Full Participants in Grace

Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:17).

- Acts 8:14-17

Word of the advance of the Gospel into Samaria filtered back to the apostles in Jerusalem. In response, they sent Peter and John as their representatives to welcome the Samaritan believers into the church. When the two apostles arrived, they prayed that the Samaritans might receive the Holy Spirit and then laid hands on them.

Luke notes that the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of the Samaritans, but once the apostles prayed and laid hands on them, they received the Spirit. What was going on here? Was there some deficiency in the Samaritans’ water baptism? Did the Holy Spirit’s delay in coming upon the Samaritans indicate that their conversions were not genuine? Why was the apostles’ visit necessary?

First, there was nothing improper in the Samaritans’ water baptism. Although Luke notes that “they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus,” there was no violation of Jesus’ command to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Peter had instructed the first Jewish converts to repent and be baptized only in Jesus’ name (Acts 2:38). The emphasis in both passages falls on “name,” God’s full revelation in word and deed. Also, it is apparent from the subsequent baptism of the Spirit that the Samaritans’ conversions were genuine. The Holy Spirit was active in them; they had experienced rebirth and renewal.

The crucial thing to remember here is that the Gospel was crossing a new ethnic frontier, and one that the Jewish believers of the church would have found most difficult to accept. The pouring out of the Spirit upon the Samaritans powerfully demonstrated their equality with the Jerusalem Christians and their full participation in the church, and it was appropriate that this symbolism occur at the hands of the leaders of the church. “God sent the apostles Peter and John to Samaria to signify that through the apostles He officially approved a new level of development in the church: adding the Samaritan believers,” Dr. Simon Kistemaker says. “As [God] declared His presence among the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem [at Pentecost], so He affirmed His nearness to the Samaritan believers.” The initial outpouring of the Spirit upon the addition of new people groups will continue throughout Acts.

Coram Deo

We have to admit God chooses some odd people to be His sons and daughters. The Bible says “not many wise … not many mighty, not many noble are called.” Remember that this applies to you, too. Pray to God to remove any arrogance from your heart. Seek to get to know and love even “the least of these” among your church family.

Passages for Further Study

Luke 10:29–37; Rom. 12:9–10; James 2:1–9; 1 John 4:20–21

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