Sunday’s Sermon: Simon — Portrait of a False Convert

13 Feb

Acts 8:9-24
Simon: A Portrait of a False Convert

One of the besetting problems of the church in America is the problem of false converts. It is true that in the church there will always be a mix of believers and unbelievers. Jesus promised that the wheat and the tares would grow together. But in our day, the weeds threaten to overtake the church, as many church rolls are filled with people who believe they are true believers, but are not. Just taking our denomination as an example, there is no other explanation than a large number of false converts for the fact that most Southern Baptist Churches have hundreds more people on the rolls than they have in attendance. There is no other explanation for why many of those who go to church show no evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. They don’t read their Bibles on their own, they don’t pray, they don’t share their faith, they give in to sin on every side. So there is an epidemic of false conversion in our day. And the only way out of this epidemic is through the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God proclaimed.
As we come to Acts chapter 8, we see a perfect portrait of a false convert in the person of Simon. Next week, we will see a portrait of a true believer in the Ethiopian Eunuch. But this week, we see false faith. And I believe in this passage we see three reasons for this false faith. So for the next two weeks, I want to urge you to examine yourself. The Bible clearly tells us to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. So for the next two weeks, compare yourself to the two portraits we will see in Acts chapter 8. Are you are false convert, or are you a true believer? Let’s look first of all at the portrait of a false convert in Acts chapter 8.

We see first in verses 9-11 that . . .
I.    A False Convert Has a False View of SELF (8:9-11).
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.
The boxing champ Muhammad Ali used to always say, “I am the greatest.” Simon reminds me of him. He is doing this magic in the city of Samaria and he is impressing the people, amazing them is what Luke says, and he is calling himself great. So Simon’s fundamental focus is self-exaltation. Simon is like the talented wide receiver of years ago, Terrell Owens, who said of himself, “I love me some me.” And the problem with Simon is the same problem many of us have in our lives, everybody else was telling him he was great too. Verse 10 said they were all paying attention to him and from least to greatest saying that this man had the power of the great God. So Simon gets compared to or put in the class of the great God here. That’s pretty heady stuff. It’s hard not to believe your press clippings when the people are giving you news like that. It’s just like one of those talent shows on TV. Some terrible singer will come on and the judges will say, “you’re not very good, you’re not going to Hollywood.” And a lot of the time, what happens? They get outraged. And you know what they say a lot of times? “All my friends say I’m good!” So we have this over-inflated view of self, usually with a lot of help from our friends. Without Christ, we all tend to view ourselves very highly. We may look through the lens of high achievement or of victim hood, but we are all experts at making much of ourselves and little of God. People of high self-esteem and low self-esteem are both self-obsessed, and that is the problem. And it is a problem we all have. Again, as sinners, we naturally have a high view of self and a low view of God.
And the problem with that is what we read in the book of James, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” A person who comes before God in pride is not going to be saved. The only way a proud person will come to God is if he believes he can get more glory for himself by using God for his own ends. This is exactly what Simon did, and it is exactly what many do in our day as well. I can use God when I have surgery or I can use God to feel like I’m going to heaven, but I am not going to humble myself and bow before Him as Lord and King. This is the way a false convert thinks, whether he ever says so out loud or not.

