A common device of the enemy is to delude some Christians into thinking that certain blessings from God are their exclusive preserve—and to look on other Christians (in a rather condescending fashion) as defective and incomplete. Satan delights in this two–tier Christianity, this church of the first and second classes, because he has thereby succeeded in introducing division where there should be none (1 Cor. 12: 25). A serious example of this is the matter of the indwelling of the Spirit of God in the believer (1 Cor. 6: 19), which some allege is a blessing only enjoyed by certain Christians—usually meaning themselves.
The ‘proof’ text often brought forward is Acts 5: 32: “And we are [his] witnesses of these things, and the Holy Spirit also, which God has given to those that obey him”. With complete disregard for the context, this has, for example, been construed by certain false teachers to mean that the Spirit is given on the basis of the obedience of 2 Tim. 2: 19: “Let every one who names the name of [the] Lord withdraw from iniquity”. Thus, it is said, those Christians who are not separate from evil (as defined by these teacher) do not have the Holy Spirit. Of course, one cannot be truly separate without joining the organisation where this teaching is propagated!
Let us examine the Scriptures the, to see if these things are so (see Acts 17: 11). What is before us in Acts 5: 17–42 is not the whole of mankind, but Israel. Hence we read “Go ye and stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life … The God of our fathers has raised up Jesus … Him has God exalted by his right hand as leader and saviour, to give repentance to Israel and remission of sins” (vs 20, 30, 310. Now God’s earthly people, Israel, were divided into two camps. On the one hand there were those that obeyed God, and on the other, there were those that disobeyed God.
The first company we see in verses 19–21: “But an angel of [the] Lord during the night opened the doors of the prison, and leading them out, said, Go ye and stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life. And when they heard it, they entered very early into the temple and taught”. Now the apostle had been strictly charged by the Jewish leadership not to speak at all in the name of Jesus (see Acts 4: 18; 5: 28), but these were men operating under the principle that “God must be obeyed rather than men” (Acts 5: 29). Thus when they heard the commandment from God they immediately obeyed.
The second company—those disobedient to God—are found in opposition to the apostles. Thus if God had told the apostles to preach, these oppose the preaching: “And the high priest asked them, saying, We strictly enjoined you not to teach in this name: and lo, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and purpose to bring upon us the blood of this man” (v28). Peter then proves their hostility to the will of God with his reply: “The God of our fathers has raised up Jesus, whom ye have slain, having hanged on a cross. Him has God exalted by his right hand as leader and saviour …” (vs 30, 31). The Jewish hierarchy would not accept the leadership of God’s Christ (John 19: 15). This was the most offensive form of disobedience they could give to God—refusing to be subject to God’s anointed man (the AV has “prince” instead of “leader” in Acts 5: 31, but the thought is the same). Even now as God lingered in grace with the Jews, they would not accept that they were wrong in crucifying Jesus, and that God was right in exalting Him.
Those Jews, however, in the fellowship of the apostles, subjugated themselves to the Man of God’s counsels, as proved by their readiness to become God’s “witnesses of these things” (v32). They testified to the exaltation of Christ, and to them—as those characterised by obeying God—the Holy Spirit was given. He is not given to Christ–rejecters, but to Christ’s followers.
Thus the obedience spoken of in the passage is subjection to the will of God in relation to Christ—acceptance of His leadership (see v31). Even the Greek word for obey used by Peter, peitharcheo, means to obey a chief. There is no basis whatsoever for specifically associating Acts 5: 32 with 2 Tim. 2: 19. Put simply, it is the obedience of the Gospel concerning His Son that leads to God conferring His Spirit upon us.
The word of Gamaliel in verse 34–39 are worth noticing in this context. He speaks of Theudas (v36) and Judas the Galilean (v37) as men who gathered companies around themselves, followers who “obeyed” them. He saw the Lord Jesus as just another revolutionary with obedient followers. Although Gamaliel used a less specific word for obey (peitho—to persuade), than that used by Peter, the since is not too dissimilar to see a connection with v32. The Holy Spirit is “given to those that obey him”—those that follow Christ.