Did Peter Preach Conditional Forgiveness to Simon the Sorcerer? (Acts 8:22)

If God loves you, God forgives you, and God loves you indeed!

God’s forgiveness is revealed in the matchless and unrepeatable sacrifice of the One who died for all sin. In Christ, you are eternally and unconditionally forgiven.

Good news, no?

It’s a liberating truth, yet many haven’t heard it. They’re bringing sacrifices of tears and confession and they are trying to earn what God has freely provided. Their efforts are all for naught. Grace cannot be purchased; it can only be received by faith. So thank the Lord for his forgiveness and live free.

But what about…

Whenever I tell people that God’s forgiveness is complete and unconditional, I invariably get hit with questions like these:

My answers to these questions can be found in the links above. But what about when Peter said this to Simon the Sorcerer:

Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. (Act 8:22)

May be forgiven. That doesn’t sound like unconditional forgiveness. It kind of sounds like Simon has to do stuff to merit forgiveness.

Did Peter not get the gospel memo?

Simon’s silver

Simon was an occult practitioner who, along with other Samaritans, heard the gospel, believed and was baptized (Act 8:13). When Peter came to town to pray for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Simon was amazed at the results. He wanted to lay hands and pray for people too, so he offered Peter money. Peter flipped out:

May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. (Act 8:20-21)

From this gem of a story, some have concluded that the Lord’s forgiveness is not a sure thing. “Simon was told to repent and pray and even then there were no guarantee that the Lord would forgive him.”

Whoa. Slow down. Read that forgiveness verse again:

Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. (Act 8:22)

Will Simon be forgiven? That’s the wrong question because the gospel declares Simon is forgiven. His forgiveness is an immutable fact. If God is no longer holding our sins against us, he is no longer counting Simon’s sin. Here we are not talking about Simon the forgiven sinner, but the wicked intention of his heart.

Simon had an encounter with the grace of God. He believed, got baptized, but then he made a mistake. I hope that sounds familiar because we all make mistakes. It’s just that our mistakes don’t lead to a scolding from the most intense apostle of them all.

Simon’s stinkin’ thinkin’

“Repent,” said Peter. In other words, “Change the way you think.” Simon thought he could buy his way into the Holy Spirit’s ministry. Yes, that was stupid, but it was probably how he had operated in the past. He probably got his training in the occult arts by paying people to teach him.

Obviously that approach would not work in the kingdom of God and Peter told him so. “If you believe God can be bought, you have no share in the Spirit’s ministry.”

Like every single one of us, Simon needed to throw off the old and put on the new. He needed to stop relying on his own understanding and begin walking in the new way of the Spirit.

Peter said, “Pray that the intention of your heart may be forgiven you.” What needs to be forgiven? Not the man but the deed, or rather the intention behind it. With the discernment of the Holy Spirit, Peter got right to the heart of the problem.

“Simon, you don’t know what you’re saying and your motives are wrong. You better pray that your screwy notions can be ‘removed and disregarded’” (to quote the Amplified Bible).

The issue is not whether God can change us, but whether we want to change. Will we let go of what has served us in the past (money, in Simon’s case)? Will we commit ourselves to the grace of a good God and allow the Spirit to change the intentions of our heart?

Simony vs grace

We look at Simon and think, “What a fool to think he could buy the grace of God with money.” Yet many of us are trying to purchase grace with dead works. “If I confess, God will forgive me. If I do good, God will bless me.” It’s the same sin and it would make Peter furious. “May your dead works perish with you.”

Peter would tell us that we need to repent of our unbelief, renew our minds and ask God to help change the intentions or thoughts of our hearts. Am I saying that people who engage in dead works are unforgiven? Of course not. But they are walking in the old ways of flesh when they could be frolicking in the better way of the Spirit. They’re operating in fear instead of faith.

But Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” (Act 8:24)

The last thing the Bible says about Simon is encouraging. It shows us that he had a teachable heart. He didn’t reject Peter’s exhortation, but he asked for help.

When it comes to grace, asking for help is one of the smartest things you can do. You don’t need to ask God to forgive you (he already did) or love you (he already does). Instead, ask him to help you receive the word of his grace. Thank him for Jesus through whom all blessings flow, and praise him for his lovingkindness.

You are loved. You are forgiven. Believe it.

___________

Enjoy this article? Why not sign up to our free email list and we’ll notify you about new articles as soon they come out. No spam, we promise.

Help these messages of love and grace go further by supporting us via our Patreon page.

