A Non-Saving Faith

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            John Bunyan's well-known allegory, Pilgrim's Progress, chronicles the spiritual pilgrimage of a man named Christian, as well as a few other companions along the way. At the end of the book the scene shows Christian crossing the river, symbolizing death, and going over to the Celestial City. Christian and his friend, Hopeful, are met by two Shining Men or angels, who usher them into the City and the glory of the King of Glory. But there is another man in those last scenes that I would call to your attention. His name is Ignorance.

            Christian and Hopeful spent much time exhorting Ignorance in the truths of the gospel, who for his part thought himself to be a believer. But Ignorance argued with them constantly and thought that his belief was just as good as that of Christian and Hopeful. When Christian tried to explain that Ignorance's faith was a false faith and that he was not trusting Christ alone to justify him, Ignorance scoffed at the very idea, saying, "That is your faith, but not mine. Yet mine, I doubt not, is as good as yours, though I have not in my head so many whimsies as you."

            After this Christian and Hopeful are separated from Ignorance as they cross over the river of death and into the Celestial City. Bunyan then looks back at Ignorance. He made it across the river of death by taking a boat that was ferried by a man named Vain-hope. He struggled to climb the steep hill to the gates of the City, but the gates did not open for him. He pounded upon the doors and stated his claim to enter. But rather than gaining entrance, two shining ones took Ignorance and carried him through the air to a door on the side of the hill which led to the Celestial City. There he was cast away forever. Bunyan's comment frames this truth graphically, "Then I saw that there was a way to hell, even from the gates of heaven, as well as from the City of Destruction." [Pilgrim's Progress, 131-148]

            What a tragedy for many who believe that they have the faith to enter the Kingdom of God only to find out on the day of their departure from earth that it is a non-saving faith. I am afraid that there are many in our world and even in our churches who have a false faith that will not allow them into heaven. Scripture warns us to examine ourselves to be sure we are of the faith.

            Jesus reminds us “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matt. 7:13). He said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matt. 7:21-23).

            Folks, I must admit that sometimes it is hard to determine believers from unbelievers. It is difficult to know who is real and who is not real. Satan’s work in the world is easy to detect, but his work in the church is much harder. Jesus illustrated this point in a parable he told in Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43.

            In our passage this morning, we see an example of a man with false faith. So I ask you to turn in your Bibles to Acts 8:9-25. In the first eight verses of this chapter after the stoning of Stephen, the church is ravaged by great persecution led by Saul. As a result, the church scattered from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria under the preaching of Philip, one of the seven men chosen to wait on tables. As a result of his preaching and miracles, there was great joy in the city, except in the life of one individual.

            Simon the magician is a man with a twisted view of the Bible. Folks, we need to learn to ground ourselves in the truth. Yet, many people are being deceived especially when it comes to the gospel. So let us look at the faults of Simon the so-called professed believer. Fault # 1 – a twisted view of self.


            Luke introduced us to a man by the name of Simon. A considerable literature eventually grew up around Simon. He was credited with the founder of Gnosticism, one of the most persistent and pernicious heresies with which the church has ever had to cope. He was supposed to have performed miracles in Samaria and later in Rome, where he went in the reign of Claudius. It is said that in Rome he subverted the church by false teaching and that he incited the authorities against the Christians. He was accompanied in his travels by a slave woman named Helen, whom he had purchased at Tyre and whom he declared to be an incarnation of “the Divine mind.” He is said to have had magical confrontation with Peter during which he practiced levitation and flew up into the air, only to be brought crashing to the ground by Peter’s superior spiritual power. In the end he is supposed to have tried to emulate the resurrection of Christ by having himself buried alive in Rome, promising to rise on the third day. That seems to have been the end of him.

            Well, whether these things were true of him or not, we do know what Scripture records of him to be true. Luke said he practiced magic. Magic referred originally to the lore of the magi—the priests of the Medo-Persians. It was a mix of science and superstition, combining astrology, divination, and occult practices with history, mathematics, and agriculture. It could be trickery or demonic.

