Lesson 18: What Baptized Believers Do For Forgiveness
This is Acts lesson #18 starting in verse 18 of Acts Chapter 8. In our last lesson we found that the scene of the infant church shifted from the local Jerusalem area to other places. The church was being harassed by the establishment, i.e. by those of the Jewish religion who refused to accept Jesus as the Christ. They used militant tactics, they stoned Stephen to death, and disciples were scattered in all directions. But, Luke focuses on Philip, one of the seven appointed along with Stephen. Philip went to Samaria to preach. He baptized several people. The apostles still at Jerusalem, heard of Philip's work and sent Peter and John to help give the work a little boost. Now, Philip has been given certain miraculous powers by the Holy Spirit. Philip's preaching was accompanied by healing and casting out of unclean spirits. One convert names Simon, the magician, was tremendously awed by these powers. Simon was a professional, at slight of hand, but when he saw the miracles of healing through the Holy Spirit, he just about caved-in. Verse 13 told us he 'continued' with Philip; 'beholding' what Philip had done. Peter and John, being apostles, had the power to pass on certain of these miraculous powers. This they did to some of the Samaritan converts. God's word dwelt miraculously in the apostles because they did not have a written or printed New Testament at that time to leave with the Samaritans. These 'passed-on' powers were for the benefit of the church at Samaria after Philip and the apostles had departed. Otherwise; how would they teach? How would they settles any doctrinal questions that came up? Thus, they were assisted by mat person of the Godhead known as the Holy Spirit. Let's read verses 18 and 19
And when Simon saw that through the laying of the apostles hands the Hory Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, Give me also this power, that on whosoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.
Simon serves as an example to us in several ways. First, you can see that becoming a baptized believer does not changes die bulk of our thinking patterns or remove our past experiences. Simon had most likely paid sums of money before for magic tricks. This is not altogether unheard of in our day. I understand magicians today hold conventions and buy and sell their slights of hand. Second, it's easy to make mistakes as a new convert. This, this in itself, shows us the need for more instruction of a baptized believer. Simon had been accustomed to the position of center stage. The way he had acquired that position, in the past, was to pay the price, bargain for his crafts. So, it instinctively occurred to him, that if he possessed such powers at the apostles he would have a great advantage over this competitors. And, being experienced at negotiating deals, he didn't hesitate. Why not be a wholesaler? It is obvious, he was not thinking, consistently with reality, for if he was it puts God in the wholesale magic business. This goes to show how easy it is to let our own wants, desires and appetites control the forefront of our thinking. This, in turn, brings on the temptation to bend reality to serve us. However, the very nature of truth is such that when it is bent, it ceases to be the truth. This principle is the very core and fundamental of reality itself. As a side-light on these verses, it goes to show Simon recognized the greatest power of all was in the apostles. Simon was a business man, his commercial thinking demanded access to the very source itself. So, he made the overture to get it. Listen to Peter's reply in verses 20 - 23, let's read:
But Peter aid unto him, thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter; for they heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.
Notice Peter's rebuke,
Thy money perish with thee.
This is probably the strongest language ascribed to Peter in the whole New Testament. It goes to show how repulsive the idea of commercializing God, Christ and the church was to an apostle, and thus, is to God. Peter proceeds to show as I have already said, Simon's thinking was not consistent with reality or truth. Peter's words,
Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter;
is calculated to cause Simon to see God as the eternal Creator and man as his creature; that is, the reality of God. Notice Peter's evaluation in the last part of verse 21
thy heart is not right in the sight of God.
First of all, it might be noted, it was not the nature of Jesus, the apostles or the early Christians to beat around the bush. They laid it on the line. However, the angle that has the greatest implications for us IS, that this is the first time any record is given OR any apostolic example exists in dealing with erring disciples; except of course, Ananias and Sapphira, which we shall consider a special case. The complain of me Grecians, in Chapter 6, as relates to overlooking their widows in the daily ministration was handled by the apostles as a justifiable complaint. On the other hand, Peter classifies the actions of Simon as a wicked, sinful act;
thy heart is NOT right in the sight of God. (verse 21)
The special significance to us involves this question: How does a baptized believer, who's past sins are forgiven - a member of the church - when he sins again, HOW does he get forgiveness? Some think it is impossible to sin after one becomes a child of God. But, the New Testament does not teach that! Simon sinned after he was baptized. Now, you will remember, I hope; forgiveness of sins takes place in the mind of God, NOT in man. Thus, the question is: HOW, how can man, the offender, bring about a change in the mind of God? God must be the forgiver! Now, what did Peter command to be done? Let's read it again in verse 22,
Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.
