The Danger of an Unexamined Life

Acts 8:9-25    |     Sermon Resources   |    8 March 2020


There were many surprises when the word of God spread to Samaria not least of which was that a local celebrity named Simon made a profession of faith in Christ.  This was big news but as we shall see, his conversion was not quite what it appeared to be.

With Ananias and Saphira we saw the danger of living a double life, and now with the story of Simon the magician we see the danger of living an unexamined life.  At the heart of a double life is the desire to deceive others, but with an unexamined life the primary issue is one of deceiving ourselves.  We fail to see ourselves accurately and this is precisely what Simon failed to do.

But first let’s make sure we understand the seriousness of what is going on here.  This is seen most clearly in Peter’s rebuke of Simon when he says, you have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God (v.21). This is not the language someone would use in confronting a fellow brother or sister in the Lord.  This is the language of unbelief.  This is why Peter begins by calling down a curse on Simon, may your silver perish with you (v.20).  Eugene Peterson translates this line a very colorful way in The Message“To hell with your money!  And you along with it!”

Again, this is serious stuff.  Despite what Simon may have claimed, it is obvious to Peter anyway, that he is not a true believer.   Simon was blind, and even worse, blind to his own blindness. To use the words of Socrates, he was living “an unexamined life.”  With this understanding in place, let’s explore what Luke has to say about Simon.


#1 Simon’s Background

Simon held celebrity status in Samaria.  He went around saying that he himself was somebody great and what is more the people were actually said to be amazed by him and his magic (v.9).  Simon had enough prestige that Luke actually uses his name when recounting his story, something he does not always do (c.f. the very next story of the nameless Ethiopian eunuch).  If later church tradition is to be believed, Simon continued as a troublemaker for the church as recorded by Justin Martyr and Irenaeus.

The greatest trick Simon was able to pull was to dupe the people of Samaria, from the least to the greatest into believing that he was the power of God that is called Great (v. 10).  They were held under his spell for a long time (v.11) until Philip arrived and preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ (v.12).

Simon’s star was beginning to set as the people lost interest in him and began to listen to Philip instead.  Philip in turn was not exalting himself but exalted another name – the name of Jesus Christ.



#2 Simon’s “Belief”

When the gospel was preached, the Samaritans began to respond.  We are told that even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip (v.13).  Now notice as well that what held Simon’s attention was not the preaching of the good news of the kingdom but the signs and great miracles that were performed (v.13).

So what are we to make of this profession of faith?  How are we to understand this with Peter’s scathing rebuke of Simon?  Well first, let’s recognize that not all faith is the same.  James tells us that “even the demons believe” (c.f. James 2:19).  In his parable of the sower, Jesus warns of those who initially receive the word of God with much joy, only to fall away later (c.f. Mark 4:16-17).  Jesus warns us further that on the day of judgment there will be many who call out to him saying “Lord, Lord”  and listing all of the stuff they did – including performing miracles – only to be cast away because they were never known by him (c.f. Matthew 7:22-23).

Early church author Bede wrote that Simon only “pretended that he believed” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Acts, p.91).  On the question of why Simon would have gone through with his baptism, Chrysostom wrote that it was “in the same way that Christ also chose Judas” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Acts, p.90).  Perhaps Calvin put it best in his commentary, that Simon’s profession was somewhere “between faith and mere dissimulation [pretense]” (Calvin’s Commentary).  The bottom line is that while Simon professed to have faith, it was not saving faith.

This is not to say that the rest of the Samaritans followed Simon’s lead.  Actually, quite the opposite.  Word had spread to the apostles at Jerusalem of the revival going on in Samaria and they sent Peter and John.  This is the same John who once asked Jesus if it would be appropriate to call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritan village who had rejected them (c.f. Luke 9:54).  Ironically, John would now be calling a different kind of fire from heaven – the fire of the Holy Spirit.