            And with this magic, the people from the least to the greatest were amazed by him. In fact, they said, “This man is the power of God that is called great.” In that saying, he was claiming deity. In other words, he thought fairly high of himself. This is the sin of pride. We know that Scripture has a lot to say about pride. In fact, pride cost man Eden and the fallen angels heaven. Pride cost Nebuchadnezzar his reason, Rehoboam his kingdom, Uzziah his health and Haman his life.

            Folks, this universal and deadly sin cause men and women not to see their need for salvation. When people have a false view of man then it costs them the Kingdom of God. This faulty view lulls people to sleep by thinking that God is impressed with their behavior. Good works is the reason many think they are getting into heaven. Yet, Scripture plainly states that our righteous deeds are like filthy garments.

            Our culture and many churches have lost their high view of God. Instead, they place a heavy emphasis on the value of man. Man becomes the center rather than God. Now, man does many great things in life, but man does nothing to deserve salvation. In fact, I find the gospel to be more man-centered than God-centered, today. Salvation is not about what I can get from God rather it is what I can give because I have been transformed by his grace.

            So Simon had a twisted view of self. Next, Simon had a twisted view of salvation.


            Now Philip, according to Luke, was preaching the word, proclaimed to them Christ, preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. Folks, what this says to me is simply that Philip preached the gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation. Because Philip was obedient to preach the gospel, God used it to bring people into the Kingdom.

            I want to remind you that the gospel is about the kingdom of God, which refers to God’s sovereign rule over the sphere of salvation that is entered by those who belong to Him through faith in His son and about the name of Jesus Christ which symbolizes all that He is. The church needs to be reminded of this truth and get it right when it comes to sharing it. So the gospel is God’s realm over the saved and the second person of the Trinity, who alone provides salvation.

            Therefore, people in Samaria came to believe the gospel and were baptized, but Simon came to see salvation quite differently. He saw it as the latest fad passing through as we will see later in the sermon. He was more interested in what the gospel could do for him.

            The last few years have seen a resurgence in the false teaching that Jesus can be your Savior without being your Lord. Such teaching is a false gospel that has lured many people into making decisions who never have any semblance of repentance and faith in Christ. John MacArthur has written extensively on this subject. In The Gospel According to Jesus, he writes, "The call to Calvary must be recognized for what it is: a call to discipleship under the lordship of Jesus Christ. To respond to that call is to be come a believer. Anything less is simply unbelief" [p. 36, revised].

            Therefore, Simon thought if you can’t beat them than join them. And that is exactly what he did. In verse 13, Simon believed, was baptized and continued with Philip. Maybe, he continued with Philip to stay close to the crowd which he at one time amazed. As we will see in a moment, Simon was more interested in miracles than the Master and signs than a Savior. Salvation for Simon was a new bag of tricks to captivate an audience.

            There is a faith that doesn't save.  Do you know that?  You saw it in John 2 Jesus did miracles that time when He came to the temple and His ministry began and a bunch of people believed Him and it says He didn't commit Himself to those people, verse 2l and 22 and 23 there, He didn't commit Himself to those people because He knew what was in them.  What did He know? He knew their faith was not the faith that saved.  They believed the miracle they weren't willing to give their life to Him as their Christ and Messiah.

            Did you know that James said the devils believe and tremble?  James says, Don't show me your faith without works show me your works and I'll know your faith.  Faith better mean transformed life or it isn't true faith.

            Folks, what is your view of salvation. Do you have a biblical view or is it twisted like that of Simon’s? Are you trusting in yourself, your goodness, your righteousness, your service, your acts of goodness, your family heritage, your church, or your baptism? I remind you that none of these things save. It is only the grace of God that salvation is obtained.

            Salvation that is real transforms. It transform from the inside out. Charles Colson tells of a frustrated prison psychiatrist who exclaimed, “I can cure a person’s madness, but not his badness.” The only way to make bad people good is to expose them to the gospel. Even Charles Darwin, the man who contributed so much to evolutionistic thinking, admitted this. He wrote to a minister: “Your services have done more for our village in a few months than all our efforts for many years. We have never been able to reclaim a single drunkard, but through your services I do not know that there is a drunkard left in the village!”

