Sermon on Acts 8:9-25 – “Simon, Saved or Unsaved?”
Sermon for Sunday Evening, June 26th, 2022 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Act 8:9-25 ESV] 9 But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” 11 And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed. 14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to 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 on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands 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 is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” 25 Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.
There is a chiastic structure about Chapter 8 and the beginning of Chapter in the book of Acts. It begins and ends with Saul. Just inside those bookends, on either side, is Philip. And then in the center is Simon the Magician. So I’ve decided to break down this section into three sermons, one regarding each of these individuals. First, today we have Simon the Magician, next we’ll have Philip, and finally we will get to Saul who then becomes the central character for much of the rest of the narrative of the book of Acts.
Saul was introduced in the last section being there at the stoning of Stephen the Martyr. Now he is mentioned as persecuting the church. And this isn’t just him saying means things; this is him “ravaging the church, and entering house and house, dragging off men and women into prison.”
Despite the persecution, and despite the death of Stephen, Philip is seen proclaiming Christ to the Samaritans.
And there in Samaria is where we find Simon the Magician.
In this time of Gospel expansion, this man is converted from whatever strange practices he had and become a believer in Jesus Christ. This shows the power of the Gospel. “Even Simon himself believed.” And he was baptize and continued with Philip.
And he saw great miracles. Whether his “magic” was a facade or had evil spirits behind it, we don’t know. But we do know that the miracles of Christ and his apostles, bearing the truth of Christ’s Gospel, AMAZED Simon.
This may mean that the Apostle’s miracles were greater than those of Simon.
Or it may mean that Simon’s miracles were not miracles at all.
But Simon has this historic misstep. After the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles following the laying on of hands, Simon wanted that same power and so offered money for it!
It is not a sin to desire that power of the Holy Spirit which the Apostle’s had.
But it is a sin to think that money can buy!
There are some things money can’t buy!
I’ve mentioned in a previous sermon the sin of Nepotism and the sin of Simony.
Nepotism occurs when an ecclesiastical office is granted from Father to Son (or another family member) merely because of family connection.
Simony occurs when one tries to buy an ecclesiastical office.
The office of Apostle, or of miracle-worker, which Simon the Magician tried to buy is no longer, since the end of the New Testament, an office in the church. But throughout history people have attempted (and succeeded) in buying positions as Bishop in the church.
But what does Peter say?
“May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.”
And we think here that Simon is in big trouble. When Ananias and Sapphira sinned with money (holding it back from the Lord), they were killed!
And Simon even has the sin of Simony named after him! How notorious!
Simon sinned and had a “heart not right with the Lord.
Peter says to Simon “Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven.”
Though he had not sinned in deed, he had sinned in thought! This shows us how extensive sin is. Sin is not limited to outward acts of breaking the ten commandments, but extends to inward desires as well.
So Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”
Did Simon repent? Is Simon saved or unsaved? That is the question.
First, we should look at the context.
Stephen the Martyr is saved.
Saul the persecutor is saved.
Philip is saved.
The Ethiopian Eunuch is saved.
Might Luke, the author of Acts, be showing that God saves all sorts of people?
If Simon were not included among the believers, he would be a sore thumb on this handful of followers of Christ.
Or, if Luke isn’t listing saved individuals, perhaps he is showing the ups and downs of the gospel expanding in the world. Stephen is killed, Saul is persecuting Christians, but Philip is saved and so is the Ethiopian Eunuch. So if Simon is unsaved, this story is an example of a difficulty in the spread of the gospel. The difficulty of hypocrisy.
And that is frankly, the majority report. Most theologians have concluded that Simon was unsaved.
Well, I’ve never been much of one for majorities. So the combined weight of “some scholars” is not so persuasive.
Looking at the text Luke tell us that Simon “believed” and was baptized. He doesn’t say that he seemed to believe, or that he tricked the Apostles into believing and baptizing him. The Apostles must have genuinely considered him a believer in order to have baptized him.
Arminians tend to think that one can “lose faith” and so they see Simon as an example of such a person.
Of course, as Calvinists, we know that God hangs on to his elect. That when he gives faith to individuals, they, through the power of the Holy Spirit persevere in that faith.
The early Christian histories in the 2nd century have Simon as an unbeliever, even the founder of Gnosticism. But those histories do make mistakes and they very well could be conflating this Simon with another Simon.
What we are left with is the text itself. And it is the only place in the Bible where Simon the Magician is spoken of.
Simon indeed sinned.
But was the it the sin of a believer or that of an unbeliever?
Again, some Arminians, of the Wesleyan perfectionist school would have to conclude that Simon is an unbeliever, for they (erroneously) think believers do not sin, or they certainly do not sin as bad as Simon just has.
But we know of the God of Grace, who saves us despite our sins, past, present, and future. And surely it would be a great testament to our God to have even Simon the Magician saved by God’s grace despite his sin.
So, looking at the text, the key question is, “Did Simon repent?”
Well he certainly didn’t double down on his sin or fight against the Apostles.
24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”
Would an unbeliever have said that? I don’t think so. He recognizes “the Lord.” He asks for prayer. He acknowledges the reality of Hell.
Those who think Simon is unsaved say “Look, he only cares about himself, wanting to avoid hell. And he doesn’t pray to God, but asks others to pray for him.” This almost looks like he’s still stuck in that mindset that the Apostle’s have something he doesn’t have.
