Study in the Acts of the Apostles. Presentation 18. A False Believer Chapter 8v9-25. Presentation 18. Introduction.
Acts of the
One of the tremendous things about the Bible is that it isn't frightened to record the failures of the church. It doesn't sweep failure under the carpet but presents us with an honest record of events. The early church, despite being born in days of intense spiritual activity, found spurious converts in its ranks. This did not surprise them, nor should it surprise us today.
Indeed, the gaol of one of the most famous of Jesus’ parables - the parable of the sower - was designed to show that not all response to gospel preaching is genuine. Simon clearly did not have genuine spiritual roots in his life. This is a searching story because it asks if our Christian profession is truly genuine.
Simon lived in Samaria where he had risen to a place of some prominence among the people. This charismatic character had bewitched an entire nation with what is described in v11 as ‘his magic’. Now much more seems to be implied than running the equivalent of a C1stPaul Daniel’s magic show. Simon’s hold over this people was both sinister and unhealthy. He was a self seeking man, who derived great pleasure from holding power over his followers.
Now Simon was in danger of becoming a nobody. Ever since Philip had begun to preach the gospel in Samaria, Simon's personal following had dwindled. He had been eclipsed by the Jesus whom Philip proclaimed and the power of the gospel had shattered the fetters that had bound the people to Simon.
People like Simon don't like being nobodies. They recognise that if they don't jump onto the popular bandwagon they might be left behind.
That may seem a poor motive for joining the church but you would be surprised by the number of people who have employed it. Perhaps Simon saw the church as the place where he might regain his influence.
In addition, a man with his past reputation could be
viewed as a prize convert, a spiritual
celebrity who might soon be asked
to provide spiritual leadership.
Simon didn't want to be a nobody,
he wanted attention, admiration
and applause. Many have joined
the church for no greater reason
We read in v13 that Simon ‘believed and was baptised’. He seemed to be an eager convert following Philip wherever he went. And yet there was something seriously wrong with his profession of faith.
Surely, this should teach us that it is possible for someone to go through the whole process of discipleship training, where verbal assent is given to all that is said. They can be baptised and accepted by the leadership of the church and yet remain unregenerate, unchanged in heart and spirit. If the heart is not right nothing else will be right!
It is of vital importance to ask, “What is it that binds a person to the church? What is it which above all else makes them want to be a part of it? How do wetest the genuineness of a person's conversion?” William Guthrie one of the great Puritan writers wrote a book called "The Christian’s Great Interest" in which he encourages his readers to take this test. Quite simply he asks, what their great interest is?
The reply he is looking for is that the awareness of their burden of sin and desperate need of salvation, drove them to Jesus and caused them to confess him as Saviour and Lord.
Now what was Simon's great interest? Was he devastated by his own spiritual bankruptcy? Did he grieve over the fact that he had nothing in the spiritual linings of his pockets – no righteousness of his own? Did he hunger after the truth about Christ's person and so glory in his work of salvation? This you will remember was the mark of the infant church on the day of Pentecost 4.32...
In contrast, Simon's interest was totally self-centred and designed to satisfy his own ends. He had no real concern for the kingdom of God.
However, he was interested in something that the church had to offer. A great many people stand in Simon's shoes today. They have entered the church not because their great interest is the Person and Work of Jesus but instead have been attracted by other things. For some it is the variety of church activities, or perhaps to areas of church life for which they believe they have some flair. Others want to meet a nice group of people, the list is endless but they all have one thing in common, these motives are totally self centred. There is no focus on Jesus!
We note from v13 that Simon had a particular interest in the miraculous. He followed Philip about because he was intrigued by the outwardly sensational. This is very revealing. In Jn. 6 we find Jesus confronting the crowd with the shallowness of their interest. He said you want miraculous entertainment and have no real interest in me or my mission. He then described the cost of discipleship and we read, “from this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” v66. They wanted an entertainer, a benefactor but not a Saviour.
Simon's fascination with the miraculous is further evidenced when the apostles came from Jerusalem and laid hands on the Samaritan church, which seems to have experienced their very own Pentecost v15. When Simon saw that, he rubbed his hands together and said,
“here is the means of my comeback to
popularity, all I need is the power to
bestow the Spirit”.
Today, a great many people share Simon's fascination with the miraculous which often tends to push Jesus and his gospel into a corner. Some time ago a newspaper advert read; “Come to our meetings miracles guaranteed”, “People experience levitation in our religious services”.
That attracts a particular type of individual whilst
displacing Jesus from his central position. In other
parts of the church Christians are encouraged to
pursue the more spectacular gifts of the Spirit but
little is said of the necessity of producing mature
Christian character. An appetite for the
spectacular rather than for holiness of life
It was the essence of Jesus’ teaching that if you listened long enough to a man's speech you would discover the true state of his heart. You see, one chance word can so often reveal a whole inner attitude of heart. Simon's request in v18ff betrays him,
“he offered them money and said, give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
Surely no believer could have spoken like that.
Simon reveals a total ignorance of spiritual values. He thought the gift of God could be purchased with money and then used to promote his own self-interest. Simon's behaviour has introduced a word into the English language, "simony" which describes someone who seeks to buy advancement in the church. You will remember one of the criticisms raised by the Reformation was that a bishopric or even a cardinals hat could be bought if the sum was right. Some men today still try to buy their way into prominence in religious circles by lavish giving.
However, the main thing to notice is that Simon did not want the Holy Spirit for himself but the ability to confer him on others. Isn't that significant! He wasn't interested in goodness or Christ-likeness of life, nor in spiritual cleansing or regeneration but in a ‘new trick’. We note from 5v32that God bestowed his Spirit on those who ‘obeyed him’.
In other words on those who repented,
who turned their backs on their former
way of life and were prepared to head
in a new direction, those prepared for
Simon had believed certain truths at a purely intellectual level v13 but he did not allow them to challenge his will which was not submitted to Christ. He would not allow the truth of God to take root in his heart.
Simon was also a stranger to repentance something we deduce from his response to Peter's rebuke in v24.
Simon did not say, "Pray that I might be given the gift of repentance, I truly want to be different" but rather, “Pray that I would escape the consequences of my sin.”
Remorse is not repentance and between the two lies a great chasm. A remorseful man doesn't want to change. He doesn't want God to make him different. He merely wants to be delivered from the consequences of his godlessness.
The scripture remains silent about what happened next to Simon. Fittingly, the passage ends with an encouragement to repent. Having revealed how much religion a man can have and yet still not be right with God, it begs the question, is the Lord Jesus Christ and his salvation is our
If not then God mercifully calls you from a shallow,
ingenuineprofession of faith to a genuine
commitment to him.