A man named Simon had formerly been a sorcerer there for many years; he was a very influential, proud man because of the amazing things he could do—in fact, the Samaritan people often spoke of him as the Messiah.But now they believed Philip’s message that Jesus was the Messiah, and his words concerning the Kingdom of God; and many men and women were baptized. Then Simon himself believed and was baptized and began following Philip wherever he went, and was amazed by the miracles he did.
This is an amazing account of a former sorcerer who heard the gospel and came to be saved. “Then Simon himself believed and was baptized and began following Philip wherever he went, and was amazed by the miracles he did.” Simon’s salvation experience is somewhat typical up to this point: he hears the message, is persuaded and believes, gets baptized, enrolls for a discipleship programme and begins to follow Philip the evangelist around, and like everyone else who witnesses the miraculous power of God at work – was amazed.
The story takes a somewhat different turn shortly after however. Having heard of the turning of Samaria to Christ, the Church in Jerusalem sends Peter and John to go over and try to establish the new believers in the faith. Upon getting to Samaria, the Apostles went about praying for the new converts, who in turn were baptized in the Holy Spirit. Once Simon the former sorcerer saw that by the laying on of hands by the apostles, the people received the Holy Spirit, it triggered something in him.
It is plausible that Simon, who before now was a really influential person, to whom everyone looked in order to receive the ‘miraculous’ would have felt a significant loss of power since becoming a believer. Having lost the power of sorcery with which he bewitched the people, and now forced to follow Philip (who now bore real miraculous power) around, it would have felt awkward that he was no longer the center of attraction.
And so when the Apostles showed up and began to pray for people to be baptized in the Spirit, Simon thought to get this new ability. Certainly, the ability to dispense baptism in the Holy Spirit would have fully restored him to influence, and this would have been positive influence. He might have thought, “what’s not to do?” And so, offering the Apostles money… “Let me have this power too,” he exclaimed, “so that when I lay my hands on people, they will receive the Holy Spirit!” Acts 8:19
But Peter replied, “Your money perish with you for thinking God’s gift can be bought! You can have no part in this, for your heart is not right before God. Turn from this great wickedness and pray. Perhaps God will yet forgive your evil thoughts— for I can see that there is jealousy and sin in your heart.” “Pray for me,” Simon exclaimed, “that these terrible things won’t happen to me.”
Although Simon the former sorcerer had become a believer, was baptized by immersion and had committed to follow Philip, we see that there was still a lot of change that needed to happen in his life. Clearly, his desire and decision to obtain the ability to pray for people to be baptized in the Holy Spirit did not reflect the new life and it is in Peter’s response that we find the two very important elements of decision making in the new life.
First, Peter said that something was wrong with Simon’s thinking, and secondly that something was wrong with his heart. In fact, Simon’s desire to be able to lay hands on people so they can be baptized in the Holy Spirit was not in itself a problem. The problem was that he thought he could procure that ability by paying for it (wrong thinking about the how), and he sought that ability not for any altruistic reasons but because he was jealous that he was no longer the center of attention (wrong heart for the why).
The ‘how’ and ‘why’ of everything we aim to achieve are critical for determining where we are in our Christian race, and the quality (from God’s point of view) of the decisions we are making. We can pursue good things with the wrong heart (motive), and with the wrong thinking (means). Indeed our motives and means are critical because, We can justify our every deed, but God looks at our motives (Proverbs 21:2), and the Bible says Follow the Lord’s rules for doing his work, just as an athlete either follows the rules or is disqualified and wins no prize. (2 Timothy 2:5)
Now this is not a simple trick for decision making. At the core of making good decisions is whether we pursue the regenerated life. When we get saved, God’s design is to give us a new heart of flesh, with new motives to please our Lord, and for us to renew our minds, so that both our heart and thinking will be right. Indeed, unless we receive this new heart, our thinking will be corrupted by our motives, and unless we renew our minds, our heart will grow weary from hope deferred as we lack the wisdom of the kingdom to get things done. The victorious life then is lived with a regenerated heart and renewed mind.
At the core of making good decisions is whether we pursue the regenerated life.