Peter and John must have discerned that even though the Samaritans had professed faith and even been baptized, they did not yet have the Holy Spirit.  This is a source of real puzzlement.  A few points of clarification:


  • This is not the normal experience of the church. When Peter preached his famous Pentecost sermon, he told his listeners to repent, be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit (c.f. Acts 2:38). Peter obviously expected faith in Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit to happen at the same time.
  • And yet Acts records several anomalies from what Peter presented at Pentecost. First, the apostles themselves repented and believed but did not receive the Holy Spirit until Pentecost. Here in Samaria, the people believed and were baptized and later received the Spirit.  These are anomalies.
  • This passage does not support a “second experience” of the Holy Spirit. Yes, there was a delay between belief and receiving the Spirit, but Scripture is very clear elsewhere that these two events go together. Consider Paul’s words in Romans 8:9 “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”  The idea that I can be a true believer but not have the Holy Spirit is clearly debunked by Paul.


So what is going on here?  This was an exceptional time in the history of the church.  The gospel had spread for the first time beyond Jerusalem – and into Samaria of all places.  While the Samaritans had Jewish roots, they were seen as a distinct group from the Jews.  The danger then would be that as the church was established in Samaria it would grow to become the “Samaritan” church as opposed to the “Jewish” church that was already established.  To prevent this from happening, “God withheld the Holy Spirit until the coming of Peter and John in order that the Samaritans might be seen to be fully incorporated into the community of Jerusalem Christians who had received the Spirit at Pentecost (Howard Marshal, Tyndale Commentary on Acts, p.167)



#3 Simon’s Blindness

We come the crux of the matter.  Simon witnesses the Holy Spirit coming upon those on whom the apostles had laid their hands.  He sees an opportunity and so he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit” (v.19).  This was not Simon’s way of participating in the evangelistic efforts of the church.  This was Simon revealing the true intent of his heart.  He saw an opportunity to expand his power.

It suddenly becomes obvious to Peter that Simon was not pursuing Jesus because he believed that Jesus was worthy in himself to be worshipped. No, he was interested in Jesus for what he could selfishly gain.  He was trying to make Jesus serve his own idolatrous desires.  In other words, at the bottom of his life, when all the layers were dug through, it was revealed that what was really driving him was not a desire to glorify God but to serve himself.  He was going to hitch his wagon to Jesus for as long as Jesus was going in the direction he wanted to go.

Perhaps the saddest part of this story is that Simon failed to understand the seriousness of Peter’s words.  Peter told him to repent and pray so that if possible he might receive forgiveness (v.22).  But Simon responded asking Peter to pray for him so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me (v.24).  This is noteworthy for 2 reasons: (1) Simon does not listen to Peter’s instructions to pray.  (2) He appears to believe that Peter is describing some future event that will happen to him rather than Peter’s honest diagnosis of his current state.

The story of Simon serves as a warning to the church.  Just as Ananias and Sapphira showed the danger of living a double life, so Simon shows the danger of an unexamined life.  Even when Peter had confronted him and shared some hard thoughts, even then Simon was unable to grasp the seriousness of the issue.


How Can We Battle Against Spiritual Blindness?

-1- Recognize that no one sees themselves with complete objectivity.

Sin makes us spiritually blind.  If someone is physically blind, at least they know it.  But spiritual blindness makes us blind to our own blindness.  We need to recognize this.

-2- Pursue meaningful relationships with other believers.

Sanctification is a community project.  The reason Jesus has saved us into the body of Christ is because we cannot live the Christian life on our own.  The church is literally referred to as a “body.”  And yet it is so easy to hide.  We must intentionally seek out relationships with other believers.  There are many good reasons to do this.  Relating to the topic of an examined life, we recognize that others will be able to see aspects of our heart that we cannot see ourselves.  Choose to listen to what others have to say rather than simply writing them off.


-3- Keep preaching the gospel to yourself every day.

Ultimately, this is not a moral self-improvement project.  The only thing that will really change us from the inside out is the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We need to set this truth before ourselves as often as we can.  We need to “preach” the gospel to ourselves – daily!



Discussion Questions


  1. Do you think Simon was a true believer? Why or why not?
  2. In what ways was Simon spiritually blind? Why do you think he was blind?
  3. What do you think is worse – physical blindness or spiritual blindness? How so?
  4. How can you combat spiritual blindness in your own life?
  5. How does God use people in your life to remind you of what is true? How can you foster those kinds of relationships where truth and love can be lived out?
  6. How are we to make sense of the fact that Samaritans believed and were baptized but received the Holy Spirit after the apostles arrived? What is the significance of this?
  7. What does Simon’s response to Peter (v. 24) reveal about himself?
  8. What is one thing you will do as a result of studying this passage?