One of the things that people have a hard time understanding about Christianity is that all that we have is a gift from God. All that we have, and our very lives are gifts from God. And of course, salvation is the greatest gift of all, as God saves us from our sin and comes to dwell within us through the Holy Spirit.
When we truly understand the grace that we have received from God, it changes our whole view of life as we start to understand his love for us and how much we truly are blessed no matter our circumstances.
In this story, Simon the Sorcerer never grasped this. Before Phillip came, he had everything he could have wanted, power and fame. His powers, if real, were most certainly not from God, but because of them, he boasted that he was someone great and people believed him.
Then came Phillip, an ordinary man except for one thing. He was filled with the Spirit of God. And apparently the signs and wonders he performed far outstripped anything that Simon could do, and as a result, the people turned from Simon, listened to Phillip, and eventually turned to the Lord.
It’s hard to say whether Simon’s conversion was genuine or not. It’s possible that it was, but his later actions seem to indicate otherwise. Whether it was genuine or not, it’s clear that he did not truly understand the concept of grace. That it is a gift received and can not be paid for or earned.
And so when Simon saw the people receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit when Peter and John laid hands on them, he wanted the ability to bestow the Spirit on others and offered to pay Peter and John for it.
But Peter said,
May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin. (20-23)
What happens when we fail to understand the grace of God?
We think of ourselves too highly. We think that somehow we deserve the things that God has given us. And when we don’t have the same things that others have, we become jealous and bitter. Simon was certainly that way. Before Phillip came, he was a somebody. But now with Phillip, Peter, and John there, he was a nobody. And he wanted to be a somebody again. He was bitter at his loss of stature and jealous of what Phillip, Peter, and John had. And that’s why he tried to buy the gift of God. Not for God’s glory, but for his own.
But while some of us may think of ourselves too highly, others of us have the reverse problem.
We think of ourselves too lowly. We think that we are so bad, even God cannot save us. Or we think we are so unworthy, that God would never think to give us any good gifts.
If Simon was an actual believer, it’s possible that he swung from one end of the pendulum to the other. That after Peter’s harsh rebuke, he felt his unworthiness to the point where he felt he couldn’t even approach God to ask for forgiveness. Instead, he asked Peter to pray for him.
But the writer of Hebrews tells us,
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)
None of us deserves God’s grace. So let us not take pride in what we have received nor be jealous of what God has graciously given others. On the other hand, let us also remember that God delights in giving good gifts to those who are his children, though none of us are worthy to receive anything from him. That’s what grace is all about.