The Sin of Simon

Acts 8:9-25

Copyright © 2004 Jeremy Myers


1. The Person (8:9-11)

2. The Power (8:12-13)

3. The Prayer (8:14-17)

4. The Purchase Attempt (8:18-19)

5. Peter's Reply (8:20-23)

6. The Penitence (8:24-25)


Power, prestige and positions of authority are stumbling blocks for all people. Some people want to be in a position of power and authority no matter what it costs. And so they betray friends, and neglect the family, and do whatever it takes to get to the top. And this isn't just true of the world. Though it should not be this way, there are many Christians who are the same way. Though they are believers, they still operate under the old way of living.  Once such person is a man by the name of Simon. We are introduced to him in Acts 8:9-11.

1. The Person (8:9-11)

9But 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, 10to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, "This man is the great power of God." 11And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time.

Simon lived in Samaria and practiced sorcery there. His power led to great fame and glory. They even said that he was the great power of God. And he amazed them with his sorceries for a long time.  Sorcery, we know from the Old Testament was a sin. Today, in our modernized, civilized society, some tend to think that sorcery doesn't actually happen, but it is only slight of hand, and tricks of the eye. David Copperfield type of stuff. But even here in America and in all other parts of the world, there are people who practice witchcraft, magic and sorcery. The Bible tells us that such power is evil because it comes from the devil and the demons (Ex. 22:18; Dt. 18:10; Jer. 27:9; Gal. 5:20).

And this is what Simon had been living in for a long time, and so the people of Samaria listened to what he said and heeded him.  We often tend to think that people who are into Satan-worship and the occult and beyond saving. Sometimes we think that Satan has them so firmly in his grasp that they are beyond the reach of the Gospel. But those who worship Satan are no further out of God's reach than those who worship money, or their careers or anything else that unsaved people chase after.  We see in verse 12-13 that though Simon had been involved in Sorcery for a long time, the power of God was able to save even him.

2. The Power (8:12-13)

12But 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.

Philip preaches the Gospel, people believe the Gospel and so are saved, and then they get baptized. Were these people truly saved? Yes. Why? Because they believed. Every time in the Gospels and Acts when it says a person believed, that means they believed in Jesus for eternal life and received it. Faith in Christ is the sole condition for receiving eternal life.

Verse 13 shows us that Simon also believed.

13Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done.

If the account were to end here, everybody who reads this would think that Simon was truly saved. It says he believed, and so at that point he was saved. Then it says he took the first step of discipleship and was baptized. And then we read that he continued to follow Philip and was amazed at the signs and miracles. Who of us would not be amazed?

But things get even more amazing in verses 14-17 when Peter and John show up to pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon the Samaritans.

3. The Prayer (8:14-17)

14Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, 15who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Remember what is going on here. Up to this point the apostles had gone only to the Jews, and nobody but Jewish people had received the Holy Spirit. Christ, when he left this earth, told them to be his witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea, in Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth. So far, they had gone to Jerusalem and Judea. Now Philip had brought the Gospel to Samaria. Many Samaritans were believing the Gospel and receiving water baptism, but they were not receiving the Holy Spirit?

Why not? Because Peter, who had the keys of the Kingdom, had not unlocked the door for them yet. So Peter hears about what is going on in Samaria. He and John travel up there, talk to a few of the new Samaritan believers, see the signs and miracles that are being performed to verify that this is truly of God, and then pray that God would send the Holy Spirit upon the Samaritans also.  Once they have prayed, and unlocked the door to the Samaritans, they laid hands on those who had believed so that they might receive the Holy Spirit.

Today, remember, whether you are a Jew or Gentile, or some mix of the two, the door has already been unlocked to you. When you believe in Jesus for eternal life, you do not have to pray to receive the Holy Spirit, you do not have to have some leader lay his hands on you to receive the Holy Spirit. No, when you believe in Jesus for eternal life, you automatically and instantaneously receive the Spirit. (John 14:16-17; John 20:22; Acts 2:38; 8:15, 19; 19:2; Gal. 3:2, 14; Titus 3:5; 2 Cor. 5:17; 1 Cor. 12:13; Rom. 6:3-4; Eph. 1:13-14; 2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 4:30). And so Simon has just unlocked the door of the Kingdom to the Samaritans. Now Simon, this new believer has been watching all of this, and he is rightfully amazed at the sings and miracles being performed, and then he is even more amazed at the gift of the Holy Spirit which Peter is able to pass out.

And so in verses 18-19, he tries to purchase the power that Peter and John have.

4. The Purchase Attempt (8:18-19)

18And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, 19saying, "Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit."

