In John 3, as Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus, he said that those who are born of the Holy Spirit are like the wind: you can hear the sound but you can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going. The Spirit moves as it pleases. As much as we might like it to do so, the Spirit doesn’t seem to follow specific rules or recipes about how it works or where it appears.
I was reminded of this again as I read Acts 8. Phillip was evangelizing in the area of Samaria and baptized many different people, including a man named Simon who was a sorcerer, a practitioner of magic arts. However, as several of those people were baptized, none of them received the Holy Spirit.
It wasn’t until Peter and John arrived later, having heard of many people believing in Samaria, that they laid their hands on those who had believed and they received the Holy Spirit.
If I’m speaking openly and honestly, passages like this confuse me at times. If they believed and were baptized in the name of Jesus, as the scripture says why did they not receive the Holy Spirit already before Peter and John arrived? There are certainly several passages that suggest that this is what we should expect to happen.
However, the telling of this story suggests a different scenario altogether.
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.Acts 8:14-17
So how does it work? Honestly, I can’t say that I am specifically sure. The Holy Spirit seems to show up whenever it wants to show up. In this story, the Holy Spirit doesn’t enter the people until Peter and John lay their hands on the people. In Acts 10, the Holy Spirit comes before the people are even baptized. In short, it seems to move whenever it wants to move. It comes upon the people whenever it wants to come on the people. As Jesus said, you can hear the sound, but you can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going!