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Acts 8: A Second Blessing of the Holy Spirit?

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The question relates to the charismatic position – that God can give the Holy Spirit to people following their salvation, as a second experience/blessing. Or, to put it another way, that you do not receive the Holy Spirit until this occurs. Mark 8 (and similar texts) is used to this end, but I hope to show it is a false interpretation, based not on scripture but on charismatic theology. Charismatics should note that to call this supposed action a ‘second blessing’ is a misnomer, for God blesses all His children continually if they obey.

It is our belief and teaching that the Holy Spirit causes a person to be born-again, and enters that person at the point of salvation. What charismatics (and some Pentecostals) say, is that there is a second-experience, given well after salvation, when the Holy Spirit ‘fills’ a person. Both cannot be true, and one approach must be false. So, we need to know if the reference in Acts 8:14-17 (and similar references elsewhere) contradicts the belief that the Holy Spirit enters a person when he or she is saved – with no ‘second experience’.

“Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:

Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:

(For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)

Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.”

Why this special interest in Samaritans being saved? The most important fact is that the Samaritans were not accepted as true Jews by the majority. The religion of the Samaritans was Samaritanism, and, though basically Judaism, it was askew from full-fledged traditional Judaism. In other words, the Samaritans were seen to be heretics (particularly as they intermarried with gentiles and pagans), even though they claimed to be the ‘true Jews’. They built an opposing temple on Mount Gerizim but it was destroyed in 110 BC (their descendants still worship in its ruins). It was normal at that time for a ‘true Jew’ to snub Samaritans – hence the parable of the good Samaritan, to help break-down the attitude of Jews. It is against such a background that this text in Acts must be set.

It is my view that the salvation of Samaritans came as a complete surprise to the Church at Jerusalem, given the hitherto ‘heresy’ of Samaritans, and why it sent out apostles to confirm the fact and to begin teaching. Despite their own previous national prejudices, the church at Jerusalem had no problem with anyone being saved... even Samaritans. Probably because of the differences between the two types of Jew, they nevertheless sent an envoy to check out if the salvations were really true, and the Samaritans had not twisted the Gospel to fit their theology.

I also suggest that because many in the area were formerly followers of the mighty sorcerer, Simon, that God wished to show an act separate from normal practice – that the Holy Spirit comes upon a person at salvation – so that everyone could see that sorcery and human beings did not in any way affect the coming of the Holy Spirit. Hence the laying on of hands... if the hands belonged to apostles appointed by Jesus Himself, there could be no argument as to the source of the salvation or of the reception of the gifts, etc.

It only takes one proof text to establish a law of God in our minds. If there are more, all the better. But, it still only requires ONE proof of a law to establish it. The proof we require is that God gives the Holy Spirit once only – when we are saved. This being the case, any future activity of the Spirit is not a ‘second blessing’, as if it did not exist before. Instead, any such ‘blessing’ is really an intensification and continuation of something we already have – the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And this occurs if we hand over our lives to God.

What seems to be a ‘second’ blessing can merely be the result of at last living as we ought, which can be exciting and momentous. Often, it is this that charismatics take to be a ‘second blessing’, when, in reality, it is simply the ‘first’ (and only) blessing of its kind, but uncovered (I base the above on a number of observations of charismatics). There is also another possibility – deception. One can be deceived either by a psychological influence, or, worse, demonic involvement. There is much evidence that charismaticism in general is demonically-founded and led.

Ephesians 1:13

“In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,”

Notice that these people were “sealed” with the Holy Spirit (of promise). This sealing is made available after one has received salvation, which, in our terms, means immediately. It has to be immediate, because the seal is against Satan’s attacks and input. It is done by God marking the person as belonging to Himself, sphragizō. So, the person hears the Gospel, believes it, and is then accepted by God and instantly protected by His seal by and with the Holy Spirit (as is promised).

This is told by Jesus in, say, John 6, where everyone who believed on Him was given eternal life. There is no hint whatever that the Holy Spirit is given some time later, but immediately, as the passage construct reveals. In the text we see that believers are ‘sealed’. This verb speaks of the one who is saved having God’s mark on him, confirming who the person belongs to. This, in itself, has to be immediate.

Then, in 2 Corinthians 1:21, 22, this is further elucidated:

“Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God;

Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.”

Note that there is no mention of a time lapse between salvation (verse 21) and the sealing (verse 22). The conjunction ‘and’ in verse 22 (which is the same as ‘also’, kai), proves that the giving of the Spirit is immediate. We are given the ‘earnest’ of the Spirit on being anointed to salvation. This is a noun with the meaning that God has paid the ‘down-payment’ for our souls, the final payment being satisfied when we enter Heaven.

