I have experienced a lot of firsts in the past 25 years of my life. I never thought I had the capacity to have the amount of love that I have for the Lord, others and myself. Before I was following the Lord, I was seeking a purpose and a reason to live. I felt compelled to be part of any movement that I heard about or came across. Whether it had something to do with the music I was listening to at the time or trying to connect my art background to my Hispanic heritage. I was lost, and I was constantly wondering what would happen to me if I were to die that day. I was always worried about what I would leave behind.
During that time, I would turn to everyone around me for answers, whether it was my friends, teachers, or role models. They couldn’t give me an answer to the meaning of life, or let alone, lead me in a conversation that had any spiritual sustenance. It seemed like everyone feared death and what would really happen if we were to take our last breath. I knew I wasn’t the only one struggling with these questions. Everyone around us is wondering about their death and the value of their very existence. They are questioning what it means and if God really exists. They are weighing their good deeds and trying to find salvation in their accomplishments, experiences, and happiness. I know this for a fact because I myself thought about this. I dealt with these very questions and justifications. I was hoping that if the God of the universe was real then I would be able to convince him about all the good things I had done and all the people I had helped. I did this only so I could feel good about myself. I wanted to feel like I had done something good for society, but in the end, it was all to boost my own selfish ego.
Praise God that he saw past my selfish desires and shallow pursuits as a young art student just looking for love and maybe even some food. He sent his son to invite me to be a part of his kingdom, to save me from my addictions, bad friendships, and toxic character. Jesus saw how much my soul was worth and decided that regardless of how much I sucked, he was going to forgive me. I came to know Christ when I was a kid, but I fully repented of my sins at the age of 21. Pastor Dan Reneau invested in me in his art class and invited me to church. There I heard the word of God preached with power and faith for the very first time. It came alive and split my spirit from my flesh and all my art dreams were dead and I knew God was calling me to a greater purpose. He has called us all to see the lost come to life.
Acts 26:18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.
This is my new purpose: to see walls, chains, and bonds broken down in the hearts of people. To see people free from sin, from addictions, depressions, anxiety, and more. What an amazing life he has given me and how much love he has bestowed upon me. I have fallen in love for the first time. Someone has given me their life and has died for me to live, while I was their enemy. How can this be? Who is this person?
Eph 2:4-7 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) 6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: 7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
In our College and Young Adults class, we are currently going through the book of the Acts of the Apostles. This book has been challenging to hear preached and for me to read through. This is mainly because we see such inspiring believers no different than us be moved by the power of God. In Chapter 8, we see the second missionary to Samaria in action. Phillip hits the scene with faith and power from the Holy Spirit. This awesome man of God first appears in Acts 6:5. Phillip is selected as one of the first deacons of the early church. He was a man of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and obtained wisdom and responsibility. What a powerful testimony God sets in his word for us to trust him in sending us out to the world to preach the gospel. We must first be servants at our own local church while doing the work here and naturally (in this case due to persecution) God will use us somewhere else.
Acts 8:5-8 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. 6 And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed [with them]: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed 8 And there was great joy in that city.
People were healed and many miracles were performed. The scripture says, “And there was great joy in that city.” Samaria is experiencing freedom from demonic oppression and finally, this city receives the joy of knowing Jesus Christ through the gospel.
I can remember the first time I came to know Jesus Christ for who he is. I saw the weight of all my past sin and the amount of sin that the future would bring. I came to a place where I realized that I was a sinner; that’s what I did and that’s what I was. No good deed could buy me out of the debt that I was born into. I was a slave to my desires, my faults, my secrets, even to the things I had no control over. I saw the pit that I was in, and I saw the way out through Jesus dying for my sins but also raising from the grave so that I can have life through him. After this, my world turned around and I saw everything in a new light. I could finally sleep at night knowing that if I were to lose everything I had, I still had God’s grace and that was enough for my heart.
