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Insight #325 – Gifts of the Holy Spirit

What does it mean to receive the Holy Spirit? Is the Holy Spirit limited to just one activity? Surely not. He was involved in creation (Gen. 1:2). He was involved in the production of the Bible (2 Pet. 1:21; Eph. 6:17). He is involved in developing Christian character (Gal. 5:22-23). And more. Scripture plainly says: “Now there are various kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:4).

Let’s consider a specific case that confuses some believers. What is the relationship between receiving the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 and receiving the Holy Spirit in Acts 8? Are they the same gift, or are they different?

The Spirit through Baptism

Pentecost, 30 A.D., is one of the most important dates in history. Jesus had risen from the dead, and now His church was being born. To begin with, there were visible and audible signs of the Holy Spirit working through the apostles: tongues like fire on their heads, the sound of a mighty wind, and the apostles speaking in foreign languages.

The crowds were first curious and then stricken with guilt when Peter confronted them with having crucified their Messiah. When they cried out seeking a divine remedy for their sin, Peter proclaimed, “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Two commands: repent and be baptized. Two promises: forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

That day, everyone could see 3,000 people being physically baptized. But there is no indication that anybody could see what took place spiritually – neither the forgiveness of sin nor receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. Those were a matter of faith.  

Years later, Paul asked the Christians in Corinth, “Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). When those brethren were converted, not only had their sins been forgiven, but their bodies became temples of the Holy Spirit. In fact, Paul told the Romans that “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who don’t walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit… if any man doesn’t have the Spirit of Christ, he is not his” (Rom. 8:1, 9). The indwelling of the Spirit is an innate characteristic of being a Christian.

What does the Spirit do in the Christian’s life? In powerful general terms, Romans 8 contrasts living according to the flesh with living according to the Spirit. Galatians 5 briefly does the same and then gives two lists: the deeds of the flesh contrasted with the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-25). In short, Romans 6:23 tells us the “free gift of God is eternal life.” Acts 2:38 combines that gift with the “gift of the Holy Spirit.”

The Spirit through Laying on Hands

As the church began to spread, Philip went to Samaria preaching the gospel and working miracles of healing. Many Samaritans believed and were baptized, including Simon, a sorcerer. When the apostles Peter and John came to Samaria, they “prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for as yet he had fallen on none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of Christ Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:15-17).

Now, wait a minute! At Pentecost, this same Peter had said that if they were baptized, they would receive the Holy Spirit. But now in Samaria it says they had not received the Holy Spirit even though they had been baptized. Since God does not contradict himself, we must consider that in Samaria the text is talking about a different gift of the Spirit than the gift mentioned on Pentecost. Is that consideration justified?

The strongest evidence of this difference is Simon’s reaction. “When Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me also this power, that whomever I lay my hands on may receive the Holy Spirit'” (8:18-19). Simon clearly witnessed something so unusual that it was worth paying money for.

When many Samaritans received the gift of the indwelling of the Spirit through baptism (as in Acts 2:38), Simon did not offer money so that he could baptize people. It was only when Peter and John laid hands on people that Simon witnessed something superhuman – something so powerful that a former sorcerer considered it worth paying money to obtain.

We are not told what Simon “saw,” but Acts 19:5-6 may give us a clue. Certain people “were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When [the apostle] Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them and they spoke with other languages and prophesied.” Whether it was this or something else that Simon witnessed, the former Satanic sorcerer (who used to amaze the Samaritans), wanted to amaze them again. He was willing to pay cash to get that new power.

Notice that it was the laying on of the apostles’ hands (Acts 8:18). It was something that did not happen at baptism. It was something that even the miracle-working Philip did not do. It took the laying on of apostles’ hands to impart the Spirit in a miraculous way.

In short, the former sorcerer coveted power to lay hands on baptized people to produce some supernatural effects in them.   

Two Different Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Acts 2: The Holy Spirit received through repentance and baptism.
Acts 8: The Holy Spirit received through laying on of hands.

Acts 2: No physical evidence of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 8: Gift of the Holy Spirit was “seen.”

Acts 2: Gift of the Holy Spirit simultaneous with forgiveness.
Acts 8: Gift of the Holy Spirit for Christians already forgiven.

Acts 8: Simon offered no money to baptize people.
Acts 8: Simon did offer money to lay hands on people.

With all of this in mind, the only conclusion we can reach is that the gift in Acts 8 is a different gift from the one in Acts 2 – two different gifts from the same Holy Spirit. As Paul wrote, “There are various kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.” Thank God that His Spirit yet today dwells in those who believe, repent, and are baptized. Is that you?