When a down-payment for goods is paid, it is paid immediately... no merchant would hand over goods unless he had at least this partial payment! And, as this down-payment is immediate, so is the reception of the Holy Spirit, Who IS the proof of the down-payment! The very same promise is made in Ephesians 1:13, where no evidence of a ‘gap’ or time lapse is shown. Only a perverse reading of scripture can result in a time-lapse.

Luke 1:41

“And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:”

Elisabeth was “filled with” (not ‘by’, which would indicate salvation) the Holy Ghost. We know that she and her husband were holy, obedient to the Lord. Surely, then, she already had the Holy Spirit within? Yes, she did. It is the term “filled with” that we should concentrate on. “With” can have one of several meanings. For example, it means some thing or person is with another thing or person, doing something together. It can mean already having something. It can refer to the cause of an action. It can refer to what is in or on something, or what causes an event. It can also refer to a connection of friendship or support, or to the instrument of accomplishment. It can also mean a simultaneous action, or a succession of a consequence.

Often, people think “with” is a consequence following an action, which is why so many charismatics take the phrase to mean the Holy Spirit did not fill Elisabeth until after the baby jumped. However, this is not necessarily the case. Note the inclusion of the conjunction, ‘and’ (kai), in the same part of the phrase.

This can easily mean ‘also’ or ‘indeed’ or ‘but’, or any of the conjunction meanings, etc. So, if, instead of ‘and’ we use ‘also’, for instance, this changes the way we perceive the phrase! I am not being devious – the change of conjunction meaning is legitimate, because it is found in the possible meanings anyway, highlighting how ‘and’ may be perceived!

If, then, we insert ‘also’, it can point to something already present, an existing reality, rather than added later. One should also note the range of meaning for ‘was filled with’: the term can mean to fill, but it can also mean to be fulfilled. That is, her reaction to the jumping of the baby was a fulfilment of something already accomplished by God (the earlier giving of the Holy Spirit at her salvation, or, the time determined by God).

Am I saying this is the actual meaning we should accept. No, I am merely pointing out that there can be many more meanings than the one charismatics decide upon without question. (The same reasoning can apply to several other similar verses). Given the above notes, then, was Elisabeth filled with the Holy Spirit before the baby jumped, or after?

There is yet another possible meaning, and one that is the most probable – that when the baby jumped, Elisabeth was filled with an holy prophecy (brought to her by the Holy Ghost; a typical saying at that time used to describe such an event). It is my view that this latter meaning applies in the text, for Elisabeth did indeed utter a prophecy after being ‘filled’.

For me, the clinching argument is found in verse six of this chapter: “And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” In other words they were as accepted by God as ‘righteous’, just as He accepts anyone who is saved by grace: they were righteous! Which means the Holy Spirit automatically lived within them both. The same term, “filled with the Holy Ghost”, is also used of Zacharias, immediately prior to his prophesying.

Thus, we have yet another (most probable) meaning – that the Holy Ghost is referring to His holy work, already fulfilled through Zacharias, and not to a ‘second blessing’. At any rate, the term used for both Elisabeth and Zacharias, refers to a temporary (possibly one-off) act of prophecy... which means it was not a permanent gift in addition to the permanency of the Holy Spirit indwelling every true believer.

Words in scripture are not always what they seem to be! That is why we must be careful. I would have no objection to the idea of a ‘second blessing’ if scripture said there was one. Nor would I object if such a scripture proved itself by intelligent theology (thoughts arising from scripture). But, neither shows such a state.

John 3:3-6

“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

Let me paraphrase these verses:

A man cannot “see the kingdom of God” unless he is born again.

The kingdom of God is spiritual.

Being ‘born again’ means to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit, so that we can respond to the call of the Gospel.

Therefore, said Jesus, we have to be born naturally, of water (re waters breaking in the womb). But, importantly, he must be reborn spiritually. Only then can he be saved.

What this tells us with clarity is that we are filled with the Holy Spirit at salvation. There can be no such thing as not receiving the Spirit until sometime after salvation, because otherwise a man is left unprotected, and not yet owned, by God, and, he is not ready to enter Heaven if he died instantly! And there cannot be a second filling of the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is already within the person who is saved! Indeed, such a notion as a ‘second blessing’ is an absurdity.

Metaphorically, ‘born again’ is to have your mind and heart changed so they conform to the will of God by living a life renewed by the Holy Spirit. No man can do this unless he already has the Holy Spirit.

Intensification/Continuation, or, a New Thing?

The text in Acts 8 above need not be a problem. In those days, the apostles often did miraculous things others could not perform, because the miraculous proved they were sent by Christ, and had His authority.

Today, it is my considered view that what many refer to as a ‘second blessing’ is either a delusion or just the intensification of a life suddenly handed-over to God. That is, it is a continuation of an already existing state. I have seen this happen on a number of occasions! When this occurs the Holy Spirit is no longer ‘barred’ by the one who repents, and so He shows His presence with power. He was always ready to do this, but sin and self prevents it.

