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Rodman Williams: The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today: Reception

In the first account after Pentecost of the Holy Spirit being given, namely to the Samaritans, this occurred some days after their first coming to faith in Christ. We have already noted how Philip proclaimed the gospel and many believed. However, despite their new-found faith, they had not yet received the Holy Spirit. Several days later—at least four or five days13—the apostles Peter and John came down from Jerusalem and “prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit… . Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:15-17). So it was along the way of faith that the Samaritans experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The Samaritan story likewise has numerous parallels with the contemporary scene. Many, after coming to faith in Jesus Christ, have later had hands laid upon them and experienced the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

And, as with the Samaritans, earnest prayer has often been the immediate background. Frequently, also, one person has been the evangelist (like Philip) to bring people to a commitment to Christ and others have been used by the Lord in ministering the Holy Spirit.14 Thus the whole process has occurred over a period of time from initial faith to the reception of the Holy Spirit.

We turn next to the account of Saul of Tarsus in Acts 9:1-19. There is likewise a delay of several days—in this case, three—between the time Saul first encountered Jesus and the moment of his being filled with the Holy Spirit. As the narrative discloses, a voice from heaven says, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” and Saul thereupon inquires, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply is given, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” After this encounter and the beginning of faith,15 Saul fasts and prays for three days in Damascus before a man named Ananias comes to him, and “laying his hands on him, says, ‘Brother Saul,16 the Lord Jesus … has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.'” Thus there is a period of time—though shorter than that of the Samaritans—between the inception of faith and the reception of the Holy Spirit.

What is important to recognize for the Samaritans and Saul alike is that there are two critical moments in their experience—although there is some diversity in details 17—and that it is the second moment in which they receive the Holy Spirit. This sequence of events is not unlike that of many today who have “believed” (Samaritans), have called Jesus “Lord” (Saul), but who do not receive the fullness of the Spirit until later. Also, various persons may perform different functions in relation to the total experience. There may be someone who is especially the channel for initial faith (as Philip, or the Lord Jesus himself), and another—or others—is the channel for the reception of the Spirit (as Peter, John and Ananias). There is much diversity in the way these moments on the way of faith occur.18 One further illustration of the reception of the Spirit occurring along the way of faith is that of the Ephesians in Acts 19:1-7. Paul encounters “some disciples” in Ephesus. He thereupon questions them, “Did you, [believing],19 receive the Holy Spirit?” After the Ephesians express their ignorance concerning the Holy Spirit, Paul leads them step by step from “John’s baptism,” which they had experienced, into a faith in Christ accompanied by water baptism—”On hearing this [the word about Christ] they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” The final step follows: “And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.” Here is a sequence of events, or moments, in which persons move from a very limited faith to a specific faith affirmed in water baptism, to a laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Spirit. The temporal span between the first two may have covered many years; the span between the second and third is quite brief. However viewed, there is a process of Christian faith involved, a series of nonidentical events, and once again the basic fact: the gift of the Holy Spirit occurring not at the moment of initial faith.20 In regard to what happened at Ephesus, it might be instructive also to turn to Ephesians 1:13, where it is quite possible that the apostle is rehearsing in similar words the event of their reception of the Holy Spirit.

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Category: Spirit, Summer 2003

About the Author: J. Rodman Williams (1918-2008), Ph.D., is considered to be the father of renewal theology. He served as a chaplain in the Second World War, he was a church pastor, college professor, and key figure in the charismatic movement of the 1960s. Beginning in 1982, he taught theology at Regent University School of Divinity in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and became Professor of Renewal Theology Emeritus there in 2002. Author of numerous books, he is perhaps best known for his three volume Renewal Theology (Zondervan, 1996).

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