40 Comments on Did Peter Preach Conditional Forgiveness to Simon the Sorcerer? (Acts 8:22)

  1. I love the solution… ask Him.

  2. Ha! I pulled over to a gas station parking lot to read your post! Couldn’t wait ‘till I got home. This is what happens when you know there’s good news in your inbox. Thanks, Paul!

  3. Wow. I was reading this part of scripture yesterday morning thinking about that very verse. Acts 8:22 reminded me of 1 John 1:9.

  4. I’m still trying to figure things out for sure. I spent over a year thinking that if the resurrection really did happen (not sure, but I think it’s possible), then there had to be some kind of reason for it. For over a year I looked at Christendom, including so called universalism, and could never understand what the point was. For the vast majority it was “you can’t sin or else” + “you have to believe in Jesus”. In other words, before resurrection it was one layer, then after resurrection there was a second layer added to the first. I could not understand. According to this the resurrection just complicated things. And the so called Christian Universalists’ “good news” is basically: “temporary punishment and misery and suffering for everybody” (purgatory). It wasn’t until I found this site that I understood what the point of the resurrection is. I guess it’s called “grace”.

  5. Thanks Paul… for posting grace and in particular, pointing out that Simon was able to show humility and ask for help. We need to be willing to ask for and receive the Holy Spirit’s help to change our thinking and intent… to build our relationship with God the Father.

  6. Simon was under the discipline of His Heavenly Father. See I Cor. 11: 31-32. Peter was showing us that every believer must be held accountable, and personlly responsible for their own sins. How can you compartmentalize the sinner from their sins?

    • No one can be held responsible for sins that Jesus purchased. Your responsibility is to deal with Jesus rather than your sins. Trying to deal with your sins, perhaps through confession or other forms of penance, is a dead work that belies unbelief in the grace of God.

      • St. Allen // April 5, 2018 at 8:01 pm //

        Repentance is not a dead work or unbelief in the grace of God. It means to change your mind and make a u turn. To cease and desist in your wrong course of action. THIS is being accountable and responsible. I did not say Jesus did not pay the price on the cross for our sins as a sin offering for us.

      • So there is now no consequence for sin? Grace preached as law is not grace at all. The lens is too narrow, it does not include the full panoramic view of the finished work and ends up leaving people stranded and confused in a world that clearly shows that ‘something is still not right’.
        There is no amount of repetition that can dull what people know to be plainly true – the world is still broken.

      • Of course there are consequences to sin, but divine smiting is not one of them. The scripture raised above (1 Cor 11) is frequently misused to inspire fear among the saints. My comments on it can be found here.

      • Come on Paul, it’s not always about divine smiting, I know caricatures are fun, but their constant use among the grace camp is not doing it any favors in my opinion. I am more interested in the practical implications of this than the positional. I think you are right about the positional reality of Simon’s sin being forgiven, but what about the practical reality? We often view sin as arbitrary in such situations, many legalists have an attitude of “thems just the rules!! so obey them or die!”, but I’ve noticed a tendency for grace preachers to also argue along arbitrary lines, all be it trying to correct error.
        The hot element remains hot even if our hand has healed from the last time we touched it. If we choose to still embrace the knowledge of good and evil system, then we could end up in the burns ward. Repentance is a simple acknowledgement of the danger of embracing that which is objectively harmful, and in that sense we are accountable for the actions of our will post finished work (sowing and reaping thing?). Do you get where I’m coming from? try not to see me as a legalist, because I am definitely not and I get sick and tired of having to disavow legalism before I can have a conversation with those in the grace camp!

      • I suspect from your comments that you have an issue with the article. I just don’t see what it is. Perhaps you could clarify.

      • On reflection it was not the article, more your response to St Alllen.
        I will tell you something that could make me seem somewhat foolish. I’ve wrestled with my faith for more than 20 years now, experienced all sorts of churches and a complete life collapse at the end of my thirties, now a single father in part time care of 4 rapidly maturing kids running a small business. I feel this call to write, or do something to share the love of God I experienced through that difficulty and my prior experiences. I know I can write ok.
        The problem I have is this, I have been relatively isolated and what i want to share about my experiences/understanding does not fit particularly well with what is out there in the Christian world. I don’t want to write or put anything out there that could screw people up, because there is plenty of that out there already. So I’ve poked sticks at inclusionists (dead end), floated my ideas in various places, and now perhaps poked a stick at you. Sorry about that. Perhaps I am seeking some sort of validation, perhaps I should just trust the Lord. I seem to keep coming back to your site, it does make me think, even if we think from somewhat different angles.
        Perhaps I am trying to engage beyond the subject matter as part of wrestling with my own future direction.

