Acts 18:1-19:20, Psalm 35
One thing I neglected to mention from the onset of our devotionals is that though the book of Acts is typically designated, “Acts of the Apostles”; others have said it would be better called, “Acts of the Holy Spirit.” Certainly wherever we see the apostles succeed, it is because of the Holy Spirit. One question that we didn’t ask in Acts 2 was, before the Holy Spirit was given to the apostles in power on the day of Pentecost, were those same apostles considered innocent in God’s sight? Maybe you didn’t know this was a quibble. For many, since Paul declares in his letters that the person who has the Spirit has Jesus and vice versa (see Romans 8:1-17), it seems to be justifiable to believe that before someone has the Spirit of God, they are not declared righteous by God. Perhaps then, even the apostles were not genuinely saved before they received the Spirit on Pentecost? At least that is how the argument goes. This discussion becomes pertinent when we read today about the situation in Ephesus where people have been baptized in John’s baptism, but have yet to receive the Holy Spirit because they have focused on John’s message about repentance without understanding the necessity of belief in Jesus. Now, a straightforward interpretation suggests the Ephesians were not genuinely rescued by God’s grace when Paul preached in their midst because they hadn’t believed the Gospel. Still asking important questions about the meaning of the Spirit’s pouring out on the Ephesians helps us grasping the significance of the Spirit filling the apostles in Acts 2; not to mention Acts 8 when the Samaritans receive the Holy Spirit after having already believed in the name of Jesus. I argue the events in Acts 2 & 8 are different from Acts 19 (Ephesus) in important ways. In Ephesus, the people had yet to believe in Jesus, and so were in need of the Gospel. In Jerusalem and Samaria, the special blessing of the Spirit had been previously withheld from bona fide believers in order to, at the appropriate time, commemorate the appointment of leaders from regions in historic Israel to go to the ends of the earth. So in short, in Jerusalem and Samaria, I believe that the believers in Jesus were already made right with God by faith, but in those unique points in salvation history, received the Spirit as God’s declaration of the importance of those moments in our history. In Ephesus, for whatever reason, those folks had just believed in John’s message about repentance, but had not grasped the importance of faith in Jesus alone. This all means that I do not believe today there is a time where people live with faith in Jesus, but lack the Spirit. Rather, when we trust Jesus today unto salvation, we become dwelling places for God’s Spirit like Paul emphasizes so well in the book of Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, and Ephesians.