May was the month I studied the Book of Acts. And when I looked into Acts 8 one day over dinner (I was eating by myself and flipped open my Bible for fun) some thoughts came to me.
Acts 8:9-11 (NIV) - Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, "This man is the divine power known as the Great Power." They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic.
In this day and age we are likely to meet Simon the Sorcerer again, spiritually speaking.
Witchcraft and sorcery, obvious use of the occult for self-gain, is not only easily available, it is now fashionable. When I was a teenager I would see the occasional book on spells in the bookshop and think it was a joke. Now you can get detailed instructions on performing and casting spells for free. Just search online!
Because it is now so much easier for people to practice sorcery again, it is likely that we Christians will meet a real genuine sorcerer (or a Satanist or a person with occult powers) sooner or later.
Acts 8:12-13 (NIV) – But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.
When was the last time you preached to a Satanist? Or maybe a priest of some other religion, who happened to have supernatural powers? I used to assume that they would never give up the powers they had and turn to Christ, because in order to get their powers they probably sold off their souls permanently and weren't interested in getting them back.
But Satanists do turn to Christ. I know one personally. And I know two powerful evangelists who have no hesitation to declare the resurrection, love and power of Christ to Satanists, witches and priests of other religions. And they do have some success, mainly because they were gutsy enough to pray for God to show signs and miracles to others through them.
You would think that a witch who could curse people with deadly sickness or get winning lottery numbers from spirits would not be impressed when you pray for them and they get healed of headaches. But they are. I have heard of them breaking down and crying when God heals them in the name of Jesus. Of course, these two evangelists have seen God heal more than just headaches through them. But it started from them daring to pray for signs and miracles to confirm the Word they preach.
One thing though, it requires you to accept that signs and miracles are still available to the Body of Christ today. If you believe that the Book of Acts was just meant to be a fluke, a transitional period, and signs and wonders are not meant for us today, then you will have great difficulty witnessing to Simon the Sorcerer when you meet him again.
Acts 8:14-17 – When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
This was a turning point in Church history. The coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Samaritan believers was not only a reminder to the apostles that the command of Acts 1:8 (to preach the gospel in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and all the earth) was still in force, it was also a sign of reconciliation between the Jews and the Samaritans.
And yet in the midst of the Holy Spirit's demonstrated approval of the reconciliation, someone much more worldly-minded could miss or ignore the significance of this event…
Acts 8:18-19 – When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, 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."
Why did Simon the Sorcerer make this offer?
First, he may have been looking at the whole matter from the perspective of potential profit. If he could bring the Holy Spirit upon anyone whom he laid hands on, he may have been thinking about charging people for receiving the Holy Spirit.
But I personally don't think this is the reason, because as long as the apostles did not charge for laying on of hands, Simon the Sorcerer could not charge for it either. No one would pay him for the Holy Spirit if they could receive the Holy Spirit free of charge directly from the apostles, right?
Second, he may have assumed that the apostles themselves received this ability as a result of giving someone else money. Or that they achieved this ability at great personal sacrifice and training, and deserved to receive monetary compensation for all their efforts and dedication.
This was most probably how he himself received his powers. He either paid someone who had those powers to teach him and then practiced and trained very hard to master those powers, or he sought out spirits to teach him. And in case you do not know, those spirits would have demanded a heavy price from him in one way or another in return for giving him those powers. They may have demanded animal (or even human) sacrifices or that he perform elaborate rituals that are time-consuming and difficult. (in a nutshell, that is what my ex-Satanist friend taught me about the nature of witchcraft and sorcery…)
So Simon probably thought that was how it was for the apostles. Look at Peter's response.
Acts 8:20-23 (NIV) – Peter answered: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin."
Consider Peter's rebuke. When Peter rebuked Simon for thinking he could buy the gift of imparting the Holy Spirit, Peter was implying that this gift was free of charge also. It was not given only to those who had the money to pay for it. That was not how the apostles received this gift, or the gift of working miracles. They received all their gifts from the LORD freely, and so they likewise imparted them freely too (Matt 10:8).
This is a serious matter. Once you think you have to buy the gift of God, instead of receiving it freely on the basis of faith, the above passage tells us that your heart is not right before God (vs 21), it is wickedness (vs 22) and you are full of bitterness and captive to sin (vs 23).
Does this also apply to trying to buy the gift of God with good works, piety and devotion? Think about that…
Acts 8:24 (NIV) – Simon answered, "Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me."
Now we come to the final question: was Simon the Sorcerer saved?
Yes, I believe so, because he believed in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31). But he certainly had a faulty understanding of his salvation. Remember, the Apostle Paul had not yet appeared on the scene to explain in greater depth how we can freely approach God on the basis of faith in what Jesus has done for us on the cross and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (Eph 2:18).
Notice that when Peter ordered Simon to pray to the Lord (vs 22), Simon refused and asked that Peter pray for him instead (vs 24). This tells me that Simon himself was still afraid of approaching the LORD in prayer, especially when he has sinned. His own faith was not yet established to the point that he could pray to God himself and know God will freely pardon him (Isa 55:7).
This has two implications for us that I would like us to ponder together:1) Do we believe we have to buy from God what he has freely given us on the basis of faith?
If we believe that, and teach others the same, our hearts are not right before God. Moreover, we will find ourselves captive to bitterness and sin (vs 23) as Simon the Sorcerer was. We will find ourselves stumbling when we try to work for what God has already given us, instead of believing God's Word and trusting in his goodness. 2) People who have a background in sorcery or witchcraft usually have greater difficulty believing in the goodness and forgiveness of God.
Please be patient with them, especially in this area. They need more time and effort to be established in this aspect of the Christian faith. So if you are the one who will follow-up with them after they believe in Jesus or if you have to disciple them, pay careful attention to this area. It is very easy for them to slip up and start relating to God the same way they relate to whatever deities or spirits they served before. And we don't want that to happen!Conclusion:
I personally believe that we will encounter more people with occultic powers in this day and age. We need not be intimidated, in fact, we should be confident as we share Christ with them. The case of Simon the Sorcerer gives us some lessons and thoughts to consider, and we will do well to learn what we can from this passage of Scripture. Be blessed!