Acts 8:14-17 - Praying to Receive the Holy Spirit

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Before Jesus ascended, He told the disciples (Acts 1:8) that the Spirit would come upon them and that they would proclaim the Gospel in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost part of the earth. This story unfolds in the Book of Acts.

Acts chapter 8 is about the proclamation of the Gospel in Samaria. So I am giving a series of messages about the advance of the Gospel among the Samaritans. Today, my text is Acts 8:14-17. My title is: Praying to Receive the Holy Spirit. Several points are important.

1. Believe in Christ and receive the Word!

When Philip went to Samaria, he preached (Acts 8:12) "the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ." The Samaritans believed and were being baptized. The evidence, I believe, demonstrates that the Gentiles had genuinely embraced the Word of God. Given the facts that the Samaritans believed Philip's message and received the Word of God, we know that they were true believers.

The first step toward receiving the Spirit is to respond to the Spirit's wooing, to believe in Christ, and to receive the Word. The Samaritans did all this and were being baptized in water. As believers, we should be baptized in water. This is a step you should take. If you have not already accepted Christ, then turn to Him now and embrace all that He has done for you. Through repentance and faith, you will become a child of God.

2. Understand what it means to receive the Spirit.

When you come to Christ in faith, you become a child of God. When you have faith in Christ, you are united with Him and you receive the Spirit. Acts 8 does not deal with the reception of the Spirit when you come to faith, but other parts of the New Testament do. Believers in Christ are never without the Spirit. Acts 8, however, does talk about the receiving the empowering presence of the Spirit.

The Spirit had not yet fallen upon any of the Samaritans. The Spirit had not come upon them in an empowering way. Surely, it was expected in the early church that the empowering Spirit would fall upon all disciples. This had not yet happened in Samaria, so Peter and John went to Samaria to pray for the believers that they might receive.

It is important for you to understand that the term "receive" the Spirit" is used in more than one way in the New Testament. You receive the Spirit when you believe, and you may receive the empowering Spirit as you continue to follow the Lord. We are urged in the New Testament to be filled with the Spirit. It is not just a neutral option, but a real urgent matter for us.

3. Recognize the importance of prayer in receiving the Spirit.

When Peter and John came to Samaria from Jerusalem, they "prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit." The believers had been baptized in water, but they had not received the Spirit. Realizing this, the apostles came to Samaria to pray for the disciples.

The disciples needed the Spirit, and Peter and John prayed for them that they might receive Him. We do not normally pray for an individual to receive the Spirit when he or she comes to Christ. The initial reception comes as a response to faith. However, it is in order to pray for the Spirit to be received beyond this initial moment.

We note that "they began laying their hands on them." Laying on of hands is helpful, and we may invite others to lay hands on us when they pray. However, laying on of hands is not a "necessary" element in receiving the Spirit. On other occasions people received the Spirit without the laying on of hands.

The apostles Peter and John prayed for the Samaritans. Today, we may ask other believers and leaders to pray for us to receive the Spirit. We may invite them to lay hands on us and pray. Also, it is in order for us to pray ourselves that we may receive the Spirit.

4. Be prepared to receive the Spirit.

When the apostles prayed, the disciples "were receiving" the Spirit. They actually did receive the Spirit in his empowering presence. The prayers of the apostles were answered. The disciples received. The Lord immediately answered the prayers of the apostles. We, too, can expect a positive answer.

When we pray, or when we have others pray for us, let us be ready for the Lord's response. Jesus is the baptizer in the Holy Spirit. He desires that we be filled with the Spirit. As we stay open to the outpouring of the Spirit, we will receive what the Lord wants us to have.


Luke is telling the story of the expansion of the church and the role of the Holy Spirit in the expansion. When the Spirit falls upon the Samaritan believers, this demonstrates God's approval and empowerment. Moreover, when the Spirit falls upon new converts, this demonstrates that God has accepted them. All believers, in New Testament times, are not only eligible for this empowering gift but encouraged to receive it. Let us live up to our privilege!

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