Summary: Two examples of religious decisions one false conversion (Simon the Sorcerer) and one true conversion (Ethiopian Treasurer).
Two Conversion Stories
The hero of Acts chapter 8 is Philip. Philip was one of the seven chosen to oversee the distribution of relief to the widows. Philip is the first person and the only person in the New Testament called an evangelist (Acts 21:8). It is interesting to consider that he was a layman not a preacher or pastor. When Philip went out he went out with a message, “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them” (v.5). Philip preached, “The good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (v. 12). Philip was a man with a message and that is why things were happening. That is why people were being saved and why “there was great joy in the city” (v. 8).
Out of Philip’s ministry in Samaria, we are given two examples of religious decisions one false conversion and one true conversion. Sometimes telling the difference between professing Christians and a genuine believer is very difficult.
I. THE STORY OF SIMON THE SORCERER
A. The Person That Simon Was vv. 9-11
“But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, (10) to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, ‘This man is the great power of God.’ (11) And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time.”
Notice the contrast that is drawn in this passage. Verse 9 begins with the word “but” which always draws a strong contrast. The contrast is between the marks of authentic salvation and those with a false or counterfeit faith. For sometime before Philip arrived in the city, it had been under influence of a man named Simon, a sorcerer. Some translations use the word “magic” but this is not simply about sleight of hand tricks done to entertain an audience. This word implies occult activity, which is involvement with demonic powers.
Simon billed himself as “The Great One,” the Latin word for great is magus, so Simon is sometimes called “Simon Magus.” This is the same as calling himself “Simon the Great” or “Simon the Magnificent.” The people were amazed at the things that Simon did therefore they believed the things Simon said. These were restless and unsettled times and people were searching for answers that would provide comfort and hope in their lives and like many today they were looking in all the wrong places. They turned to cults, astrology, and witchcraft, just as there is a resurgence of these things today, offering false answers and false hope to people who really need Christ.
However, now Simon found himself challenged by Philip. Simon started to lose his following among the Samaritans as they listened to Philip’s messages, believed on Christ and were born again and were baptized.
When Simon saw the miracles that occurred at Philip’s hand he who had amazed others was himself amazed. Simon could recognize the real thing when he saw it. For the first time in his life Simon saw a power that was as great as what he pretended to have. He had been tricking people and he knew that it was only trickery. It is not just that Philip’s miracles rivaled Simon’s trickery it was that Simon boasted of himself, whereas Philip preached Jesus. Philip was not drawing attention to himself, but rather pointing people to Jesus.
Even today there are those who are not interested in a real understanding of the gospel, they want tricks, miracles and the spectacular. They reject the Gospel, but they will believe everything else. They follow every cult and false religion. They would rather believe in human trickery than in God. They prefer the counterfeit gospel to the real thing.
B. The Profession That Simon Made vv. 12-13
“But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. (13) The Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.”
The puzzling part of this story is verse 13, which says, “Simon himself also believed and ….was baptized.” No doubt when Philip baptized Simon he believed that he was sincere. It is possible to fool the preacher. Jesus said that the Church field in which some tares will come up with the wheat. Tares are weeds that look a lot like wheat, but are not. But on the Day of Judgment, Jesus will sort out the true from the false. (Matt. 13:38-43)
Was Simon actually a believer? Was he truly saved? Was his baptism a true baptism? It would seem that Simon was exposed to strong preaching, was impressed with the miracles that were performed, and wanted to tap into the power of the Gospel but did not truly have a change of heart characterized by a repentant heart. Simon did not want to accept Jesus he wanted to use Jesus. He saw Christianity as something he could use and the power of the Holy Spirit as something he could buy. His was not a real commitment to Jesus but a false commitment to try to tap into the power that Jesus made available. Simon’s faith was a fake.