You see, the meat of that statement boils down to: Repent and pray God. That might be paraphrased like this: Change your mind and ask God. You will remember one of the 5 steps in becoming a Christian is: "Repent"... step 3. But, alien sinners are never told to 'pray.' Now, can one repent a second time? What about that...? i.e. can one change their mind again? Obviously we can! If we have let our minds stray from mat decision we once made: to henceforth serve God and abandon sin, then, when we realize we have sinned, we can redirect our mind to re-affirm that commitment Thus, we repent. You will remember that's what the word means. So, Peter implies that if we change our mind and ask God to forgive us, then we can expect the change in God's mind that forgives us. Isn't it amazing how simple God has made the system. God is ready when we're ready. Is it also clear to you, according to verse 22, we can sin by the thought of our hearts? Jesus said in Matthew 15:18;
But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart: and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man.
Notice the word 'heart' here refers to our inter-mental, meditation process. It's not the mumping blood pump in our chest. Jesus emphasized in the sermon on the mount, one of the significant differences between Christ's law and the law of Moses was this very thing, i.e. to sin by the thoughts of our heart. You might want to read Matthew 5:21-48. Notice Peter did not wait for Simon to ask the question: how to get forgiveness. Peter anticipated Simon's needs and told Simon what he must do. Repent AND pray God! Now, that is the only answer or formula given in the New Testament to baptized believers for absolving sin. This is the answer, one and for all time. Thus, when a child of God sins (and he does) he does NOT have to be re-baptized. You will remember, the alien sinner was told by Peter on Pentecost, Repent and be baptized. Here Peter, the same preacher, tells a sinning disciple, repent and pray God. Two different answers for two different circumstances. Again, you will find many unscriptural variations taught in our big religious world today. Some tell alien sinners -Repent and pray through. Some confess their sins to a priest and depend on the priest to absolve their sins. Some teach a child of God cannot sin. They say; if they sine, they were never converted to start with. Let's consider the case of Simon, was he converted? i.e. were his alien sins forgiven? Was he added to the church? i.e. God's saved? In Mark 16:16 Jesus said,
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved!
Now, does that mean repentance and confession are not necessary? Obviously not, it's just the descriptive phrase used here. We've already talked about that. Peter on Pentecost told believing Jews to Repent and be baptized.
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:41)
Verse 13 in Acts 8 says,
Simon himself believed and down in the middle of that same verse it says,
he was baptized.
Now, I believe it is possible to go down into the water a fry sinner and come out a wet sinner. That's dipping, that's not baptizing. But who am I to say that is what happened to Simon? Luke said: He believed and he was baptized. The writer left NO implication that Simon was insincere or he was NOT CONVERTED. Thus, I have every reason to believe Simon did obey and Simon did received the gift of the Holy Spirit and Simon was added to God's church. Evidently, Peter considered Simon a child of God. An erring child of God, yes! Otherwise Peter would have told him what Peter told every other alien sinner, "Repent and be baptized." That's not the answer Peter gave. Thus, we must conclude Simon did obey and then sinned. He was a babe in Christ. Babies are weak and need help to grow up. Sometimes the help they need is a rebuke. That's what Peter gave to Simon. Peter did it for Simon's benefit, to help him grow-up in the faith. Now, notice the word 'perhaps', in verse 22,
If perhaps the thought of mine heart may be forgiven thee.
If and Perhaps show some doubt on the part of Peter. What caused Peter do doubt? Now, first of all let me clear the air. This has nothing to do with the so-called unpardonable sin, i.e. blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as mentioned in Mark 3:28 - 29 and again in Matthew 12:31. If it had been mat, then Peter would have labeled ft that. There would have been NO REASON to pray and ask forgiveness, for it couldn't be forgiven or pardoned. John, that other apostle with Peter there in Samaria, wrote to Christians several years later,
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness. (I John 1:9)
John says there is no exceptions, ALL sins can be forgiven, except of course, the unpardonable sin already mentioned. And with reference to that John said,
There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. (I John 5:16)
Now, that statement may include more than blasphemy but it certainly includes that. But, Peter did tell Simon to pray. So, any doubt on the part of Peter, was whether Simon would properly respond, i.e. repent and pray God as he was instructed. There was NO doubt that God would forgive such sins. OK, what did Simon do? Let's read verse 24,
Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.