      • Perhaps you should start a blog. It certainly helped me clarify my thoughts. But don’t do it for validation. You’ll be disappointed.

      • Well I am not seeking personal validation, I am more secure in my faith than I have ever been. But I have no interest in doing what was often encouraged in my pentecostal church days, the whole call yourself a prophet or teacher or apostle then assume some mantle of authority that could be nothing more than selfish ambition. Or worse yet become some heresy hunter that only reacts against what everyone else is doing. My options appear to be to fall back into submission to ministries that I feel are failing to deliver the life that the gospel promises (even that is difficult in my small town in NZ with limited options) or ‘something else’.
        I think I want to do something else, maybe link up with others that have the same heart, how that can be achieved beyond my small circle of (excellent) friends is not clear to me.

    • momzilla76 // April 6, 2018 at 12:33 am // Reply

      Sir I beg you to read Hebrews 9:24-26 & 10:11-18, 1 Peter 2:24. You have missed what Jesus did with our sins. If we are to be held personally accountable for our sins why did Jesus suffer and die? If He did not bear all of our sins and then receive all the punishment for our sins then how is His sacrifice any different than the animals ones which only removed old sins until new ones were committed?

    • momzilla76 // April 7, 2018 at 1:33 am // Reply

      St. Allen- Repentance can be a dead work. It all depends on what you believe about the connected issues. I see that you do define it as a change of mind which leads to a u-turn. Where it becomes a dead work is when a person thinks that it is in the ceasing to sin a particular sin that gets them clean and makes them acceptable to God. It is only the one time blood offering of Jesus that does that. We do not course correct to be made right or washed up for God. We course correct because sin is foolish and it is what killed Jesus on our behalf. So now the question is do you repent because you fear being punished for what Jesus already bore for you in His body(dead work view) or do you repent because sin is damaging and unworthy of a child of God(life view)?

      • Momzilla – thanks for your comment. It may seem like you’re splitting hairs, but actually your comments clarified what I was thinking (although couldn’t put words to it myself) – and its in these little distinctions that the true understanding of grace seems to get solidified! Quite helpful for me……. and greatly appreciated!

    • We all, like Simon the sorcerer need prayer that we continue in God’s grace and not suggest we can purchase the gift of God through our riches, or through our ability to live a moral life through acts of turning from our perceived sin’s.

  7. Miguel Gonzalez // April 5, 2018 at 3:00 pm // Reply

    Thanks, Paul. What a timely message!

    It’s a reminder that we need to keep renewing our minds to conform to the mind of Jesus Christ! My family has recently embarked on a quest to renew our minds and our thinking, to unlearn all the wrong things and lies we have learned from religion and from the world. It’s time for us to walk in dominion, in the fullness of His power on earth! Whatever it takes, brother.

    God bless all of you, our brothers and sisters, all over the world.

  8. Paul Noble // April 5, 2018 at 3:06 pm // Reply

    Great post Paul!
    It seems all your articles are based on seeing scripture in it’s appropriate context, which is vital in understanding scripture.
    I am a BIG Joseph Prince fan and through his ministry I was introduced to Greek grammar.(Specifically Greek verb tenses). I could be wrong, but I don’t think I have seen any reference of this aspect of scripture in your posts?
    In my opinion, studying Greek verb tenses brings astonishing clarity to the original intent of scripture.

  9. Judy Eshenko // April 5, 2018 at 4:06 pm // Reply

    Thank yiu can Paul. Your writing is so full of truth! . Reply to Miguel above. I am on the same journey And came across a book written by Steven McVey that is really helpful entitled “ 52 lies heard in church every Sunday, and why the truth is so much better”. I commend it to yiu

  10. Ed Anderson // April 5, 2018 at 11:33 pm // Reply

    That was a great article! Thank you very much!
    So easy to get off track and so simple to get back on! Ask

  11. Simon needed to repent, he needed to pick up his cross and allow the Lord to put that wickedness to death. What was his sin? it was seeking to use the power of the Holy Spirit apart from God, to use it as he saw fit in his own independent moral autonomy (something many current ministries do) Why was this so serious? because it is at the very center of what Jesus died to free us from; the independent use of the knowledge of good and evil, otherwise known as “the curse”. The “old man” runs on the knowledge of good and evil as his operating system, it is an independent assessment of right and wrong apart from God. The new man runs on the Spirit of God leading us into all truth via grace, confronting error and our tendency to constantly default back to the tree of knowledge. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds because it is in the mind that this battle rages, Simon’s mind was following his heart that was rooted in the wrong tree. Our memories and free will are not erased/revoked at the cross. Our minds, hearts, and will change progressively through grace and relationship leading us into all truth. The Lord brings us into a greater appreciation of the objective truth rather than the subjective truth we attained through the use of the knowledge of good and evil which must die.