We are introduced to Simon in Acts 8:9-11. He was perceived as a man of power due to his witchcraft. This is nothing but a cloak of godliness to the people of Samaria. In verse 10, they proclaimed, “This man is the great power of God.” They were fooled by Simon’s appearance of power and wisdom. We see that the Bible talks about people like this, who have a form of godliness, yet there is no evidence in their lives (2 Tim 3:5), which says from such turn away.
As we continue in Acts 8, we can see that people are believing in Jesus as their savior and are getting baptized left and right in Samaria. Not only that but Simon the Sorcerer seems to make a profession of faith.
Acts 8:13 Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.
This profession is amazing, right? Simon gets “saved,” gets baptized, and follows Phillip around. Yet he was still holding on to something from his past. There was something he hadn’t repented of. There was some secret sin he was keeping on a leash like a pet. He found himself in a wonder of God's power through Phillip. He had never seen true miracles such as these before. He had only used illusions to manipulate people to make a profit from them. He had finally come face to face with true power; the power of God that sets people free from the bondage of sin and death. The word “wondered” is used in the same way as “bewitched” in the previous verses of this chapter. Simon had been put off. He had fooled himself to believe that he had received salvation; hence, he hung around everyone that seemed to have a genuine profession of faith.
The evidence for this can be found in the verses below:
Acts 8:17-19 Then laid they [their] hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. 18 And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, 19 Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.
Can we put ourselves in Simon’s shoes for one second? I believe that I am saved, and I believe that if you are saved there is no way you can lose your salvation (Eph 1:13; John 10:29), but could someone fake a profession of faith, maybe even a healthy walk with Jesus Christ?
I think I tend to reject the fact that when I read the gospels, I overlook the Pharisees and pretend that in my flesh I would never tempt Jesus. This is the same scenario. We can be Simon the Sorcerer. Sometimes the Christian culture can turn into, well, just another culture that the lost world can’t differentiate from another bewitched knitting, book or coffee club. Our walks with Jesus can honestly be faked in order to obtain what our hearts secretly desire: titles, reputations, and mimicked growth. We can speak Christianese and shout “amen brother” or “praying for ya” just because it is something to say. Well, it’s something we do a lot in church, while nothing really registers in our hearts and minds.
Brother or sister, are we faking this Christian walk like Simon? Is there something that we are seeking as an ulterior motive? Are we really praying when we reply with a praying emoji? Deep down inside our hearts, are we living a life of defeat? Are we in caught wondering, “Is the Bible really God’s word?” Maybe we get sloppy with our duties in ministry. We turn in our assignments late or worst yet, we cheat on them. We forget to pray for those we promise to, and then we sadly pray amiss. Maybe we give wrong counsel from our hearts, listening to our emotions and opinions instead of the heart of God in his word.
Why have we forgotten our meaning and our salvation?
Revelation 2:4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
Brothers and sisters, there is grace.
Friend, there is grace.
The rebuking of Simon is revealed in Acts 8:20-23. Simons religious activity is clear as water and the Holy Spirit through the apostles points it out. This reminds me of Cain and Abel. Abel brought the first of his flock to the altar (Gen 4:4; Heb 11:4), but Cain brought the fruit that his own evil hands produced from the ground he tilled (Gen 4:5; 1 John 3:12). In both instances, we see who is submitted to the will of God over their lives.
Acts 8:24 Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.
Simon continues to avoid the issue and replies “pray for me brother.” This breaks my heart because Peter clearly asks him to repent of these things, yet there isn’t any sign of humilty, just stiffness. God shows me that this is how his heart broke for me when I rejected the reality of my sin. His heart breaks just like mine when we don’t repent from sin, even as we hold on to eternal life and are covered with the blood of his son Jesus.
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
What a joy it was when we first came to Christ and repented from our sin. What is more precious than that freedom? Now, what a joy is it to have forgiveness of sins and walk with our Saviour every day in true communion. Let’s go back to that genuine faith and love that regarded no sin dear to us. When we were so full of life and had just repented of sin. Let’s remember our first love.
Jorge Pietrogiovanna is a member at Midtown Baptist Temple and is a discipler and leader in C&YA. He serves on the hospitality team and is involved in the Grandview mens’ Bible study.