At Ephesus, Paul asked some disciples, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?”
On their disclosure of ignorance concerning the Holy Spirit and their admission that they had only been aware of John’s baptism, Paul baptised some believers in the name of the Lord Jesus and laid hands on them; and they evidently received the gift of the Holy Spirit.
I have often pondered on this passage, because at first reading, it seems like an almost magical move, an abracadabra sort of thing where the performance of an external rite works the desired change.
But as I read on further, noting how Paul deliberately omitted those who were stubborn in their determination not to believe, I understand otherwise. He knew when to say when, and guided by the Spirit, he left those stubborn opponents to themselves, but met daily with those poised for change. This he did for two years “so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.”
On reading further, we meet the sons of Sceva who tried to copy Paul as if his
exorcisms were an abracadabra thing. They were overpowered because the ‘name of Jesus’ is not a magical formula to verbalise. It is reflective of a stance of faith in Jesus the Christ. Even the evil spirit declared the lordship of Jesus. Then many who had invested their finances in magic (the eternal rites performance business) gave up on this and became believers. It is faith in Jesus that counts; and this is really a matter of the heart.
O for a heart to praise my God..
a humble, lowly, contrite heart,
believing, true, and clean;
which neither life nor death can part
from him who dwells within.
Charles Wesley, 1707-88