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Lessons from Acts 8.


More Lessons from Acts 8.

Acts 8:14ff

We’ve already learned that we need to regularly examine ourselves, to be sure that we are truly in the faith, and not fooling ourselves about our conversion, and now in this important passage we can still find more important lessons to learn.  For example…


1 Do Christians Need a “Second Blessing?”

I’ve heard many preachers and read some books that use this incident to establish a doctrine of a “second blessing” or a “baptism of the Holy Spirit” – some form of supernatural infilling that occurs after salvation. In their understanding, a sinner is saved, but later on, at some time after their conversion, the person will long for ‘more of God’ and will be “filled with the Holy Ghost” – and this “filling or baptism” is typically marked by some supernatural signs.    Now this is certainly a secondary matter, and one view or another won’t keep anyone out of heaven, but as Reformed Christians, it would not be our position. 


So, let’s consider again this passage in Acts 8 and see what’s really happening here in Samaria…

  • They needed evidence of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Now there is no doubt that these believing Samaritans already had the Holy Spirit within them – otherwise they could not be saved.  Romans 8:9  So, what was it that they lacked?  R C Sproul suggests that that they had not yet received the evidence of the dynamic inward presence of God in their lives.  They had been saved, they had been baptised, they were part of the church, but being so far from Jerusalem they had little idea of the extraordinary work that God does in spirit filled believers.  So their baptism is acknowledged and their want supplied by Peter and these apostles.  16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus.  17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 
  • The results were visible 18Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, Simon saw the effects.  The bible doesn’t tell us what these effects were.  It is futile and wrong to speculate.  Some Christians think that the visible effects must have been similar to those on the Day of Pentecost, but there is no evidence of that here.  If the phenomena of Pentecost was being repeated, there would be the visible and aural signs, as in Acts 2:1-13, but that was a very specific occasion, and the granting of the supernatural ability to preach the gospel in other, unlearned languages was necessary because of the vast numbers of foreign visitors in Jerusalem at that time, and that situation was unlikely at Samaria, for it was not a place of pilgrimage as Jerusalem was.  The best answer to the question, “What did Simon see?” Would simply be, that we don’t know. 

So, is there a precedent here that must be followed by successive generations of Christians?  Is this incident a doctrinal pattern, from which we must assume that believers today will come to Christ, be baptised, and then at some later date be ‘filled with the spirit through the laying-on of hands?’  There are some who would say that it is.  Just be aware…

  • Of the context of the book.  Luke wrote this book as an historical account of events that happened at that time.  The book is about the work done by the Holy Spirit through the Apostles. It is not didactic literature, it is not about teaching us doctrine, but about encouraging us with the growth and practices of the early church, that we may learn from them.  
  • Of the context of the times.  These deeds were done by, and these practices were the practices of, the APOSTLES.  There are NO GENUINE APOSTLES TODAY.  Paul was the very last person to see the risen Christ, the last of the apostles.  The miraculous doings of the apostles are no longer possible, and nor are they necessary for we now have something better, the complete, final Word of God, the inerrant, infallible unchanging scriptures, or the Old and New Testaments.
  • Of the overall teaching of the Scriptures.  We have just looked at one verse from 1 Corinthians, but we have much more biblical teaching on the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer than we could deal with in this one study.  Perhaps another time!


2 God’s Power (and by implication, His Salvation) Cannot Be Bought. 18 he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.

