Lessons and applications from Simon Magus (Acts 8:9-24)

POST OVERVIEW. In the last post (#597, 12/7/2022), we had studied the passage about Simon the magician in Acts 8:9-24. From that study we will observe a couple of lessons and also make a couple of applications.

In the most recent post (#597, 12/7/2022), we had studied the passage in Acts 8 about the false faith of Simon the magician and his baptism by Philip the evangelist. We saw that, despite his claim of belief in Jesus, Simon never truly believed. We also determined that Philip’s baptism of Simon based on his profession of faith was the appropriate thing to do, even though Simon’s profession was false.

In this post, we will extend our study into lessons learned and applications made.

LESSONS FROM SIMON MAGUS

What do we learn from this situation with Simon the magician?

First, this passage makes it unambiguously clear that baptism does not save. The proof is irrefutable: Simon the magician was baptized and yet he was not saved. A review of this passage should serve to silence those who hold to baptism as the means of salvation rather than as a marking of those who have believed and are saved.

Second, we learn that it is possible for a sincere minister of the gospel to baptize an unbeliever unintentionally. The New Testament teaches that a person is baptized upon their profession of faith in Jesus. It is possible, however, that the person’s professed belief is not genuine. Our study passage shows that Philip, already identified as a “man of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3, 5), a sincere minister of the gospel who is identified in Scripture as an evangelist (Acts 21:8), baptized Simon the magician based on his profession of belief. The pattern in Acts, and so the practice in the church age, is that a person’s profession of faith, of declaring Jesus as Lord (1 Cor. 12:3), is assumed to be sincere and a person is baptized upon profession of faith.

By the way, it is interesting to note that the apostle Peter does not rebuke or correct Philip for baptizing Simon Magus. If Philip had done something that was wrong, then it is certain that, at this infant stage of the church, the Holy Spirit would have prompted Peter to correct that error so that the error was not repeated throughout the life of the church. The fact that Peter does not correct Philip in any way indicates that Philip’s baptism of Simon based on his profession of faith was entirely appropriate. The fault and guilt lay entirely with Simon because he had essentially lied about his belief (see also Acts 5:3, 4).

APPLICATIONS

As we think about this episode with Simon the magician, we need to ask the question, “How does the church today avoid this situation of baptizing unbelievers?” Ultimately, the possibility of baptizing someone based on a false profession of faith cannot be removed. There are no apostles around today who have the gift to discern genuine faith from false. In the absence of this apostolic discernment, however, the church can take steps to try to ensure that a candidate for baptism is a genuine believer. For example, the person’s profession of faith can be examined carefully by wise elders to test the authenticity of their profession. Also, if the person has been a professing believer for some time, the persons interviewing the candidate for baptism can look for “the fruit of repentance” (Matt. 3:8; see also Luke 13:6-9; John 15:2) since their conversion. If after this investigation, the candidate’s profession of faith appears genuine, then baptism is done.

So, it is possible for even the most careful pastor to unintentionally baptize a person because the person made profession of a faith they did not possess. But this event is not a cause of undue concern, and that for two reasons.

THE CHURCH’S CLEANSING BY CHURCH DISCIPLINE

First, the church does have a remedy for this situation. It is difficult for the person who is an “unsheep” to remain undetected in the flock forever. This is because every baptized believer is to bear fruit as a disciple of Jesus. The Spirit-sealed disciple says no to sin and yes to righteousness. He worships, he witnesses, he grows in his faith. So if, over time, it is discovered that a professing believer is not exhibiting the fruit of repentance, but is instead evidencing the fruit of unrighteousness, the church will respond and confront this problem. If the sinning church member does not change and does not repent of his unrighteousness, eventually the church will exercise discipline and will remove this one from the flock (Matt. 18:15-18; 1 Cor. 5) because the person’s unrepentance is counted as evidence of unbelief.

THE LORD’S PERFECT CLEANSING AT THE AND OF THE AGE

But second, there is an even more compelling reason that the unintentional baptism of an unbeliever is not a problem. The one who makes sure that His true church is composed only of genuine believers is the Lord Himself. If there are “unsheep” in the earthly flock, they are known to the Lord and will be removed by the Lord. The following are Scriptures that attest to this truth.  

The Lord knows those who are His” (2 Tim. 2:19). No matter how cleverly those who are not true believers disguise themselves, the Lord will find them out because He knows those who are His and those who are not.

“I am the good shepherd, and I know My own, and My own know Me” (John 10:14). Jesus plainly declares that He knows His sheep. Only His true sheep will be saved from the judgment. (Consider John 10:26 – “But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.”)

In the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43), Jesus teaches that there will be true believers (wheat) and unbelievers (tares) in His visible church until the end of the age. Then, at the end of the age, He will throw the unbelievers into the furnace of fire (13:42). Again we see that those who make false profession on earth do not deceive the Lord of heaven.

The parable of the dragnet is similar to the parable of the wheat and the tares. In this parable (Matt. 13:47-50), Jesus tells us that the dragnet of the gospel brings in both “good fish” (true believers) and “bad fish” (false), but at the end of the age, the Lord will take out the wicked from among the righteous and will throw them into the furnace of fire.

These Scriptures make clear that, even though man or the devil may sow those who are false in the field of the visible church (Matthew 13:38-39), the Lord is the One who reigns over His church and He will ensure that, at the last day, His bride has no wrinkle or spot.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/08/2022                 #598

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