Summary: The Spirit isn’t a commodity we command but a Person Who commands us.
People are attracted to entertainment with dazzling special effects. Simon the Sorcerer amazed the people of Samaria with his impressive tricks and dynamic personality. But when Philip and Peter came to the city, he encountered real power--unmistakable miraculous healings and speaking in tongues, which caught his attention. The big difference between Simon and the disciples is that they gave Christ the credit and attention, not themselves. Simon boastfully called himself the “Great Power” (vs 10). Whenever a ministry is focused on a self-exalting personality instead of Christ, there’s a serious problem. Dynamic cult leaders and other false teachers claim special power and insight, deceiving many. Let’s not be led astray.
The big question over this passage is whether Simon had genuinely converted. He heard the Gospel proclaimed and saw many signs and wonders. Some suspect he had ulterior motives. Verse 13 tells us, “Simon believed and was baptized.” Did he exercise real faith, or did he “slip into” the church to gain access to power? What was the basis for his faith--the teaching of the disciples, or the miracles they performed? Did Simon have faith in God, or faith in faith, the “power of belief”? Decide for yourself, for scholars don’t agree and the text is not definitive on this point. I wonder how much Simon understood about Christianity beyond the basics. It’s easy for new believers to make mistakes when their overall knowledge of Scripture is weak.
Simon reminds me of a guy I saw in a movie; he was wearing around his neck a Cross, Star of David, a Buddha, an Islamic Half Moon, and several other religious symbols—he wasn’t taking any chances. Some people say they’re trusting in Christ simply as fire insurance. Is this sincere faith or superstition? We need to examine our motives, our reasons for coming to Christ. I’ve had many requests for baptism that were little more than “checking the block”, as though water had some special power to save. Without sincere faith, we can participate in all sorts of religious rituals, yet remain lost.
Simon wanted to know how to tap into the power of the Spirit, which he recognized as superior to what he had. He thought that he could purchase this power. Simon’s proposal sounds like offering to pay a magician to reveal how he sawed someone in half. Yet Simon was trying to buy that which was divine. In Medieval times the Catholic Church sold indulgences, claiming that people could buy their way out of Purgatory. A popular American folksong, All My Trials, cautions, “If religion were a thing that money could buy, the rich would live and the poor would die.” God’s power isn’t for sale. We can’t “cut a deal” with God. This didn’t stop a popular minister from authoring a booklet, “How To Write Your Own Ticket With God” (Kenneth Hagin), making it seem as though God were compelled to do our bidding.