One of the major themes in the book of Acts is the work of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity. Acts is an important book for us; it describes the birth and growth of the New Testament church, of which we are a part if we have placed our faith in Christ for salvation. It is our history – the foundation of who we are as Christ-followers and how we are to walk in the grace and faith that was purchased for us by Jesus on the cross. Acts contains 55 references to the Holy Spirit, more than any other book in Scripture.
Acts 8 tells the story of two men who professed faith in the name of Jesus Christ. Both were introduced to Jesus by the same man, Philip, and as far as Philip’s interaction with them, both appeared to be true believers at the time of their conversion. Unfortunately, one of them, Simon, was exposed as an imposter not too long afterward. It was his misunderstanding of the Holy Spirit that revealed his lack of real faith.
Simon was a magician, a patron of the dark arts, and had lived in Samaria for some time. He had garnered a reputation of having miraculous powers; after all, Satan is a powerful deceiver. Many in the city were following Simon because of the power he displayed. When Philip arrived with the gospel, however, Simon’s deception was exposed. As God confirmed the word of truth by signs and great miracles through Philip, the imitation of Simon’s power was revealed, even to Simon himself, who recognized the greater One working in Philip. Along with many others, he professed faith in the name of Jesus Christ and was baptized.
Upon hearing of the work God was doing in Samaria through Philip’s evangelism, Peter and John came to visit. The people had believed and were baptized but had not yet received the Holy Spirit. At this time, in the early days of the church, the apostles often prayed and laid hands on new believers, asking God to fill them with His Spirit. Simon observed what he perceived as a “special power” and his true heart was revealed. He asked to “buy” this power. He was motivated by power and money, not a desire for God’s Spirit to do the work of sanctification in his own heart, and Peter rebukes him strongly, advising him to repent quickly of his wickedness. Simon does not repent; his faith was exposed as a sham; he only asks Peter to pray that he would not suffer the consequences of his actions.
Two takeaways from this passage. As we all know, some will profess a belief in the gospel but later prove they are not really interested in the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, revealing they were not truly born again. It is possible to be enamored with Jesus and drawn to His people because of the outward evidence one sees, but unless the Holy Spirit convicts and regenerates, the surface fascination with spiritual things will soon be exposed. Simon wanted power, but he did not want his life transformed. It is not our role, however, to be “judge and jury” of someone’s sincerity in expressing faith when presented with the gospel. We are simply to be the messengers, trusting that God’s Spirit is doing, and will do, the work of regeneration in His time and in His way.
Nay, though [Simon] was now but a hypocrite, and really in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity all this while, and would soon have been found to be so if he had been tried awhile, yet Philip baptized him; for it is God’s prerogative to know the heart. (Matthew Henry)
Second, the book of Acts can lead us to think there is a “special experience” of the Holy Spirit because of the miraculous powers of the apostles, but when reading the rest of the New Testament it is clear that believers receive the Holy Spirit at the time of salvation, at the moment we repent of our sins and surrender to Jesus as Lord and Savior. There is one “indwelling” at salvation, but many “fillings” as we learn to walk in the Holy Spirit, in submission and obedience to the commands of Christ.
Ephesians 1:13-14 – In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.
The Holy Spirit is a gift – God’s indwelling, convicting, regenerating presence in our world – and we are privileged and blessed to know Him and receive Him through faith in Christ. Understanding His role in salvation takes all the pressure off us as we share the gospel, and His presence in us gives us great joy and hope as the power of God transforms us into Christ’s image. No wonder Jesus said, I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you (John 16:7).