Jesus once taught His followers that there is a wide path that leads to destruction and many are on it; there is also a narrow way that leads to life and very few are able to find it (Matt. 7:13-14). In another insightful teaching from Jesus in the same gospel, Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a man who goes out into his field to plant grain with good seeds. At the same time, an enemy of the man sneaks into the garden and maliciously sows weeds among the grain.
The “grain” is a metaphor for those who have “been born again—not of perishable seed but of imperishable—through the living and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1:23).” The weeds, on the other hand, are a metaphor for false converts. Those who have had the same experiences as other Christians but whose faith is fraudulent in nature and will eventually condemn them to a Christ-less eternity.
In other words, there is a faith that saves and a faith that damns.
On the outside, it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference. This reality is highlighted in Acts 8:9-24 where we are introduced to the first false convert in the church named Simon. At this point of time in the Book of Acts, there is a massive revival happening in a city of Samaria at the leadership of Philip. Before Philip arrived in the city, Simon practiced sorcery and was likely a worker of (false) miracles. The difference is that Simon’s empowerment came from Satan and emphasized self while Philip’s empowerment was from the Holy Spirit and elevated Christ.
Here’s what Luke describes for us in Acts 8:12-13 –
12 But when they believed Philip, as he proclaimed the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Even Simon himself believed. And after he was baptized, he followed Philip everywhere and was amazed as he observed the signs and great miracles that were being performed.
Everything seems to be going well. Philip is preaching the Gospel, casting demons out of people, and healing the sick. As a result, many in the city put their faith in Jesus. In verse 13, it says that even Simon – this former sorcerer – has “believed.” Not only as he believed, but he has followed through by getting baptized and becoming a member of the early church. By all outside indicators, Simon is a converted Christian and is well on his way to having a powerful testimony as to how God rescued him from Satanic deception through the light of the Gospel.
All is not well.
Simon, infatuated with spiritual power, seeks to buy the Holy Spirit from the Apostles. Peter’s response to Simon indicates the true condition of Simon’s heart. Here’s what he says in Acts 8:20-23:
20 But Peter told him, “May your silver be destroyed with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this matter, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, your heart’s intent may be forgiven. 23 For I see you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by wickedness.”
The beginning of Peter’s statement for Simon’s money to be destroyed with him is “fishermen’s language.” Our English translations are far too gentle in translating this phrase from Peter. It would better be translated as, “To hell with your and your money!” – This is strong language. He then describes Simon with the following characteristics:
- Peter proclaims that Simon has “no part or share in this matter” – this is referring to the Christian faith and the life of the church.
- Peter tells Simon that his heart is not right before God.
- Peter refers to Simon as being “poisoned by bitterness” and “bound by wickedness.”
Taking all of these descriptions together, we can safely assume that Simon has not truly been converted to the faith. According to church tradition, Simon goes on to found a heretical sect known as “Simonianism” which flourished in the 2nd century (Google it).
Finally, let’s wrestle with this question – how do we tell the difference between a faith that saves and a faith that damns? How do we examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith? The key to discovering if you have a faith that saves or a faith that damns is by asking yourself one question: what or who is the object of your faith?
Let’s look slowly once again at Simon’s conversion in Acts 8:13. After “believing” and being baptized, Luke describes Simon as following “Philip everywhere and was amazed as he observed the signs and great miracles that were being performed (Acts 8:13).” This entire passage makes clear that the object of Simon’s faith was not Jesus or the Gospel but instead the supernatural power that would flow from Jesus. In other words, for Simon, Jesus was merely a means to spiritual power.
Friends, Jesus is not a means to an end. He IS the means and he IS the end. The goal of the Gospel is not supernatural power but instead more Jesus. Let me make this uncomfortable clear.
- If Jesus is a means to a better marriage, you are not worshiping Jesus but instead your marriage.
- If Jesus is a means to helpful parenting tips, you are not worshiping Jesus but instead your children.
- If Jesus is a means to make friends, you are not worshiping Jesus but instead human community.
- If Jesus is a means to health/wealth, you are not worshiping Jesus but the false god of success.
- If Jesus is a means to enter “heaven”, you are not worshiping Jesus but instead a vague (and unbiblical) understanding of heaven.
What say you? Is the object of your faith the person and work of Jesus Christ? Or has Jesus merely become a means to something else? If you are honest enough to admit that Jesus has become a means to an end, follow the instruction Peter gives Simon:
“Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, your heart’s intent may be forgiven.”
If you have questions about the Christian faith or would like to grow in your understanding of the Bible, please reach out! You can either leave a comment or send me an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org)