The second characteristic of a false convert is seen in verses 12-19 . . .
II.    A False Convert Has a False View of SALVATION (8:12-19).
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.”
Now this is where this passage gets difficult. I mean, after all, verse 13 tells us that Simon believed and was baptized. Who am I now to come along and say that he was not a true believer? How can I say he was a false convert with a wrong view of salvation if the text says he believed? I can assure you that I would never say such a thing unless the text itself gave strong indicators that this was the case. I think there are many indicators right in the text that Simon was not a true believer. I am encouraged that most commentators agree that he was not a believer. And I am encouraged that I am not off base in thinking about Simon since the writings of the early church fathers overwhelmingly view him as an unbeliever.
So how is it that a man who believed and was baptized could not be saved? Well, the answer is that there is a kind of believing that is not saving faith. If that sounds strange to you, let me just say that this idea is all over the Bible. Let me give you just a few biblical examples of faith that does not save.
 John 2:23-25, “When Jesus was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did [notice the similar setting to Philip’s signs]; but Jesus did not trust himself to them, because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man.” Do you see that? These people believed, but not in a way that caused Jesus to accept them, because He knew that they were believing in His signs but not entrusting themselves to Him as Savior. Being amazed at the power of God is not saving faith.
Jesus, in the parable of the soils, describes the second soil like this in Luke 8:13, “And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away.” There is a kind of rootless faith that believes on the edges but never goes all in. I think of it as Campfire Faith. You know, maybe when you were young you went to youth camp and you all sang songs around the campfire and people started giving testimonies and all the sudden everybody is crying and hugging and everybody gets along great until the van trip home or until you get back home with your alcoholic father or your picky older sister.
Both Paul and James talk about believing in vain. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that there is such a thing as “believing in vain.” James speaks in his letter of “barren” faith or “dead” faith. James tells us that even the demons believe that there is one God and they tremble. But obviously the demons are not saved. So there is very strong biblical evidence that there is a kind of believing that is not saving faith. Since this is the case, we have to ask another question of this passage. What was it about Simon’s faith that made it false?
I think the answer, as seen from the rest of the passage, is that Simon’s faith had the wrong object. Simon was focused not on the power of Jesus to save sinners, he was focused on the power of signs and wonders and how he could expand his own power. Look what he did after he was baptized. He didn’t devote himself to prayer and sharing the gospel like the other converts in Acts are seen doing. No, Simon followed Philip around. And note verse 13, “And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.”
And then it all really comes out as Peter and John arrive and lay their hands on the new converts in Samaria. Simon sees it, and he wants this power and he offers money for the ability to acquire this power. And it is here that we really see his false view of salvation. Simon viewed salvation as something that was about enhancing his life here and now. He viewed salvation as mainly something which would allow him to make more of himself and to expand his own power. And so it is with false converts in our day. False converts want Jesus to give them a better life but they don’t want Jesus to change their hearts. They don’t want to be any different inwardly. So they name the name of Jesus without any regard for true repentance and faith.  But the truth is, our problem is us, that we are sinful and separated from God. False converts believe they are like a house that needs new siding and shutters while a true convert realizes that they are like a house that needs to be torn down and rebuilt. Because they have a high view of self and a low view of God, false converts hope in this life and see Jesus like an accessory, like a lapel pin to improve their outward appearance and how everyone else looks at them.

The third characteristic of a false convert is seen in verses 20-24 . . .
III.    A False Convert Has a False View of SIN    and REPENTANCE    (8:20-24).
 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.”
Look where Peter goes right from the start. “May your money perish with you, how dare you think you can buy off God?” Then the core problem, “your heart is not right before God.”
So for this false convert, there is only one solution: repentance and faith.  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 you.” What was missing was a heartfelt recognition of sinfulness and a turning to Jesus with a broken and humble trust for forgiveness.
Peter said Simon was “in the gall of bitterness.” This is a Greek phrase which means to be deeply envious or resentful of someone. Simon was jealous of the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the apostles.
Peter also said Simon was in the bond of iniquity. He was in bondage to the way of sin. This is yet another indicator that he was not a true believer, as we read in Romans 6:16 “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” Simon is still in his sin. He is a false convert. And look what he says, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”  Even here, at the end of this passage, we see Simon’s unconverted heart. There is no repentance, there is no turning to Jesus, there is just a request that Peter pray for him, not that he might be saved, but so that the immediate consequences of his actions would not happen, that he would not be able to take part with the apostles in the giving of the Holy Spirit. He reminds me of Pharaoh, who asks Moses to pray for him so that he may find relief from his physical discomfort. False converts have little concern for their spiritual life but great concern for the outward stuff of the here and now. This is how you get professing Christians who know the stock market backward and frontward but think the Gospels were written by John, Paul, George and Ringo.

The first step to addressing a problem is understanding that you have a problem. So the message we have heard this morning is exceedingly important, because there are countless people all over the world today who are living as false converts. They are confident that they are on their way to heaven, but they are in fact separated from God. We must examine our hearts. And we must lovingly proclaim this message to our friends, family members and others.
Do you have a biblical view of self? Do you see yourself as sinful and desperately in need of salvation? Do you see that you are unable to save yourself but totally dependent on the grace of God to save you? Do you see you are not the center of all things but God is the center of all things? Do you think you’re a pretty good person just in need of improvement, or do you see yourself as a sinner, in need of salvation?
Do you have a biblical view of salvation? Do you know its not by your works but through the work of Christ? Do you know that its not about making your life better in the here and now but about reconciling you to God so that you are transformed from within to rejoice in God all your days and treasure Him above what He can do for you?
Do you have a biblical view of sin and repentance? Are you sorrowful for the ways you have turned away from God or are you just sorry for the consequences your rebellion have had for you? Do you see your sin as a grave offense against God or do you think its really no big deal?
These are all important questions. I am not here to sow needless doubt, but I am here to say “let us make our calling and election sure.” Let’s not silently sit on the sidelines and let people go on in self-delusion. I beg you today, if you see yourself in the profile of a false convert, repent and be saved. There is mercy for you. Jesus died on the cross that your sin might be forgiven and you could be reconciled to God and given eternal life. Jesus died so that you could turn away from worshiping self and focusing on maximum comfort in this life and turn toward glorifying God and enjoying Him forever. Don’t let this day go by without searching your heart deeply. Are you trusting in Jesus alone, or are you trusting in self or your works or in outward appearances? Do let this day go by without answering that question. Your very eternal life is bound up in the answer.

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