Thus, it is not a second application of the Spirit, but an ‘unblocking’ of the original presence of the Spirit when the person was saved. Sadly, modern charismatics have invented two levels of Christian: the first is the one who reaches this sudden and powerful status by way of God giving them a ‘second blessing’; the second is seen to be inferior or untaught, and is saved, but without the Spirit. This is grave error, for every man and woman receives the Holy Spirit when he or she is saved.

Note the text of Matthew 3:11, which says this very thing:

“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:”

John’s baptism was immediate. God immediately forgave the Jews who repented in the river. His baptism was a type of Christ’s baptism of believers.

We know of no occasion when Jesus baptised anyone Himself. The baptism spoken of is concerned with salvation, when the Holy Ghost is given. This is why Jesus commanded the disciples to preach the Gospel (Matthew 28:19) to everyone and to baptise them (immediately) when they believed. This salvation was accompanied by the indwelling of the Spirit, or “he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost” (repeated in Mark 1:8. This reference is to Jewish repentance and baptism).

When Christ started His ministry everything changed, because repentance was about believing in Jesus as Lord and saviour. In the earliest days this baptism could precede or follow reception of the Spirit ((F. F. Bruce. The Acts of the Apostles [Greek Text Commentary], London: Tyndale, 1952, p. 98, n. 1.). In many ways bapto describes the Jewish version (which was temporary), while baptizo describes the permanent effect of Christian baptism. The situation in the time of the apostles was unique and should not be used as a pattern to determine actions following the death of the last apostle.

However, what happened to Jesus in the river is a picture of what happens to us on repentance... we repent and the Holy Spirit immediately enters us (John 1:33. Also see John 7:39). Note the slight difference in, say Acts 2:4, where the disciples received the Holy Ghost in much the same way as Elisabeth, Zacharias and Simeon, enabling them to preach with great power (genuine prophecy) and with tongues.

‘Filled’ and ‘Given’

Also note that this ‘filling’ was AFTER Jesus Himself gave the Holy Ghost to the disciples soon after He rose again (John 20:22). Obviously, this cannot mean that they were ‘filled’ twice (“receive ye the Holy Ghost” is used in John, whereas in Acts we read of the disciples being ‘filled’ – enabled to speak prophetically. These are therefore two separate activities with different ends). In each case where someone was “filled” it was followed by them expressing a divine utterance or action.

Look at Acts 10, from verse 44. Here we see that the Holy Ghost “fell” on those who heard the Gospel from Peter. In verse 45 we see that the Gentiles had the “gift of the Holy Ghost “poured out” onto them. In this case they “received” (not “were filled”) the Holy Ghost because they believed, even before they were baptised. After all, said Peter, can anyone deny them baptism seeing as how they have “received” the Holy Ghost just like us? This is the language of immediacy, not delay.

Read Acts 13 from verse 8. We see a sorcerer trying to subvert the Gospel by persuading his master not to believe. Paul looked into his eyes and was “filled with the Holy Ghost”. So, is a charismatic saying that Paul therefore was ‘filled’ a third time? No, the term is used because God gave Paul special revelation about the sorcerer and proclaimed a prophetic utterance. There is, then, a difference between “receiving” the Holy Ghost and being “filled”. The first is to receive the Spirit at salvation; the second is to have a special revelation or gift/activity of a temporary nature, or a particular divine message from God.

Acts 19:2 shows that those who repented and were baptised by John did not necessarily know of the existence of the Holy Ghost. They admitted this to Paul, who then confirmed their belief in Jesus Christ as Saviour before baptising them in His name. In this particular instance the men received the Holy Ghost and the gift of tongues, meaning, foreign languages. This would not have been universal, but specific to men who would then preach/witness to others in a foreign land, or to foreigners they met who did not speak Hebrew, Aramaic or koine Greek.

In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul is speaking to believers, who are of the same spirit as the Lord: hence each is the “temple of the Holy Ghost” “which is in you” and Who was in them from the moment of their salvation. In Titus 3:5 we see this exemplified: first we are regenerated (born again) and then, being saved, we are “(renewed) of the Holy Ghost”. This is shown to be instantaneous, there being no wait for a ‘second blessing’. Those who have “tasted of the heavenly gift” (salvation) were also made “partakers of the Holy Ghost” (Hebrews 6:4). This is constructed in such a way as to refer to an instant reception of the Spirit when saved.

Ephesians 1:13 tells us that salvation is sealed by the Holy Spirit. This is said to be ‘after’ being saved, but again the construct speaks of immediacy.

Do not confuse special acts of a temporary activity, whether miracles or future-prophecy, or present prophecy by men called to preach and teach, with that once-only reception of the Holy Spirit at salvation. There is, then, no ‘second blessing’ as taught by charismaticism. If you want to experience the work of the Holy Spirit through you – just obey and humbly let Him do what He wishes with your spirit/soul!

© November 2013

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