Now, let us be careful with this. There certainly are some who think of the Holy Spirit as an impersonal force or power, – a power indwelling the Christian, a power which enables us to do wondrous things for God, and a power that we must have more of.  So, you will hear charismatics and others, praying that God would give them, “more of the Holy Spirit.”  See how Simon did this…

  1. Simon’s Request.  Simon wanted the Holy Spirit.  He wanted to DO SOMETHING to get more of God’s abiding power.   For Simon, who had probably been financially enhanced by his superstitious activities, what he offered to do was give money.  Certainly, there’s not many people today who think they can buy blessing or power from God, although many of the televangelists do try to encourage people to think that…  But there’s plenty of other things that people think they can or must do to ‘get more of God.’  Like, ‘let go and let God…’ ‘lay your all upon the altar’ ‘go in for God’s salvation.’  But the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal power, force or internal influence.  The Holy Spirit is a PERSON.  He is the third person of the trinity, he is God, indwelling us.  We do not need MORE of the Holy Spirit, but rather we need to give more of ourselves to him.  He wants more of me!  It’s not for me to cry out for more Holy Spirit, it’s for me to yield myself to his influence, every day…
  2. Peter’s Response.  In Peter’s response there are two great lessons to learn…
    • Money and possessions are of no value in eternity.   20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! Peter doesn’t want Simon’s money, and rejects this bribe without question.  Look at the words that he uses, for they are full of contempt for what Simon is suggesting.  As for Simon, his worldly wealth will perish with him, it will be useless in eternity.  He will die, and go into a lost eternity, and his wealth cannot save him.  How foolish to put our trust in riches, or strive to enrich ourselves in this world.  Like the rich farmer who thought of nothing but business and prosperity and profit and building more barns, one day all our money will be gone, and we will stand before God clothed in nothing but our wickedness and sin.  Luke 12:20  
    • Salvation is a gift.  Yet in his rebuke of Simon, Peter teaches us a great truth, salvation is a GIFT, – in fact everything we receive from God is a gift, given in his unmerited favour, his grace, these blessings cannot be earned, or they wouldn’t be a gift.  They are freely given.  Romans 3:23-23   God’s Gift is freely given, – our passive response like that of a child being offered a gift by a parent, is simply to stretch out a hand hand and receive it!


3 Repentance is a PERSONAL Matter.

In this final lesson we look at the last words of Peter to Simon, and his reply, before he disappears off the sacred page, and becomes, if the Early Church Fathers are to be believed one of the first Gnostic heretics to attack the church.

  • A personal challenge.  Peter issues a personal rebuke and a personal challenge to Simon.  It’s the message of the OT Prophets.  Hosea 6:1   It’s the message of John the Baptist. Matthew 3:1-2   It’s the message of Jesus.  Matthew 4:17    It’s the message of the Apostles. 2 Corinthians 7:10.  It’s the message of the Christian church for two millennia – It is the simple word – REPENT!  Peter said   8:22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.  SO That’s exactly what Peter tells Simon.  Repent.  Now what does Simon do?
  • Passing the Buck!  He replies to Peter’s command, ‘You do it for me!’ 24And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” Pray for me!  It’s good when someone asks for prayer, and we want to pray for people.  Some time ago, after a funeral, a lady came over to me, and told me her name, and simply said, ‘Please pray for me.’  Of course, I agreed, I’ll gladly pray for her.  There would be a tendency to look at Simon’s request like that.  We could even say, ‘Isn’t it great that Simon is asking for prayer!’  But is it?  Peter has just told him to repent, and to repent requires coming to God in prayer, with a penitent heart, agreeing with God as to our lost and sinful condition, asking him for forgiveness and turning to him alone as our saviour and Lord.  Instead of doing just that, Simon is saying, you PRAY FOR ME!  And as far as salvation is concerned, that simply won’t do, for the prayers of your mother, your pastor, your church, your friends won’t get you to heaven. You cannot he saved by proxy, you must come, yourself, and no one can do it for you.  Like the sinful publican who stood alone in the temple, and who went away justified before God.  13 Voucher terms and conditions 

So this chapter began with Philip, a deacon, travelling away from Jerusalem and up to Samaria, preaching the gospel as he travelled, and seeing a great revival occur as people, sinners, respond to the good news and are saved.  But Philip’s story is going to continue, and he’s going to travel further, and see another example of God’s grace at work, and that’s for our next study.

From → Acts, Bible Study

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