Why didn’t Samaritan believers receive the Holy Spirit till the laying of hands?

“The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them, for they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John laid their hands upon these believers, and they received the Holy Spirit.” – Act 8:16-17 (NLT)

Is being born again and receiving the Holy Spirit two different experiences?

The above verse presents challenging questions like, “does it mean one can believe in Jesus and still not have the Holy Spirit? Is the born again experience different from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? Does it mean we can only receive the Holy Spirit by the laying of hands?”

First of all, nothing in the Bible indicates that people don’t get the Holy Spirit until someone lay hands on them.

Several people teach the being born again and receiving the Holy Spirit are two different experiences but that isn’t true also. Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:13

“Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.”

Paul had also written previously in 1 Corinthians 6:17 saying 

“But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.”

The day we received Jesus as our Lord and Savior was the day we received the Holy Spirit as the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. Apostle Paul makes this even more clear in Ephesians 1:13-14

“And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him.”

Paul didn’t say “when you believed and got hand laid on…”, he said, “when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit”. The Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee of salvation. 

Paul wouldn’t have said this if there are believers who are yet to receive the Holy Spirit. Paul wouldn’t refer to receiving the Holy Spirit as the seal of salvation if we do not receive the Holy Spirit when we got born again. It can’t be two distinct experiences.

Back to the main text, Philip had preached to people in Samaria who aren’t new to encountering strange things. Simon, the sorcerer has been amazing them for several years until Philip came to them with the life-changing word of God. Through the preaching of Philip, God delivered them from Simon. Being baptized in Jesus name implied that they had publicly accepted Jesus and his teachings through the ministry of Philip.

God’s Move to Secure the Samaritan Church

However, God wanted to do something special among the people of Samaria, it was an exception and not something we can generalize. When the Samarians believed, the Apostles had to go and see what was happening and bear witness to the testimonies of these new converts. The event here was a special circumstance as the Church was still in its infancy.

When Peter and John arrived in Samaria, they didn’t go on to teach extra, all they did was pray for these believers and the Holy Spirit was made manifest through them. This singular act achieved a lot; first, it was proof to the Apostles that these men truly heard and believed the gospel. Secondly, it was proof to the Samarians, that they weren’t dealing with another kind of Simon but with a body that is united and under the authority of Christ.

Another thing we see on why God purposed that Peter and John must visit the Samaritan Church was to disgrace the sorcery powers of Simon and make him not influence the infant Samaritan Church. By that act, God differentiated Simon’s sorcery from his power. 

Many people do not understand what Simon wanted to buy from the Apostles. He didn’t want to buy power as we understand it, he would have sort to buy it from Philip if that was the case because Philip did amazing miracles that got everyone abandoning Simon and listening to him. 

What Simon wanted to buy from Peter and John was the Apostleship authority, he wanted to pay money to assume the office of an Apostle, to receive the Apostolic grace and power evidence in the ministry of the Apostles. See it this way, Simon wanted to buy a Church office! If God had given the Holy Spirit to the Samaritans unguided by the Apostles in their infancy, many things would have gone wrong because the Spirit also comes with ministry gifts. 

Let’s see how Peter rebuked him

“May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.” – Acts 8:21-22

One of God’s intentions of bringing the Apostles to Samaria was to secure them against wolves and to establish Apostolic authority all over the city as they went about teaching the people before returning to Jerusalem.

God’s move to validate the Samaritan Church

While Philip did an amazing job as an evangelist in Samaria, God wanted to institute the Church through the Apostles for so many reasons including what I have stated above. With Peter and John witnessing these Samaritans epitomising the same Spirit as they did in Jerusalem, the unity of the body of Christ was proven and they would go back to Jerusalem to tell the believers there, “yes, I was a witness to what God did in Samaria and it is the same Spirit, the same gospel”.

The Jews had always seen Samaritans as people who had no right to practice Judaism and people who were practising it inaccurately. The Jewish Church would have had this perception too about the Samaritan Church if no Apostle was involved in its founding. Let me accentuate again; what happened in Samaria was an oddity, it doesn’t mean that we don’t receive the Holy Spirit when we become born again or that there must be laying of hands for one to manifest the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Infilling vs Indwelling of the Holy Spirit

Many confound “receiving the Holy Spirit” and “being filled by the Holy Spirit”. To be filled by the Holy Spirit means that we allow the expression of the Holy Spirit through us unrestrained. Every believer has the Holy Spirit but not every believer give room for the Holy Spirit to find full expression. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:18

“Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit,”

He was talking to believers who have already received the Holy Spirit but may not be giving the Holy Spirit the room to express himself fully through them and in them. The infilling of the Holy Spirit is an ongoing experience, it is not something that happens one time. That is why one can be on fire for God today and very cold tomorrow; sin can be a factor too. Paul tell us in 

“And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.” – Ephesians 4:30

From the above verse, it is clear that while we received the Holy Spirit as an assurance that we have been saved and will be saved on the day of redemption, we can only manifest the Holy Spirit to the capacity that we allow him.

I call you blessed.

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