In Acts 8 we are introduced to a character named Simon. He is a magician (however that is meant) (Acts 8:9). Up until Philip arrived preaching the gospel, Simon was regarded as "the Great Power of God" (Acts 8:10), but when Philip showed up it says, "Even Simon himself believed" and was baptized (Acts 8:13). Well, now, this is good stuff. An evil "magician" repents and comes to Christ, baptism and all. So it's a bit strange how the story plays out.
Some time later Peter and John arrived and started praying over new converts. They laid hands on them and they received the Spirit (Acts 8:14-17). Simon thought this was great! He offered the Apostles money: "Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." (Acts 8:18-19) Peter's response was amazing.
"May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity." (Acts 8:20-23)
Hey, Pete, back off, man! Haven't you heard? "Once saved, always saved!" Well, of course he was aware of the eternal security of the believer, so what was going on here? It says Simon believed. It also says that he was "in the bondage of iniquity." How do we put these two together?
The Greek doesn't give us any help. The text says Simon πιστεύω -- pisteuō -- the same basic word found in Ephesians 2:8-9. "For by grace you have been saved through faith." So that's not helping. So what else does the text tell us?
We know he believed the "signs and great miracles" (Acts 8:13). Clearly Simon the "magician" had met his better. His were tricks; these were real miracles. We know that he heard about "the kingdom of God" and "the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 8:12), so that's likely something he "believed". So what are we missing? Isn't that "saving faith"? Given Peter's response -- "You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God." -- we would have to assume that it wasn't. So what went wrong? Where was the disconnect?
This isn't the first time believers didn't believe. In the 6th chapter of John we encounter disciples who didn't believe. Jesus had said that to have eternal life you had to eat His flesh (John 6:53-58). Some of His own were not impressed. And Jesus, knowing who did not believe (John 6:64), said, "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father." (John 6:65)
So there is something else beyond "believe", apparently. What is that? I think we can see it in Simon quite clearly. To "believe" requires, first, to know something. You can't believe what you don't know. On the other hand, knowing something doesn't mean you agree. I know what a unicorn is, but I don't believe in them. So there is that second component -- belief. Mental acquiescence. "I agree." That's about as far as Simon got. It qualified him to be a demon (James 2:19). There is one more component; that is what I will refer to as "trust". It is placing your confidence in Christ. It produces change. Belief without resulting change is dead faith (James 2:17,26), and Simon demonstrated dead faith. He figured Christ wasn't entirely sufficient and he could buy what he needed. He believed, but only as far as mental agreement. His confidence was elsewhere.
We all face this question. What do you believe? Do you simply know about Christ? That isn't "believe". Do you agree that Christ is who He says He is? That's "believe", but it's not saving faith. There must be one more component; trust ... a reliance on Christ that produces a changed life. Without it, all you have is dead faith, as demonstrated by Simon the magician. If that's you, that's not where you need to be. "Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you."
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