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The Danger of a False Conversion

01/01/2020

The Danger of a False Conversion

Text: Acts 8:9-23

The gospel has been preached in Samaria by Philip. 4 Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word. 5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.

When the Jewish Christians fled to Samaria, there would be a huge cultural barrier in preaching to the Samaritan half-bred Jews.  But cultural, and ethnic barriers are no barrier to Jesus, and to the message of the gospel, for at Calvary, all the barriers were broken down, including the greatest barrier of all, the barrier of sin, that separated sinful mankind from the Holy God.  Ephesians 2:13  

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The Dangers of a False Conversion

 

1 Samaria’s Response to Gospel Preaching. 8:12 But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptised, both men and women.

Look at the stages of response to the ministry of the word…

  • They heard.  Philip was preaching the Gospel, and the Gospel penetrated into their hearts.  They were hearers of the word, and that’s why the good news is spread by preaching.  Romans 10:14 …how shall they hear without a preacher?
  • They believed.  Perhaps Like the Philippian gaoler, they perhaps wanted to know what they must DO to be saved, – but there was NOTHING AT ALL that could be done, for it hd all been already done by Christ,  30 And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.   
  • They obeyed.   They were baptised.  It was a simple step, demonstrating their willingness to admit that they had nothing to offer God by way of their own abilities, merits or works, – baptism points us to Jesus, who washed us from all our sins in his own blood.  HC69. Q. How does baptism signify and seal to you that the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross benefits you? A. In that Christ instituted this outward washing and with it gave the promise that, as surely as water washes away the dirt from the body, so certainly his blood and Spirit wash away the impurity of my soul, that is, all my sins. 
  • They rejoiced. Salvation brings joy to the soul!   Who wouldn’t rejoice and be glad, knowing that the burden of guilt and sin has been lifted from us, and that we are granted a heavenly home for all of eternity!  O happy day!   

Those would be typical responses in this who would repent from their sins and turn to faith in Christ for their salvation.  But not all such responses are genuine.  Let’s see a case-study of a man who without doubt responded to the Gospel, – but how real was his response?

 

2 Who Was Simon ‘The Great?. 

We now encounter another first in the Book of Acts.  We’ve had the first healing/miracle, we’ve had the first persecution (and the second) the first funerals, the first martyr, now we have the first FALSE PROFESSION OF FAITH.  He is a man called Simon.  We call him Simon Magus, – ‘the Great!’  Let’s learn a little about Simon Magus.  He was:-

  • A superstitious man.  9 But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria,:  Simon was a ‘magician.’  Now be sure that we don’t mix up someone like Simon with a stage magician, a professional conjuror, an illusionist who by sleight of hand can make things seem there than they really are.  The Ancient Near East was full of superstition.  
    • Egypt built pyramids because of a superstition about triangles.  When Joseph was brought up from the prison to interpret Pharoah’s dream,  it was because the magicians and diviners had failed.  Genesis  41:8  
    • Assyria was a major centre of superstition.   Diviners gained influence by interpreting omens and advising the king on how to avoid terrible fates. 
    • Babylon continued these practices.  Remember how Daniel not only interpreted the dream, but actually told the king what the dream was!  Daniel 2:2  
    • The magi who came to bow the knee before the new born King in Bethlehem were astrologers – readers of the stars.
    • The Jews – officially had a low view of such practices.  Superstition, astrology divination, necromancy were practices that were strictly forbidden in Israel. Deuteronomy 18:13-15  Unofficially of course, things were different Zechariah 10:2  

Now, this was Simon’s work, career and business, and because he was a ‘magician’ – a diviner or astrologer of sorts, –  he was certainly popular in Samaria.  Acts 8:11 And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.  He’s not alone, and that popular superstition persists today – superstition is still popular, and still profitable. As it was for Simon, and its for that reason that I believe he was…

  • A wealthy man.  There’s much profit in conning money out of superstitious and gullible people.  There still is.  People pay well to hear their their favourite clairvoyant, or get their astrological projections.  Simon had money.  Later, when he witnessed the Holy Ghost being poured out upon believers, he offered Peter a bribe to grant the same powers to him.  Acts 8:18-19  
  • A self-regarding man.   giving out that himself was some great one.   He liked to tell people how important he was!  He was SO vain – he probably thinks this sermon is about him!  
  • A man with an audience. 10 To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God.  He certainly had a following, hadn’t he?  Young and old alike, he had fooled them all, with his appeal to their superstitious nature, with his charisma, his wealth, his arrogance, he even had them persuaded that he was the ‘power of God on earth!’  Perhaps that’s why many of the early church fathers considered this man to be the first Christian Gnostic, – a man with a special knowledge, a revelation of God given to no-one else.  Could he even be the prototype of a Benny Hinn or a Kenneth Copeland!

So that’s Simon, the ostentatious, struttin,g deceptive spiritual leader of the Samaritan adulterated religion. And he’s about to hear the Gospel preached by Philip.  What will his response be?