            Later Darwin visited the island of Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America. What he found among the people was horrifying—savagery and bestiality almost beyond description. But when he returned after a missionary had worked among the people, he was amazed at the change in them. He acknowledged that the gospel does transform lives. If fact, he was so moved by what he saw that he contributed money to the mission until his death. - Charles Colson

            So Simon had a twisted view of self, salvation, and a twisted view of the Spirit.


            Now the church in Jerusalem had heard of the success of Philip in Samaria, so they sent Peter and John there to check it out. Why? If you remember, Samaritans and Jews did not get along well with each other. In fact, Samaritans were considered half-breeds because while in captivity in Assyria some of the Jews married Gentiles. They came back to Israel to live. They had their own place of worship as mentioned by the Samaritan woman at the well.

            So Peter and John were sent probably to help with the spiritual harvest brought about by Philip’s preaching. They came to help make disciples of the Samaritans as Jesus commanded them at the end of the gospel and beginning of Acts. They probably came to make sure that the church was not divided because if the Jews were saved and the Samaritans were saved there could have been two churches. So they came to bring their blessings to these new brothers in the faith.

            And finally they came to pray for these believers so that they could receive the Spirit of God. They had been baptized, but the Spirit had not fallen on them. There are some Christians who use this passage to teach that Spirit is subsequent to salvation. That means you are saved, but the Holy Spirit comes later (a second blessing).

            Folks, the clear teaching of the New Testament is that after this transitional period, all believers receive the Holy Spirit through faith at the moment of salvation (Gal. 3:2-5). He seals us as a pledge of our inheritance (Eph. 1:13; 4:30). He dwells in our bodies (1 Cor. 6:19). He baptizes us all into the body of Christ, so that we all drink from the same Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). He gives spiritual gifts to every Christian according to His sovereign will (1 Cor. 12:4-30).

            In verse 17, Luke said, “Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” For Simon, this event amazed him. He simply saw it as a great magic trick. He was ready to pay Peter and John for their secret power. One thing that magicians did was to trade their secrets through money. But we need to remember you can buy magic tricks, but the Holy Spirit was not for sale. Today, this act is called simony. This is buying or selling a church office.

            In Simon’s world everything had a price, but I tell you that nothing of God is for sale. We would be wrong to suppose that this does not apply to us simply because we have not offered money for spiritual power. For example, preaching to gain recognition or status is simony. Serving with an eye to advancement in the church’s power structure is simony. Seeking spiritual gifts for the promotion of oneself is simony. Even seeking to be godly so others will think we are godly is a type of simony.

            Peter rebuked Simon sternly for such a suggestion. Peter was irate at this request by Simon and it showed in the statement he issued. The literal meaning of the Greek text has been softened by most translations. J. B. Phillip’s rendering, “To hell with you and your money!” conveys the actual sense of peter’s words.

            So Simon had a twisted view of self, salvation, the Spirit and finally sin.


            Peter follows up his statement with a call for repentance. It was not too late for Simon to get genuine salvation. He tells Simon to repent of this horrific sin. Folks, repentance is often not stated in the presentation of the gospel. But it is an important aspect of salvation. Repentance is a turning from sin to God. John Calvin stated, “Repentance is a way of life for all who are born of God’s Spirit.” In other words, we walk in repentance everyday as the Word of God convicts us of sin.   

            So Peter said pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven. Now what does this verse mean? Does it mean that God is likely or unlikely to forgive Simon? Or does it mean that Simon does not need to presume of God’s mercy to automatically forgive him. There are many presuming on the grace of God that one all will be in heaven. Yet, the Bible says we need to ask God to forgive us of our sins.

            Peter goes further and states that he perceives Simon’s bitterness and iniquity. In other words, Simon was jealous of what Peter and John had and desired the power that they possessed. He disguised his salvation well. He was pretending to be a believer. He had deceived the saints, but he did not deceive the Holy Spirit.

            So Peter told Simon to repent of this sin and ask the Lord to forgive him. Yet, in verse 24, notice that Stephen asked Peter to pray on his behalf. This verse shows that Simon was afraid. He was afraid of Peter and these threats as a result of his behavior. But it was not a godly fear that led to repentance. All Simon wanted was to avoid the consequences of his sin. He was not willing to give up his sin.

            Listen to Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 7:9-10: “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”


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