Simon recognized his error. He was willing to speak out, in admission of his sin and ask Peter and John to pray for him. Surely, he prayed for himself! Now, it is true his statement expressed a greater concern for escaping the thought of perishing or being lost than for obeying. But that thought was included in verse 23 when Peter said he was,
in the bond of iniquity.
But that does not express insincerity or the lack of repentance in any way. Is mere anything wrong with responding out of fear? Granted, a response out of love would seem more commendable, but Solomon said,
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 9:10)
Thus, as one becomes wiser and more knowledgeable, future responses may come from love. Thus, we have every reason to believe Simon was genuinely converted and when he sinned, he genuinely repented, prayed and obeyed. Simon had hang-ups, YES! But don't we all? This is the last record of Simon in the book of Acts and in the Bible. Let's read verse 25.
And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.
This has reference to the apostles. When Peter and John completed their gospel meeting and their mission in Samaria they headed back to Jerusalem to keep up the work there and stand their ground as the apostles of Christ As they walked from village to village, they took every opportunity, as was their custom, to teach and preach Jesus. Let's review! We've covered the ascension of Jesus, the appointment of Matthias, the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the conversion of 3000, the church grew and prospered in Jerusalem, Peter and John healed a lame man in the temple, they were arrested and threatened by the council. They prayed for boldness, they had all things common, then came the incident of Ananias and Sapphria, later all 12 apostles were beaten by the council, then the appointment of seven deacons, Stephen's arrest and stoning, severe persecution came upon the Jerusalem church. The church spread from Jerusalem and we have covered the conversion of the Samaritans.
You're doing GREAT! Keep up your study. But, before we move on, let's integrate a little geography into our study. Luke's discussion has departed from the local Jerusalem area. We'll be talking about many different people, many different places, and many different travels in the future. The remaining chapters cover more than two decades and thousands of miles of travel. Therefore, I believe it will make our study easier and more meaningful to ge some perspective of the relative locations of the places discussed. I have attempted to keep this just as basic and as simple as I know how. To accomplish this goal, I have used two sheets of paper to make a map of the Roman world, as it was at that time. Copies are included in the test booklet on pages 18-A and 18-B. You probably have other maps in the back of your New Testament too. They may be very helpful to you. I couldn't find an already-prepared-map that satisfied me. I'm hard to satisfy. SO, I made my own. I used some other maps that I have, and with a little guestimation, freehanded this map. So, I do not claim or even suggest, it is highly accurate. I don't even know what the scale is. SO, if you want to measure distance, I suggest you use another map. Let me emphasize again: you will need a copy of this map. I'm the teacher and I want you to have a copy of this map. We will refer to it many, many times before we complete the book of Acts. So, I want you to have the same thing in your hand mat I have in my hand. It will make our communication much easier. Now, if you have those two sheets in your hand, tape them together with tape. Make sure the terrain matches up. Keep this map close to where you study. Stick it in your Bible - OR - better yet, put it on the wall where you can see it at a glance. Any place where you can get to it quickly when you need to. And you WILL need it. Have it ready for next time.
OK, look at your map. Right in the middle of the map in large letters is the Mediterranean Sea. It covers about half of the map area. In the New Testament, this is referred to as the Great Sea. So write that directly on the map. Remember, this is your map!!! I want you to write in the names of the cities as we cover them. Now, over on the right side of your map (page 18B), between the Great Sea and the Dead Sea, find dot number one. That is Jerusalem! I have it marked for you. That's were the church started on Pentecost. As it was prophesied. We've already covered that Now, look about 1/4 inch north and west of Jerusalem and you'll see dot number 2. That's Samaria. Write it in. Write it right on the map. That's were Simon the sorcerer lived. These are the only two cities we've covered so far. But, needless to say, you'll have all the cities completely marked in when we complete the book of Acts. Now, get it posted. Keep it posted as we go along. It'll make your study far more interesting. Have your map ready for lesson 19. Until then, have a good day.