There is no “inside track” in Christ’s kingdom. You cannot hope to “get in on the ground floor” and make a killing when the venture goes public, or expect some kind special treatment because you’re close with the boss.
Money won’t grease your rise to the top, and talent can’t help you skip rudimentary work.
In Christ’s kingdom, those who are honored are servants. And serving is no glamorous task. The glory is God’s and God’s alone. His power advances His purposes, not human agendas. Christ’s Kingdom is about Christ. Not about us.
All this was lost on Simon the Sorcerer, who desired God’s power but not God’s person or God’s prerogative. We encounter his story in Acts 8:4-25.
There, Luke tells us that Simon was a sorcerer with a big reputation. He was known to possess supernatural abilities that amazed kings and peasants alike. Simon encounters Philip, who had been advancing the gospel in Samaria, as he cast out demons and healed the sick in Christ’s name.
Immediately, Simon recognized something awe-inspiring and unique in Philip’s healing ministry. He noticed that the power Philip yields is greater than his own. So, he submits to being baptized by Philip and starts following Philip wherever he goes. As Simon followed Philip, he no doubt heard Philip’s insistence that the power he exercised came from the Holy Spirit.
Indeed, we can rightly assumed that Simon was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—as Jesus commanded. He would have been told that this Spirit was the divine person who was able to bring about supernatural deliverance or healing in individuals who experienced great need.
He no doubt would have heard stories of Pentecost and would have found himself amazed by the Spirit’s past and present work. After recognizing that Philip—along with Peter and John—had the ability to impart the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands, Simon gets greedy.
He wants the Spirit’s power for himself.
He desires to leverage and dispense the Spirit, without desiring to be led by or to submit to the Spirit. So he approaches Peter and offers to pay him for the Spirit’s power, saying “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
But Peter quickly rebukes him.
“May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.”
Peter confronts Simon for trying to buy the Holy Spirit and says that his desire to exploit faith for personal gain has caused him to be “not right” with God. Peter urges repentance, and Simon takes him up on his offer, asking Peter to pray for Him so that He might avoid judgment.
Simon’s story teaches us three key lessons:
- It is possible to be a baptized believer in Christ and to still misunderstand key theological doctrines. The text says Simon “believed and was baptized,” and yet, it was not until Peter’s bold intervention that he learned God’s power is not for sale.
- It is evil to seek to exploit God’s power for personal gain or personal prestige. Simon’s greedy desires for the ability to impart the Spirit are met with stern warnings.
- God’s Spirit is not subject to human control; rather, Christ’s followers are subject to the Spirit’s control and act as conduits for the Spirit’s power at the Spirit’s leading. One of Simon’s key errors is failing to recognize that Philip, Peter, and John perform their remarkable signs at the Spirit’s prompting, not as the result of their own strategy. Because of his pre-Christ profession, Simon believes that supernatural power is something cunning people leverage for applause and profit. He is initially unable to grasp that true supernatural power—the power of God’s Spirit—is rather something that leverages human willingness for divine purposes.
In light of our engagement with this text, it is important for us to ask this critical question:
We owe it to ourselves to answer that question honestly. If we find, upon inward inspection, that we are wronging God by pursuing the benefits of knowing Him over the blessing of simply knowing Him, we can find hope in Simon’s repentance.
Indeed, the text seems to suggest that Simon, upon hearing Peter’s rebuke, abandoned his conquest for the Spirit’s power. So may we, if we ask God for help and pursue a faith characterized by humble imitation of our servant King instead of a faith that promises fame, power, and personal glory.