Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Simon Magus told to repent of his attempt to buy the power of God, Acts 8:22

The next use of a repentance word in Acts presents a simple, clear-cut example of the behavioral aspect of repentance. In Acts 8:9-16, Philip the Evangelist preached in Samaria with great success. We are told that great signs and wonders accompanied Philip’s preaching. Before Philip came to Samaria, many in that city had been under the influence of a sorcerer named Simon, whom they called “the great power of God.” Obviously, the signs and wonders done by Philip were greater than any Simon could muster, because first the people of Samaria, then Simon himself, believed in Jesus and came to Philip to be baptized. Yes, the text actually states that Simon “believed” and “was baptized.” (Acts 8:13).

But, though Simon “believed,” his heart was not right, and it showed in his actions. When the apostles James and John came down to Samaria to lay hands on the new believers, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, Simon demonstrated that he had believed in Jesus out of envy and still wished to be a sorcerer—a manipulator of the power of the spirits—by offering money to buy the ability to confer the Holy Spirit on others. Simon’s act, of which he was told to repent, is set forth in this passage:

18 Now when Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me also this power, that whomever I lay my hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart isn’t right before God. 22 Repent (metano─ôson) therefore of this, your wickedness, and ask God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.”

Acts 8:18-23 (WEB).

Here, Simon was clearly told to repent of his act, and his desire, to purchase the power of God. Although he had previously believed and been baptized, his heart would only be right toward God after he changed his way. The story ends with Simon’s response, which, unfortunately, leaves it very uncertain whether he actually repented:

24 Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that none of the things which you have spoken happen to me.”

Various early, extra-biblical church traditions held that Simon never repented, and became the founder of heretical sects. But this is uncertain. The best that can be said is that we don’t know whether he repented of his attempt to buy the power to manipulate the Holy Spirit. Still, it is clear that, when he was commanded to repent, he was to repent of a behavior—indeed, a behavior that is very common in the church today!

(The shameful thing is that, in the Church today, so many teachers pander to those who want to buy the Spirit's power, and even openly market God's power--though falsely. They should instead be calling those who want to buy God to repentance!)