truely put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Though they had been baptised in water, they hadn't yet received the baptism in the Spirit, and therefore were not genuinely converted. Here Philip was over zealous in baptising a group without seeing true repentance, as the example of Simon the Sorcerer illustrates.

"Simon himself believed and was baptized" (Acts 8:13)

The example of Simon the Sorcerer surrounds this narrative and is the context in which these events are recorded. He is introduced in verse 9, before the events mentioned in verse 14-17. Then, after this group receive the Holy Spirit in verse 17, the narrative again turns back to Simon the Sorcerer. Therefore, his example should be allowed to influence how we read this passage. The main point of this narrative becomes clearer when the example of Simon the Sorcerer is seen for what it is.

"Your heart is not right before God. Repent..." (Acts 8:21-22)

Simon the Sorcerer is an example of one of the group who had believed Philip and was water baptised, but it was later revealed that his heart was "not right before God" and he was commanded by Peter to repent and seek the Lord's forgiveness (Acts 8:22). He was not truely converted because he had not truely repented and been made right with God.

The mark of a true Christian

Thus, the main point of this narrative is not that baptism with the Spirit is a second experience for Christians, but in fact that conversion/regeneration has not occur until Christ's baptism in the Spirit has been given. In other words, regeneration is the act of Christ giving his Spirit to an individual.

This entire narrative therefore highlights the importance of repentance accompanying faith in order to demonstrate true belief. It also reminds us that what marks a genuine Christian is not outwardly believing the gospel or being baptised. But the mark of a true Christian is having received the Holy Spirit, and until this takes place a person is not converted.

The sign of tonugues?

It may well be that God gave an outward sign not mentioned in the text at this point to show the Apostles that these Samaritans truely had now received the Spirit. This seems likely, because Simon saw that the Spirit was given, at which point he offered them money and said, "Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." (Acts 8:18-19). This does not indicate that what is on view here is a second-stage experience of the Spirit. As in the other narratives discussed (Acts 2, 10 and 19) which are all clearly examples of conversion into the New Covenant, tongues were also given to provide a sign of what had taken place inwardly. But more on this in the articles coming up.

The verdict on Spirit-baptism from the Acts narratives

Each of the five Acts narratives used as a basis for Pentecostalism to insist that baptism in the Spirit is a secondary post-conversion experience for Christians actually demonstrates that baptism with the Spirit is the gift that Christ gives individuals in the New Covenant that causes their conversion; that is, Spirit-baptism makes people Christians; until individuals receive Christ's Spirit they are not regenerated.

In Part I we saw that the cases of the original disciples (Acts 2), Paul (Acts 9), Cornelius (Acts 10) and the Ephesian disciples (Acts 19:1-7) are all examples of the gift of the Holy Spirit being given for the first time to groups of people previously living under the Old Covenant or living outside of the New Covenant. And as we have seen here in Part II, the case of the Samaritan disciples is no different, for it shows a group of followers who on the surface accept Philip's words and undergo water baptism, yet like Simon the Sorcerer are still without the inner gift of Christ's Spirit, but who then, except for Simon, subsequently receive for the first time Christ's gift of regeneration. Only Christ's own act of baptising with the Holy Spirit brings someone into the New Covenant of life in his Name.

More on this topic

Tongues and Spirit-baptism: What Pentecostals believe

Baptism in the Spirit: The examples in Acts – Part I

Speaking in tongues: The pattern in Acts

talkingpentecostalism.blogspot.com | joe towns: christian discussion on pentecost, charisma, pentecostal and charismatic beliefs, the Bible and Jesus; including the origin and history of pentecostalism, baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, gifts and miracles, divine healing and word of faith, prosperity and wealth, praise and worship, guidance and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit.