On the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, the apostles received the power of the Holy Spirit that was the promise of the Father (Acts 1:4-5). After receiving the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostles were able to produce miraculous deeds beyond what mankind could explain (Acts 2:6-7). Many began to wonder as to the origin of such power (Acts 2:6-13). Peter arose from the eleven and spoke to the crowd at Jerusalem where every nation under heaven had representatives attending (Acts 2:5). After Peter delivered the inspired sermon, numerous men and women were pricked in their hearts and asked, “Men and brethren, what shall we do” (Acts 2:37)? “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). Peter’s divine invitation has reverberated through the halls of church buildings and church assemblies for generations.
However, the phrase that Peter spoke concerning the “gift of the Holy Spirit” has been a topic of debate and discussion in the church for years. What did Peter mean? What is the gift of the Holy Spirit?
The brethren hold three primary positions as to this inquiry. The gift of the Holy Spirit means the Holy Spirit himself. The gift of the Holy Spirit indicates miracles. The gift of the Holy Spirit implies salvation. Thankfully, whatever position a Christian holds does not result in disfellowship, unless one makes the leap to direct operation of the Holy Ghost. Whichever stand he/she takes in the discussion, it should be well defended. Let us briefly examine these positions.
Those that hold to the belief that the “gift of the Holy Spirit” means miracles, would argue that this was done in an effort help those people that took the truth back to their home countries after the persecutions (Acts 8:1). Those that sojourned back to their native homeland would need the witnessing and signs of the Holy Spirit to show the message truly emanates from God and not from man (Heb. 2:4). This position provides a practical application to the needs of the time.
In context to Acts 2:38, every reference to the Spirit in Acts 2 involves the miraculous, unless verse 38 is the exception. The phrase “gift of the Holy Spirit” only appears one other time in Scripture (Acts 10:45). Cornelius receives the gift of the Holy Spirit and then speaks in tongues (Acts 10:46). In this context, the gift of the Spirit was clearly the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, why not stay consistent with how the phrase has been used in other parts of Scripture when the context is so similar?
Those that hold that the “gift of the Holy Spirit” is the Holy Spirit would take the approach that the verse corresponds to other passages in Scripture that explain that Christians are the temple of the Holy Ghost, and Christians receive that Spirit in obeying the truth (1 Peter 1:22-23). This verse in Acts 2:38, goes to show that when penitent believers are baptized, God’s Spirit begins to dwell within the faithful, it is His gift to His followers (Eph. 2:8; 1 Cor. 6:19).
Furthermore, if this verse applies to the Christian today, it cannot imply the miraculous because Christians no longer require miracles today (1 Cor. 13:10). If part of the verse applies to believers today, then the rest of the verse must also apply.
Those that hold that the “gift of the Holy Spirit” symbolizes salvation almost entirely use the proceeding verse to explain their argument. “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39). They hold that the gift of the Spirit is the promise of God unto the faithful. They further parallel the wording in Acts 2:39 to the wording in 1 John 2:25, “…the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.”
While brethren should never let non-salvation issues divide them, this debate has torn asunder many faithful brethren. Such is the danger in any debate. Regardless of the position, what is most important is that Christians maintain the authority of Scripture (Col. 3:17; 1 Peter 4:11).