The First False Convert
Published by Stanley Pouw in 2022 · 3 December 2022
Please open your Bible to Acts 8, because we’re going to look at the history of a man called Simon, not Simon Peter. We’re going to see in him an illustration of a person that has faith that does not save. Now once we’ve looked at Simon, we are then immediately compare him to a man from Ethiopia. And we are also going to see in him the faith that does save.
So we’re going to see the contrast between the nature and character of saving faith and that of a false faith. Let me read Acts 8:9-24, “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. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs.
14 Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, 15 who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
18 And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that these gifts of God could be purchased with money!
21 You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. 22 Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” 24 Then Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me.”
Acts 8 begins with the great general persecution of the early church led by a man named Saul who was in agreement with the murder of Stephen. And on that very day that Stephen was murdered, Saul led a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem. It caused believers to scatter throughout Judea and Samaria; the apostles remaining in the city. Saul ravaged the church.
The church was growing fast. They turned Jerusalem upside-down with the gospel. And, the declaration that Jesus had risen from the dead, the same Jesus that the elite of Jerusalem had murdered, caused persecution to break out against this exploding church. That persecution began by jailing the apostles and threatening them against preaching, otherwise they would be beaten.
And we see Stephen in Acts 7: Stephen, the first Christian preacher to die as a martyr, stoned to death, led by a man named Saul who started the persecution and who later became the apostle Paul. However, neither the persecution of the apostles, threats against the apostles, or even the murder of Stephen could stop the church growth. This was the Holy Spirit using persecution to fulfill the promise of Acts 1:8.
The gospel was not popular, it only expanded through persecution. Samaria becomes a bridge to the Gentiles, and the Gentiles will actually be reached in Acts 10. Preaching led to productivity, fruitful ministry in Jerusalem, in Judea and beyond. Philip now becomes the key character. It is Philip who encounters Simon the magician. It is Philip who then meets the Ethiopian.
It is Philip who confronts the reality of false faith as well as true faith. Philip confronts Simon and the Ethiopian eunuch. These two stories are vital for us, in particular to show the difference between a non-saving faith and a saving faith. And, Simon looked like a true believer. In verse 13, he believed. He was baptized and that he continued. It looked good on the surface.
We see four characteristics of false faith in this man, Simon. He had a wrong view of self, he had a wrong view of salvation, he had a wrong view of the Spirit, and he had a wrong view of sin. His view of self was egotistical, his view of salvation was external, his view of the Spirit was economic, and his view of sin was evasive; all wrong views. He is an illustration of a tragedy that goes on all the time.
First let’s start out with the wrong view of self, egotistical. This is a common reality that keeps men from faith that saves. Pride, they think they’re good, that was Simon. Verse 9, “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,” He was practicing magic, meaning to be skilled in the art of deception.
So here we meet really the first false teacher who infiltrated the church with his heresy. He is the first false teacher to propagate what later became known as gnostic ideas. Gnosticism comes from the Greek word gnosis which means people who have secret knowledge. People who feel that they have ascended beyond the masses, and they somehow can commune with gods.
This indicates his wrong view of himself; he thought he was someone great. But you’re far from the necessary humility that is required to come to true salvation. Verse 10, “to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the great power of God.” The Samaritans were convinced by Simon himself that he was the chief of one of these powers.
This is precisely how the Mormons see Jesus. Jesus is not God; He is an emanation from God. He is a great power of God, elevated above man, but below God. The Mormons also believe that Satan is the same. He is the spirit brother of Jesus, who is also a created being. So we see here that elevated pride is an immediate barrier between Simon and true salvation in Christ.
Psalm 10:4, “The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God.” Psalm 101:5, “A proud heart will I not tolerate.” Proverbs 8:13, “Pride, arrogance and the evil ways do I hate.” Proverbs 16:5, “Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord.” Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction.” James 4:6, “God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.”