Simon, having just been converted, is not very far down the sanctification trail, and in his old life, gaining power and prestige through signs of power was what he operated under. He does not realize yet that this is not the way Christians are to operate. In his old lifestyle, when he wanted to learn something from another sorcerer, he would pay that sorcerer to teach him. He does not yet realize that you cannot buy the gifts of the Holy Spirit in this way. There is nothing here that reveals that Simon is not really a Christian after all. He simply reveals some selfish ambition here. Which of us does not harbor selfish ambition in our hearts? Unholy rivalries and selfish ambition often plague relationships between true Christians. To say the presence of this sin reveals that Simon was not a Christian after all is unrealistic and unbiblical.

But it is Peter's reply that make some people think that this is exactly the case. Peter's reply makes some people think that maybe Simon wasn't a Christian after all.

5. Peter's Reply (8:20-23)

20But Peter said to him, "Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! 21You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. 22Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity."

For various reasons, when some people read Peter's words here, they think that Peter is saying that Simon is not saved. But that is not the case. Rather, he is challenging this new Samaritan believer Simon to repent of his ways and get right with God. Nothing in Peter's reply indicates otherwise.

First of all, Peter says, "Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!" The word perish does not mean hell. Though the word can sometimes refer to eternal death, here it does not. One reason is because Simon's money will perish with him. If he and his money were to perish together, there is no way his money can experience eternal punishment. But if Simon dies physically, then he will become separated from his money, and so they would perish together. In context, the word perish refers to physical death.

But beyond even this, notice that Peter does not say that Simon has neither part nor portion with Christ, or with eternal life, but that Simon has neither part nor portion in this matter. What is the "matter" Peter is talking about? The matter of giving the gift of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands. This is what Simon wanted to buy anyway. He didn’t to purchase salvation for himself, He wanted to purchase the ability to give the gift of the Holy Spirit.

And furthermore, Peter doesn't say that Simon isn't saved, he just says that his heart is not right before God. This is a fellowship issue, not a relationship issue. Simon, as a new believer, was sinning against God, and Peter tells him that this is not the way God works. This is not the way Christianity works. It is a sin to try to buy things from God.

More proof that Peter knows he is talking to a genuine believer is found in verse 22. He tells Simon to repent and pray. Repentance, remember, is for all people, but is not a condition for receiving eternal life. The same with praying. Nowhere does the Bible tell us to pray to receive eternal life. The only condition is to believe in Jesus.

Finally, Peter says that if Simon repents and prays to God, perhaps God will forgive him. If this is a Gospel message, it is a strange Gospel. Where in the Bible is salvation ever held out to sinners as a "perhaps"? Nowhere! Everywhere, salvation is a guaranteed certainty to the one who simply believes. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31).

After we are saved, sin still has temporal and eternal consequences (hell is not one of them). Sometimes, God, as a loving parent who disciples us, makes us suffer the consequences of our sin - sometimes, he has mercy on us, and keeps us from experiencing these consequences. It is this escaping the consequences that Peter is talking about when he tells Simon that perhaps God will forgive him. Salvation itself is never a "perhaps."

The message of Christ, the message of Peter, the message of Paul, the message of the Gospel is believe and live, not repent, pray and perhaps.

But if, as seems clear, Simon was a believer, then Peter's message makes perfect sense. When we sin as Christians, especially when we have a habit of sinning, there are serious consequences to such sin that may lead to our death (Acts 5; 1 Cor. 8:11; 11:30; 1 John 5:16-17). The way to avoid such a consequence is to repent and pray, and maybe God will intervene so that the consequences of sin can be avoided.  And this is exactly what Simon does in verses 24-25.

6. The Penitence (8:24-25)

24Then Simon answered and said, "Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me."

Simon doesn't want to die as a result his sin. He doesn't want to be poisoned by bitterness or bound by iniquity. He wants to be free. And he asks Peter to pray for him, and we can be certain that Simon repented and prayed himself also.  This is not the language of a convicted sinner seeking salvation. In the Bible, when convicted sinners seek salvation after hearing an accurate presentation of the Gospel, they respond by believing in Jesus for eternal life. Simon does not do that here. Why not? He is already saved because he already believed back in verse 13.

And so Simon's words make perfect sense when we understand that he is a believer who wants to live like Jesus and has just been shown that he is harboring sin in his life. He says, "Wow! I didn't even know that was sin. Thank you for telling me. I will get rid of it. And please, pray that God would not punish me for this sin." Simon didn't know any better. He was still operating under his old fleshly principles. He was a baby Christian and needed to be informed about how Christians act. When he is informed here, he repents and asks for prayer. How do you get free from sin and it's consequences in your own life? You repent of it, and pray that God will deliver you.

25So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.

Following this incident, Peter and John return to Jerusalem, and preach the Gospel in many more villages of Samaria on their way.