But it is true that the Apostles have something NONE of the other Christians have. While all Christians have faith, while all Christians have the Holy Spirit working in them, only the Apostles have Apostleship. They are called to a specific role in the initial spreading of the gospel, and they have miracles accompanying the revelation God gives them. Just because Simon doesn’t have this, doesn’t make him an unbeliever, for it would make all non-Apostles to be unbelievers.
So we see in the text that there is no more response from the Apostles. Had Simon needed further repentance, had he still been an unbeliever, would not the Apostles need to continue to work with him?
But instead the text moves on saying,
25 Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.
The Gospel was proclaimed in Samaria. And it bore fruit.
Now, good men (including James Montgomery Boice, J. Vernon McGee, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and many others) have come to the opposite conclusion, saying that Simon was not saved. But they each admit that they ultimately don’t know.
On the other hand is Calvin.
Calvin has a great summary of the whole question. Let’s read that:
Now ariseth a question what we ought to think of Simon. The Scripture carrieth us no farther, save only unto a conjecture. Whereas he yieldeth when he is reproved, and being touched with the feeling of his sin, feareth the judgment of God; and that done, flieth unto the mercy of God, and commendeth himself to the prayers of the Church; these are assuredly no small signs of repentance; therefore we may conjecture that he repented. And yet the old writers affirm with one consent, that he was a great enemy to Peter a … Wherefore, nothing is more safe than bidding adieu to uncertain opinions, simply to embrace that which is set down in the Scriptures. That which we read elsewhere of Simon may justly be suspected for many causes.
If I were to go the other direction, we could use this as an example to say that Baptism is not sufficient for salvation, or to show that there is a false faith that is not saving. But the text says “he believed.” It doesn’t say that he appeared to have believed.
There is a parallel statement that
as they (the Samaritans) believed the Gospel of Jesus Christ and were baptized,
Simon himself believe and was baptized.
This indicates that what Simon did (i.e. believe) was the same as what the other Samaritans died.
And the final statement he gives, while it may be deficient in some ways, is a statement that, in my opinion, can only be made by a believer. Who of the world, who that hates God, would ask the church for prayer? I think none. I think that impossible.
Ultimately, the text doesn’t tell us explicitly whether or not Simon was saved.
Salvation is by God’s grace. And I find so many that want it to be more than that.
They will say, “Yes, God’s grace, but you also have to … x, y, z.”
And those persons are apt to see Simon as an arch-heretic.
But those who know the grace of God, know that even though we sin, we have a savior in Jesus Christ. And if Simon’s statement (asking others for prayer) is insufficient in the eyes of those who “want something more,” I say that, though feeble, yet what Simon said could not have been said but by a believer. We are not perfect when we believe, but we struggle against sin and through sin.
Don’t let Simon’s sin bring you to conclude that he is damned. Then you would reach the same place with yourself, doubt heaped upon doubt. What do I need to do? Am I doing enough? Is my sin too big? Flee from these thoughts, flee into the hands of the Lord.
My former pastor, the Rev. Richard Hicks says this of the whole passage:
vs. 13 says explicitly that Simon “believed.” But vs 20-21 cause me to wonder. I think Simon’s case is like King Saul’s. I have often heard the same question about him: was Saul saved? He was in the covenant, but did some wicked things. I can’t have a very certain opinion on either Simon or Saul. God alone is the final judge. But I am certain of this: if my salvation were determined by whether or not I have lived a life of moral wickedness, I would be ruined. Perhaps we should view Simon, Saul, and ourselves as being not different but alike.
What can we conclude from our passage?
Application: New Believers need discipline.
Certainly we see that new believers need discipline. Neither Simon nor any other new believer is suddenly sanctified or without sin. New believers will sin and need to be corrected as the Apostles have corrected Simon through their warning.
Just as new believers need discipline, so do old believers. We sin too, and we need others (usually the elders of the church) to help put us back on the right track. Now, we are to speak “truth in love.” And so modern sentiments would likely conclude that Peter is being too rough. But when it comes to a persons very salvation, we have a serious situation that shows the necessity of Peter’s strong warning.
22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.”
And see there that his is a call for repentance. It is not a proclamation of damnation. He commands Simon to repent.
And this same command is preached from the pulpit of all Churches which preach the whole counsel of God. Churches which only preach love, and do not command repentance, are weak churches indeed. For the command to repent is a frequent Biblical command.
Application: We Have A Gracious God.
God’s grace is so powerful that even repentance is dependent on it. Repentance is not a condition that we must fulfill, but a turn away from evil and unto belief in Christ, which is wrought by God himself in us through His Holy Spirit.
We must avoid that false supposition that we add repentance to God’s grace. That would take away from God’s grace and from His glory.
We are called to repent and believe, and these each are the work of God in us. And when we sin, we are called to confess our sins and to repent of that specific sin. This is what I believe Simon is called to do – to repent of his sin of Simony, being yet a believer in God, he is not asked to repent of his false worldview and replace it with Christ, for he has already done that. But sin remains. Specific sins. He is called to repent of those, and by the grace of God he asks the church to pray for him.
And we saw this in James, that a Christian is to call for the elders to pray for him. While that was in the context of the person being deathly ill, it shows that it is a good thing to ask others for prayer.
So let us pray together, thanking the Lord for his grace to us, and praying that He leads us to complete repentance and stronger faith.