Summary: The Spirit isn’t a commodity we command but a Person Who commands us.
Conversions in the Book of Acts> “Simon the Sorcerer” Acts 8:9-24 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
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.
Do people try to bargain with God today? Many people figure that attending worship and giving money to the church is their way of obligating God to give them a comfortable, trouble-free life. When hardships occur, they stop coming and giving, assuming that God has let them down. He’s no longer meeting their expectations. They can’t see how strength can arise from adversity.
Peter confronts Simon using some pretty strong language: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God” (20-21). Not definitive enough for us to conclude Simon wasn’t a true convert, but a harsh rebuke nonetheless. From this incident came the word “simony” which means obtaining positions in the church through underhanded means. Cutting deals, playing politics, cronyism, bribes, quid pro quo, the good ol’ boy network--whatever you call it, there are plenty of unethical ways to get ahead in life. Simon though blessings could be bought.
Simon wanted the Holy Spirit. The question we ponder is whether the Spirit had hold of Simon? The Spirit isn’t a commodity, but a Person. Primitive religions use magic to try to control or manipulate God, to get what they want. True religion realizes that God is in control, and He chooses what’s best for us. Faith rests in God’s plan. The Holy Spirit is not a genie we command. He is Lord and commands us. A radio faith healer used to tell listeners to “put their hand on the radio” to “feel the power”, as if he could somehow transmit divine might over the airwaves. If people really wanted to “feel the power” they should put their hand in the radio!