2016-11-20 The Necessity of Repentance

ACTS 8:9-25                                                                       NOVEMBER 20, 2016

“THE NECESSITY OF REPENTANCE”

A young father was asked to prepare and teach a lesson for Sunday school on “The Marks of a True Christian”. Before teaching the class he decided to rehearse his main points with his son. He asked his young son to sit down and listen to him for 15 minutes. He was pleased that after finishing his material that his son had a thoughtful look on his face. The young boy asked, “I was just wondering, Dad, if I’ve ever seen a Christian.” With that he jumped up and cheerfully ran out to play. The father stood there stunned! Most of us have wondered from time to time about persons who display few signs of being a true follower of Christ. I’m glad that it is not up to us to make that judgment. However, scripture makes it clear that not everyone understands that repentance is a necessary component of being a Christian. This story about Simon the magician brings out the necessity of repentance.

We pick up the story of Philip, one of the seven deacons, who had fled to Samaria as a result of the persecution of the church in Jerusalem.  Samaria is the region that lies between Jerusalem and Galilee. Samaria was home to the Samaritans who were the descendants of the Jews who had intermarried with non-Jews during the Babylonian exile of the Jewish people. There was much animosity between the Jews who had returned from Exile and the Samaritans. The Samaritans worshipped God, but only recognized the first five books of the Old Testament. They were waiting on the coming of the messiah that Moses had spoken about. Deuteronomy 18:15 (NIV) 15 The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.”

Before the coming of Philip the people had been amazed by the displays of power shown by the magician Simon. Acts 8:9-11 (NIV) 9 Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, 10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is the divine power known as the Great Power.” 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic.” In the ancient world magic was not the art of illusion as magic is practiced today. A magician or sorcerer was one who had a deep knowledge of the spirit world who sought to control natural events or forces by invoking supernatural powers (demonic powers) through charms and spells. (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary)

Philip comes to town and truly impressed the people with his miraculous acts and his preaching. He even impressed Simon. Acts 8:6-8 (NIV) 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.” Many of the Samaritans, including Simon, responded to the message of Jesus and were baptized. Acts 8:12-13 (NIV) 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.”

On the surface it appears that Simon has become a Christian, yet Luke provides us with evidence that his faith was not genuine. “This passage is one place where the meaning of “believe” falls short of saving faith.” (NIV Application Commentary on Acts, page 272) Jesus told us that not everyone who professes his name is saved. Matthew 7:21 (NIV) 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

The activity of Philip and the large number of Samaritans coming to faith in Christ caught the attention of the apostles. Acts 8:14-17 (NIV) 14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” The Samaritans coming to faith was a fulfillment of the promise made by Jesus. Acts 1:8 (NIV) 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The gospel was spreading out from Jerusalem and was now extending beyond the Jewish people.

This action of the laying on of hands by Peter and John bestowing the Holy Spirit really impressed Simon. We can begin to see that there is a faulty connection and a real misunderstanding of the faith. Acts 8:18-19 (NIV) 18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”  The buying or selling of church offices became known as simony.

Many people only seem to skim the surface of coming to faith in Christ. It is much more than walking the aisle as a child and/or joining the church through attending confirmation classes. I am always excited seeing and hearing of friends and people becoming “saved”. Yet I have often observed these individuals returning to a pagan lifestyle showing few signs of repentance, a turning away from the sinful life we used to participate in.

Listen to the rebuke of Peter who talks about the absence of a change of heart. Acts 8:20-22 (NIV) 20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.” The gifts of God are not obtained by money or even going to school and getting a degree. We can all grow in our learning and understanding by attending bible studies, Sunday school, and taking bible classes. But the spiritual gifts come from the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 4 & I Corinthians 12)

Simon is showing signs that he still has an unrepentant heart. If our heart is not right with God then it is fruitless to talk about spiritual gifts. Peter was able to discern the heart of Simon. Acts 8:23 (NIV) 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” Peter was quoting the words of Moses. Deuteronomy 29:18 (NIV) 18 Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the LORD our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.”

Simon’s response also indicates that he does not truly believe. Acts 8:24 (NIV) 24 Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.” The right response would have been for Simon to immediately cry out to God asking for forgiveness instead of asking that the punishment be removed. He wants freedom from being punished instead of being freed from slavery to sin. Hebrews 12:15 (NIV) 15 See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

Faith without repentance is not a saving faith. Colossians 3:5-10 (NIV) 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

If the Holy Spirit is tugging on your heart and mind; then don’t ignore it. If you have doubts then speak with me or one of the elders, or Bill, or someone else. Ask God to show you what you should do. If we confess and renounce our sins God does hear us and will forgive us. 1 John 1:9 (NIV) 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

We must turn away from sin and yield to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God for his grace and mercy. O LORD, cleanse us from all unrighteousness!

Let us pray.

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