In today’s Bible reading in Acts 8, we are introduced to a Samaritan sorcerer named Simon. For a long time, Simon had amazed people with his magic. And then he heard the gospel. Simon and many other Samaritans responded to the gospel message and were saved. (Acts 8:13) Simon began to follow Philip, watching God do marvelous, miraculous things!
The Apostles in Jerusalem could hardly believe their ears! Samaritans have been saved?! Peter and John went to check it out and learned that the Samaritans had been baptized in Jesus’ name, but had not yet received the Holy Spirit.
Now, I don’t want to get into the discussion here of Holy Spirit baptism as being simultaneous vs. subsequent to salvation. I don’t have the space or time to get into that right now.
When Simon saw that the Samaritans received the Spirit (there were obviously physical signs), he was amazed and offered money for the “authority” to bestow the Spirit by laying his hands on people. (Acts 8:19)
Peter sharply rebuked Simon (Acts 8:20-23) who immediately repented deeply of his sin.
So what was Simon’s sin? All he did was ask to be able to lay hands on people so they could receive the Holy Spirit. What’s wrong with that? That sounds like a noble request, doesn’t it?
Peter said that Simon’s heart was not right with God. Simon’s heart condition resulted in his offer of money in exchange for the authority.
Transactional religion is dangerous. Unfortunately, people practice it all the time, often without even realizing it!
Transactional religion resembles a vending machine. You give the machine money and the machine gives you a soda.
The most obvious example would be someone who asks God to save their dying child and telling God they’ll go on the mission field in exchange. But there are far more subtle ways that believers practice transactional religion. We read our Bible, study our Bible, memorize verses from our Bible, pray, fast, etc. “believing God” for blessings of one form or another. Yes, there is a blessing that comes from doing all of these spiritual disciplines. but God is not obligated to do anything for us!
Perhaps having an attitude that God is indebted to us for something that we do demonstrates that we don’t really understand what the Gospel is all about!
The Gospel has nothing to do with us doing anything. It is all about all that Jesus has already done for us. It’s a very unfair exchange: All of our sin, rebellion, alienation, and lostness in exchange for Jesus’ holiness, righteousness, and forgiveness.
That’s the Gospel. It can’t be bought because it’s free! It can only be received.