“For I see you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” (Acts 8:23)
The story of Simon the sorcerer is fascinating. We might prefer to just gloss over it, or ignore it, but it’s there. So, we need to look a little deeper and see what spiritual truth we may mine.
Why would someone want to become a sorcerer? The answer is very simple actually: power. If someone gets beaten up in their relationships, especially as they are growing up, anger becomes the order of the day for them. They got beaten up because of powerlessness, therefore the possibility of gaining power appeals to them. In the first century, sorcery was a genuine power-job which could also be lucrative, adding to its power effect.
Peter perceived that Simon was “poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” Bitterness is not something people achieve or want to achieve but is the result of negative and hurtful experiences that occur repeatedly over time. But here’s what’s interesting: Simon had amazed crowds with his sorcery in Samaria for a long time, but when he saw Philip and the works that were done through him, he himself became a believer. Then, when Peter and John came to town and laid hands on the people for them to receive the Holy Spirit, Simon offered them money to give him the power to do the same. Peter then soundly rebuked him for thinking he could obtain the gift of God with money. Peter told him that his heart was not right with God, and that he needed to repent of this wickedness and ask the Lord to forgive the intent of his heart.
What are we to make of this? The Bible says that Simon believed. All we can do is simply take that at face value and conclude that Simon had a very basic faith. When someone comes to faith, however, that does not mean that suddenly all of the experiences of the past just disappear. We come “Just as I am,” right? We bring it all with us. The Lord changes us, but the past doesn’t just evaporate. And, if there are any spiritual or evil “strongholds” in our lives, they may be immediately broken, but also the Lord may lead us out of them over a period of time as we are discipled.
Simon was a man who came to the Lord but, as a new believer, had all of these years of bitterness and sinful holdovers from his past that had not yet been dealt with. The fact that Simon asked Peter to pray for him suggests that his faith was basic and real and needed to grow, so that he could then deal effectively with those strongholds.
It would seem that we could just dismiss Simon by saying that his faith was not genuine, but things are not that simple. There are many believers in our own day who have a simple and basic faith in Jesus, who also have spiritual strongholds they need to deal with. They need to grow in their faith and walk with other stronger believers, like a Peter and John and Philip, to find full release, so they can enjoy the freedom of being in Christ.
Lord, We thank You for the freedom we have in You. Help us to enjoy it daily. Help those who struggle to know this truth to find their way to the freedom You provide, by the power of Your Spirit and with the help of fellow believers. Amen.