We have already looked The Apostle Paul conversion, as a conversion that fell from heaven.
Now we look at a puzzling conversion story – was it complete, partial, or entirely false? Since we can’t read Simon’s heart, it may be an unanswerable question.
The passage: Acts 7:9ff
Through signs and wonders, Simon the sorcerer had gathered a following and people proclaimed him “the great power.” People followed him because he amazed them with magic tricks and spells.
However when Phillip came along, preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus, people believed Phillip and were baptized (v.12).
Verse 13 says that “Simon himself believed and was baptized.”
Yet, when Peter visits, Simon wants to buy the power to lay hands on people to receive the Holy Spirit. (v.18). Peter rebukes him by saying “your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness . . . for I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”
Simon seems repentant ( v.24) when he petitions Peter to pray for him.
The text says that “Simon believed and was baptized.” It is quite plausible to state that he had demonstrated some kind of conversion experience. Luke doesn’t give us a timeline of days or months, or years here, but on the face value and plain reading, it appears that Simon believed.
Clearly, Simon was attracted to the “power” element of Phillip’s evangelism. “He followed Phillip and was astonished by the great signs and miracles that he saw” (8.13). Simon’s entry point to belief, so to speak, was the power of God.
Since Simon was also a Samaritan and a sorcerer, his worldview was likely beginning to undergo a shift. It’s plausible to state that Simon did not have any accurate knowledge of the Old Testament, nor the Law or its promises, nor of God’s covenant community — it wasn’t his background.
It is quite possible that Simon believed and took baptism before he understood everything.
Peter doesn’t rebuke him for not being a Christian, but for not understanding how the Holy Spirit was given. He’s rebuked for desiring the power of God in an incorrect manner. He seems to have wanted to further his own ministry of power – as if the Spirit of God would be just another magic trick that he could amaze people with.
Peter says Simon’s heart was full of “bitterness” and was “captive to sin.” That’s something entirely different than saying he wasn’t a believer.
Even as believers, we can still have hearts that are full of bitterness. Likewise, we may continue to have struggles connected with particular sinful patterns – but it doesn’t mean that our conversion was invalid.
Luke’s point is not to give us a theological treatise on conversion. In the theme of Acts, he’s demonstrating how the gospel is spreading beyond Jerusalem.
We know nothing else about Simon after this point in the biblical records. Church history identifies him as Simon Magus, and early Christian authors regarded him later as a heretic. The sin of simony, or paying for position in the church, is named after Simon.
If the later observations about the Simon from church history are true, then we might be able to say that Simon gave initial hints that he “believed” but over time, it became clear that his response, though perhaps initially genuine, didn’t bear fruit.
In our experiences, many of us have seen people who have claimed to believe before they have fully understood all the consequences and ramifications of belief in Jesus.
We’ve also seen people that “believe” but over the years, just drop out, disappear, disconnect, and leave the church in general. It seems to be the seed that fell on the rocky soil – has a good spurt of growth, but the cares of the world take over and choke the seed (Mark 4).
We can’t read the human heart. Simon appeared to have had a belief, but over time, it just didn’t pan out.
It’s not my point here to label Simon’s conversion: false conversion, conversion misfire, or backslider. I think depending on our understanding of evangelism, we may settle on one.
However, it does make me think of those I know who have left the faith after giving evidence of belief. Though they “made a decision,” they hung around for a while and eventually left. My heart breaks because they have walked away from the grace of God. Where else can they go? Jesus alone has the words of eternal life.
Let me ask you this?
Do you pray for your friends who walk away from the faith? Ask God today to bring them back – the prodigals that Christ died for.