Believer or Unbeliever?1
by Jody Dillow
Under the preaching of Philip, a magician named Simon Magus believed and was baptized (Acts 8:13). In addition, “he continued on with Philip.” According to Luke, if a person believes in Christ, he is saved (Acts 16:30-31). Remarkably, in spite of this, many say Simon could not have been saved because he did not persevere. Over one hundred years ago James Inglis forcefully rejected this view:
Those who regard Simon as a hypocrite must own, that on the supposition that he was a true believer, it would have been impossible to state it more plainly than in the language of the passage, which records not merely the fact of his public profession of the faith, followed by the natural evidence of his sincerity, but the express testimony, “Simon himself believed also.”2
The gift of the Holy Spirit, however, was delayed in Samaria until Peter and John arrived. When the Spirit was given, apparently the external manifestations that Simon saw motivated him to try to purchase the gift of being able to impart the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands (8:18). Because of his sin, the apostle Peter responds:
“May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness, and in the bondage of iniquity.” But Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me” (Acts 8:20–24 nasb).
What was Simon’s sin? It was selfish ambition. “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” Peter concluded that Simon wanted to purchase the power to pass on the gift of the Holy Spirit and that his heart was not right with God. Surely the presence of prideful ambition is not a basis for concluding that a man is not saved! Who among us has not at one time or another been tempted in this way? Unholy rivalries and ambitions often plague relationships between true Christians. To say the presence of this sin invalidates the claim to regeneration is unrealistic and unbiblical.
The punishment for Simon’s sin is that he will “perish.” This refers to physical death. His money is to perish with him, and the perishing of his money is obviously temporal. This is another illustration of the sin unto physical death.3 If Simon repents, “perhaps” he will be forgiven. Is it not difficult to imagine that there is any “perhaps” in the gospel offer to the unregenerate? We read, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” not “perhaps you will be saved.” There is uncertainty, however, as to whether or not the divine Parent will punish (and how severely) His sinning child in time. Often the intent of family discipline is accomplished best by listening to the cry of the erring child.
Here is a believer who is in carnal rebellion. Peter warns him that he may perish (die physically) in such a state if he does not repent. Peter is therefore holding out the possibility of a failure to persevere to the end of life.
1This article, which has been slightly modified, was printed originally in The Reign of the Servant Kings: A Study of Eternal Security and the Final Signficance of Man (Hayesville, NC: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1992), pp. 327-28, and is used by permission.
2James Inglis, “Simon Magus,” Waymarks in the Wilderness 5 (1867): 35-50; reprinted in JOTGES 2 (Spring 1989): 45-54.
3See also 1 Cor 8:11 where the perishing of the weaker brother has the same effect.