This article is part of our weekly series, “The Book of Acts and the Church Today.” You can see all articles in the series here.
Acts records the story of the early church’s rapid growth beginning in Jerusalem. The same trend soon continued outside of the church’s epicenter. The Spirit added his blessing to the preached word so that many Samaritans believed. Praise the Lord!
But in every revival there is the potential of false conversions—people who profess faith without possessing Christ. So it made sense for the Jerusalem apostles to come and inspect the fruit of Philip’s preaching. In Acts 8:9–25, Luke highlights the story of one “convert” named Simon to teach the difference between true and false professions of faith. Hypocrisy isn’t an asymptomatic disease. It’s possible to distinguish hypocrites from sincere but inconsistent believers. And even hypocrites are able to repent and be forgiven.
A Great Conversion
“Samaria … received the word of God” (Acts 8:14). Being half-Jewish, half-Assyrian Samaritans might have been even less open to the gospel than Jewish people. But God promised that the gospel would spread from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). And now it was happening. But all was not well.
Along with many others, Simon the magician “believed” and was baptized. It’s unclear whether Simon truly believed and later backslid, or if his faith was phony from the start. Either way, the church was right to baptize Simon. He made a credible profession of faith in Christ. And there is no fool-proof way to know a person’s heart.
But there is a kind of belief that falls short of saving faith. Paul was convinced that King Agrippa believed the message of the prophets (Acts 26:27), yet Agrippa declares himself to be not yet a Christian (Acts 26:28). Saving faith includes the essential elements of knowledge and trust. True believers know at least the basics of “the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12). They know that God is holy and just. They know that he made people upright and in his image, but that they chose rebellion and death. They know that Jesus is the mediator whose perfect life and sacrificial death alone can return us to God’s favor. In light of these facts, believers throw themselves upon God’s mercy. Apparently, not everyone had done that.
The Marks of a Hypocrite
Simon lusted for admiration (Acts 8:10, 11); he loved to amaze people (Acts 8:9, 11). So when he thought the apostles could command the Holy Spirit, he offered them money for the same power. Peter’s scathing judgment warns all of us to take refuge in Jesus by truly knowing and trusting in him.
Hypocrites Are Headed for Judgment
“May your money perish with you” (Acts 8:20). Money will perish. And unless we’re transformed into new creations we will perish too. More than anyone else in the New Testament, Jesus warns about the terrors of hell so that we would fear God’s wrath and choose life by faith.
Hypocrites Misunderstand God
“You thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!” (Acts 8:20). Simon didn’t understand the gracious and sovereign character of God’s gifts. God gives blessing; he doesn’t sell blessing. For anyone to think that God’s blessing can be manipulated through occasional good works is a sign of spiritual ignorance.
Hypocrites are Not Right with God
Simon was “full of bitterness and captive to sin” (Acts 8:23 NIV). His heart was “not right before God” (Acts 8:21). We must examine our hearts (2 Cor. 13:5) to ensure that we’re professing faith for right reasons.
Hypocrites Are outside the Kingdom
“You have neither part nor lot in this matter” (Acts 8:21). Peter excommunicated Simon by the keys of the kingdom given to him by Christ himself (Matt. 16:19). Church discipline is a painful remedy meant to shock sinners into realizing the gravity of their sin (1 Cor. 5:5).
The Remedy for Hypocrisy
But Simon was not left hopeless. Peter used the law to break his spirit. But he also offered the gospel cure: “Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:22).
Apparently Simon had never been transformed by the gospel. He believed that Christianity could improve his life and reputation. He wanted what God had to offer. But he didn’t think he truly needed God. He had never made the hardest admission: “I am evil, born in sin; thou desirest truth within.” He had not yet taken up his cross to follow Christ. Peter urged Simon to get right with God. And God gives us the same chance today.
Simon’s response is ambiguous. He told Peter, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me” (Acts 8:24). Is he sincerely seeking Peter’s help for the hard task of repenting? Maybe. And we should ask our friends to pray for us. Or is he outsourcing his spiritual responsibility? Peter, fully aware that only God can change the heart, told Simon to repent, to change his ways, and to lean fully on Christ; no one else could do it for him.
I hope Simon listened to Peter and obeyed the Lord. Our time for turning from sin and trusting in Jesus is right now. Repent. And have your sins forgiven.