There is one thing more. When Simon the Sorcerer offered Simon Peter money to get the gift of the Spirit, his conception of the Holy Spirit was not different from that of many Christians today. They think of the Holy Spirit as a power, and they reflect that if you want to have power in your life, the thing to do is to get more of the Holy Spirit. They are not thinking of buying the Holy Spirit, of course. I am not suggesting that. But they are thinking of ways to get more of this power. If we have it, then we can use it to integrate our lives, overcome our problems, live victoriously, or whatever.
One of the things we have to understand when we are dealing with the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is that the Holy Spirit is not an “it.” The Holy Spirit is a Person. He is God. When we get that clearly in mind, then we can see that the object of our relationship to the Holy Spirit is not that we might have more of Him so that we can use Him, but rather that He might have more of us and use us. Simon did not understand this, and neither do many believers today.
The proper contrast with this story (in Acts 8) is what we find at the beginning of Acts 13, at the start of the missionary enterprise. The Holy Spirit spoke to the church, saying, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (v. 2). Think about that. When you contemplate the third person of the Trinity, do you think of Him as a power that you should get a hold of and use? Or do you think of Him as God, the one who should have and use you, as He used Saul and Barnabas?
This section ends with Peter’s words to Simon: “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” (vv. 22-23). Simon replied, “Pray to the Lord for me….
Does that sound pious to your ears? “Pray to the Lord for me”? That is the sort of thing ministers hear all the time. We talk to somebody about spiritual things, and he or she says, “Well, pray for me. Pray for me.”
I do not want to be misunderstood on this point. It is good to pray for people. If somebody says, “Pray for me,” I try to do it. But the point I want to make is that Peter had told Simon to pray. He was to repent of his wickedness and pray to God. So when Simon replied by saying, “Pray for me,” he was not being pious at all but rather disobedient. His words were what we would call in colloquial English “a cop out.” He was refusing to do what he had been told he should do and was passing the buck to Peter.
Do you do that? Do you pass the buck for your spiritual growth to other people? Do you pass it to your minister? Lots of people try to pass the buck to me. They think that somehow I can solve their problems. I cannot even solve my own problems, let alone their problems.
If you are sinning, you are the one that must repent of the sin. If prayer is needed, you are the one who must pray. Moreover, it must be in that order. The Bible says that it is our “iniquities” that have separated us from God. It is because of our “sins” that “he will not hear” us (Isa. 59:2). If you have sinned, you must confess it and repent of the sin; then you can pray. You must come to God like the prodigal, saying, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you” (Luke 15:21), or like the tax collector at the temple, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). It is hard to pray in that fashion. But if you do it, you will find, as Peter suggested to Simon, that God will forgive your sin, cleanse and restore you, and save your soul.