Justin Martyr, one of the early church fathers says, “Simon was so famous that he was honored with a statue in Rome, and the statue said, ‘Semoni Sanco deo’ which means, ‘To Simon, Holy God.’ Verse 11, “And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time.” Justin Martyr then says, “Simon’s birthplace was in Samaria, and he kept the people under satanic bondage.”
Secondly, the wrong view of salvation. His view of salvation was external. Verse 12, “But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.” Verse 13, “Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs.”
But we know there’s a fatal flaw that keeps him from true salvation, and that is his pride. Simon was exposed to the good news about the kingdom of God. The gospel of entering the kingdom of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Philip is telling people how to enter the kingdom of God by faith in the name of Jesus Christ. People were believing. They were being baptized, men and women alike.
As this happens, Simon’s hold on people begins to dwindle. Simon continues on with Philip. Why? Because he’s watching the signs and miracles taking place and he is absolutely amazed. He is attracted to the miracle power. Instead of being humble, his pride causes him to follow because he wants in on that power. He knows the difference between what he does and what is real.
He was impressed with the power of Philip. He saw this miracle power as a commodity to be added to his arsenal, so he decided to join the movement. This is a satanic approach. Satan always wants to talk like, act like a believer. So in Simon, we see the first example of one who, having been baptized in the name of Christ, with the sole purpose of corrupting the faith he professed.
In Roman Catholic theology, we read this: “Baptism confers the grace of salvation.” Really? Simon was baptized, but that didn’t confer the grace of salvation on him. He was never saved; he received no grace. It was an external thing to him. He had a wrong view of self and a wrong view of salvation. He thought that by being baptized, he’d be in; and now he could tap into the power.
Thirdly, that he had a wrong view of the Holy Spirit. Verse 14, “Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the Word of God, they sent them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
These two leading apostles, were sent to inspect the work. They were going to go see if this was genuine. Verse 15 says, “They came and prayed for the people who had believed and been baptized,” the genuine believers, “that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for He had not yet fallen upon any of them. They had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
When you believe the Lord Jesus Christ, would not the Holy Spirit come immediately?” That’s true now. But Acts is a historically a critical time for transition. Why didn’t the Samaritans receive the Holy Spirit at the very instant they believed as believers do now? Because the Jews needed apostolic testimony and apostolic evidence that they were to be included in one church.
Strife between the Jews and the Samaritans, would have been perpetuated, unless the apostles came, identified the fact that they were true believers, and that they were there when the Holy Spirit came upon them, that they were thus placed by the Holy Spirit into the same body as the Jews. There was always the danger of two churches, separation. There had to be Jews present.
And that’s exactly what happened because verse 17 – 18 says, “Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money.” How did he see that? The Holy Spirit is invisible. It’s my conviction that the same manifestation that occurred at the Day of Pentecost occurred here again.
The manifestation was speaking in multiple languages. Acts 10:44 – 46 says, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. 45 And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.”
The Jews were amazed. Because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. The Jews were very narrow minded. They didn’t like the idea of non-Jewish people coming into their covenant. So God had to repeat the phenomena of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the presence of the apostles, not only to the Samaritans, but when it happened at first to the Gentiles.
In Acts 19 Paul says to the Jews, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” and they said, “We haven’t heard of the Holy Spirit.” So Paul says, “You need to believe in Jesus,” and so when they heard the gospel, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and Paul laid hands on them and the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with other languages and proclaiming God’s works.”
Lastly, his view of sin was wrong. Isaiah 55 says, the invitation comes without cost, and without money. Simon wanted to buy the true Holy Spirit. Verse 19, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” He didn’t know that nothing that God has is for sale. All that He offers is free, but it’s to the broken, contrite and repentant heart, truly believing in Christ.
Verse 20-23, “But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! 21 You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. 22 Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”
Lay down your sin; lay hold of Christ. You are a slave to your sin. You must repent. This bold evangelism is what the early church did. What did Simon do? Verse 24, “Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me.” Was he sorry? I don’t know. But there was no confession, and no acknowledgement of sin. Let us pray.