So I say that it is possible, just possible, that Simon was a believer. Nevertheless, this seems rather to be a case of one who had been exposed to strong preaching, was impressed by the miracles and wanted to tap into the evident blessings of the Gospel, but who did not have that genuine change of heart that would have meant that he was born again.
But we can apply the story either way. If Simon was saved, we are warned against what in the history of the church has come to be known as “simony.” In the narrowest sense simony is “the crime of buying or selling ecclesiastic preferment.” But because it is based on the notion that God’s blessings can be bought, it can refer more broadly to any theological system in which we suppose we can pay God for what we want from Him. We may think of this as an old-fashioned, perhaps merely a medieval, idea that thrived when people were trying to buy papal favors or buy their way to heaven by the purchase of indulgences to release their souls from purgatory, and those are good examples. But we have the same thing today in the thought, all too common in some Christian organizations, that we can obtain the blessing of God on our work if only we can raise enough money.
Many Christian ministries operate as if that were true. They think that if they can raise enough money, then they can do all the things that are necessary to show that they are really blessed by God and are achieving worthwhile ends. I know, as much as people in any organization, that a ministry does need money to function. I am involved in raising money for a number of organizations. But it is a tragedy when we suppose that the blessing of God is dependent on money or, worse yet, can be purchased by it.
When God really blesses His church, when revival sweeps over God’s people, it is generally in unexpected ways and never linked to how much money they have. God just chooses to do it. His Spirit moves. His people are revived. Then, from beyond the walls of the church, people hear what is happening and the Holy Spirit draws them in. That is what we are lacking today. We are rich in things but poor in soul. If Simon was a believer, he is a warning to us about simony.
If Simon was not a believer, though he thought he was, then his case is a warning to anybody who thinks that just because he or she has made a profession of faith or has gone through certain motions expected of Christians that he or she is right with God for that reason. That is not the case. And we need to be careful about this, especially with regard to the membership of our churches.
We are often so interested in getting members into our churches that we make the demands for membership almost meaningless. As long as a person will say a few right things, we consider the person to be regenerate and proceed to the baptism. Then we add such persons to our rolls, saying, “We increased our congregation by thirteen percent last year, and the year before that we only increased it ten percent. Things are really going well.”
It is interesting to compare how churches function today in terms of membership with how they functioned in what was probably the strongest period of all for American churches, the age of the Puritans. In those days membership in the churches did not represent a large percentage of the population, perhaps only six or seven percent of the population as contrasted with forty-five or forty-six percent now. Yet the churches were tremendously effective. One reason was this: Today, if a church has a membership of 2,000 people, it probably knows where about 1,000 of those members are, and about 500 come to church. But in the days of the Puritans, if a church had 500 members, 1,000 were in church and the congregation was having an impact on at least 2,000. The Puritan practice suggests that it is not wise to make membership in a church too easy.
Yet I note that when Simon came to the apostles saying, “I believe in Jesus Christ and want to be baptized,” the apostles accepted his profession. That was necessary because, as human beings, we cannot see into another person’s heart. All we can do is judge on the basis of what we call “credible profession.” That is what Philip did. So when Simon confessed Christ, Simon was baptized, though (as I believe) he probably was not a true believer.