 

3 The Great Danger of a False Profession. 13 Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.

It’s marvellous when you hear of a great move of God, with people being converted in dozens. Sometimes, thought, I have niggling doubts, and I pray often that God would forgive me for my scepticism in these matters.  These are not the days of great revival.  And frequently when I hear these stories, they come from churches or groups that have strange doctrines and practices, or from preachers who are arminians or semi-pelagians, who make emotional appeals for souls, with the organ playing ‘Just as I am’ softly in the background, or charismatics, who have whipped people up into a state of emotional frenzy before they offer them an easy-believe type of salvation…. But, as I say, I do pray that God would forgive me for being sceptical.  So we’ve got a report here.  Simon believed.  But WHAT IN?  Let’s see…

  • Simon believed.  8:13.  In the NKJV the passage heading here is ‘Simon the Magician Believes.’ But there are times when belief in God, belief in Christ, belief in the gospel may not actually be repentant saving faith! James 2:19   Simon believed – so does the devil!  To the human observer…
  • Simon looked like he had believed. If you were a bystander watching the doings of the preachers and the Christians – these new converts, you would be truly convinced that this man who had just professed to believe in Jesus was a real genuine Christian.
    • He was baptised.  He stood in the line of believers waiting to be baptised, probably down at the local river, and when his turn came he went into the water and the familiar words of baptism were pronounced over him, – I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit….   As he came back out of the river the people would have sang and rejoiced with him at his new birth.
    • He joined the church.  He became one of those who attended Philip’s meetings, He continued with Philip – part of Philip’s band of Christians.   
    • He was enthusiastic about his faith!  I suggest that in his own mind he was a born again believer!  He was no doubt inwardly convinced that he was on his way to heaven.   After all the text tells us that ‘he wondered.’  He was genuinely amazed by the works of the gospel. AMP: ‘as he watched the attesting signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed.  What an impression he must have given to a casual onlooker, for Simon was a man who had responded to the gospel offer, who had willingly been baptised, who had joined the church, who was an enthusiastic Christian!  YET…
  • Simon had NOT savingly believed. 8:21 Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: 23 For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.  He was NOT part of the church, was not part of the move of the Holy Spirit that was being sovereignly wrought by God at Samaria, was not a Christian, was not a believer…. He just LOOKED LIKE ONE – but as Peter points out he was still in the grip of his sins, was still under bondage. So:-

What was going on here?  Perhaps something that happens all too often in evangelism.   What would sway Simon and others into false professions of faith?  The popularity of a preacher with a persuasive message? The pull of the crowd who expect a certain course of action to occur? The amazing miracles? The desire for popularity, to be part of the crowd, part of the next big ‘in-thing?’ The financial possibilities?  Look at what we later find out is NOT happening here?  8:20-23  There’s NO…

  • Conviction of sin. V23 for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.  For salvation to be real, there must be a serious conviction of sin, and a mind that is persuaded that we are sinful wretches before God, who deserve to punished for our sins, and who cannot do anything to remedy that situation.  This is a matter of the heart – a stricken conscience before God.  Simon’s heart was still not right before God – he’d never been stricken and tormented by the burden of his own sin.
  • Repentance. 22 Repent therefore of this thy wickedness,  Peter called on Simon to repent, perhaps because his profession of faith had’t actually involved repenting of his sins – and without repentance there can be no conversion!
  • Regeneration.   and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.  He’d had all the outward marks of conversion, but inwardly, he had never experienced forgiveness of sins.  

 

4. Now. Who is a passage like this for?  

  1. It’s for Christians. For me, and for you, and it’s for everyone who professes Christ, to earn to examine our selves, and to make sure that our professions are genuine and safe.   2 Corinthians 13:5.  2 Peter 1:10   There’s no better time to do this self examination that as we approach the Lord’s Table.  As we are taught by Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11:28-30  
  2. It’s for evangelists.  For everyone who is concerned about reaching the lost.  Philip was an evangelist, a deacon, a believer, whose ministry was blessed by God, and who saw people come to Christ, but even under the ministry of this godly man, and others in the early church also perhaps, there were false converts.  We must be aware of this.
  3. It’s for local churches.  To help them to understand that not every convert is real, and that even the purest of churches can contain a mixed congregation, for only the Lord knows who is truly his.  So while we praise God for conversions, and rejoice when sinner profess salvation, we have an understanding that as the reformers put it, only those who persevere to the end will be saved.  How will we know if a person is a Christian?  We will meet them in heaven!

 

So, the early church has taken another great step.  In response to the great tribulation at Jerusalem, the church has spread out across the middle east, and carried the Gospel, and sinners are being saved, and among them is the very first recorded false profession. In our next study we shall learn more about his greed and ambition.  

From → Acts, Bible Study

2 Comments
  1. Eric McComb permalink

    Thank you. Excellent message.

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