    • Yes, Peter told Simon to repent, and repentance is a life-long process, but this article is about the Lord’s unconditional forgiveness. We may repent for many reasons, but earning forgiveness is not one of them. That sort of repentance is a dead work.

      • Okay, and on that point I am in total agreement, I am perhaps going beyond the intention of the article.

  12. I think another element of the story is that Peter is a person too. Acts us a history, not an epistle. It shows what was done, not opine on the value or correctness of the actions. Like when Peter cursed the couple who withheld money. It wasn’t right and created fear in the people. It was just history.

  13. bfowler1000 // April 7, 2018 at 6:10 pm // Reply

    Found this new post rather edifying!

  14. Time and time again I need to hear about the grace of my Father. Its most timely especially when I am struggling with life in general. Just like Simon the sorcerer i have accepted the Grace of God but find myself still stuck in the past. A past that consists of a works based mentality.

    Even the subject of faith is all about me-me-me. My Faith-my belief-my right thinking etc… It’s like I (the great sanctimonious man of faith) have to make the effort to receive from God.

    But really it’s all about Jesus. It’s about His finished works, His faith, His belief, His right thinking. It’s about His grace. It takes the pressure of me. All I have to do is respond positively to what was done.

    I see so much of myself in Simon and I am truly glad that he repented and sought correction. If he can do it, so can I.

    God Bless Paul.

  15. Dave said:
    “I think another element of the story is that Peter is a person too. Acts us a history, not an epistle. It shows what was done, not opine on the value or correctness of the actions. Like when Peter cursed the couple who withheld money. It wasn’t right and created fear in the people. It was just history.”

    I really like that, Dave. God used imperfect people back then also, even the writers of scripture. Man’s natural inclination is toward performance, rather than grace. It is only when God breaks through in us that good things really start flowing. Even the most spiritual operate in a mixture of works and grace.

    • So you are accusing the apostle Peter of murder because the narrative doesn’t fit your interpretation of grace?
      If that is true, then we can not trust anything written in the bible, not even the passages about grace.

  16. Daniel, calm down brother. : )

  17. Jason, have you got anything to offer? or just smug dismissal? It’s an interesting tactic the one you have just taken, it is a tactic that implies anyone that disagrees with you must be unhinged in some way, not “calm” a hot head, incapable of reasoned discussion.
    I’ve noticed this among many in the “grace camp” they are gracious to anyone that agrees with themselves and anyone that submits to their favorite preachers, but utterly intolerant to even polite, reasoned challenges on certain matters.
    This is the smoking gun of legalism in my opinion, dividing the camp into ‘right and wrong’ then using deceptive tactics to misrepresent any and all opposition to ‘the law’.
    So Jason, perhaps you may want to address your own possible dishonesty in this before you start making judgements about my mental state.

  18. Karen Clancy // April 19, 2018 at 10:26 am // Reply

    I just listened to __________ on YouTube and he said how very important it is to be very specific in our repentance and in fact to be ‘targeted’ in our repenting. I’ve listened to a few of his prophecies finding them to be accurate (as President Trump being elected, etc.), I have never heard or seen such a thing as ‘targeted repentance’ in God’s Word and if possible just looking for some feedback and thought of you as I asked the Lord who I should ask about this (besides His Word of course)…

    • You’ve come to the right place, Karen. There are 500+ articles here on E2R dealing with issues such as confession and repentance. (Find them in the Archives > Subject Index.) Short version: listing all your sins to earn forgiveness is a thoroughly dead and faithless work that will not improve your standing before God one iota.

      • Karen Clancy // April 19, 2018 at 10:16 pm //

        Thank you so much for getting back to me so quickly! And thank you again for info, I will be looking at your articles, already enjoyed your books and in process of reading “AD70”, (also gave “Stuff Jesus Never Said” to my son).

Tell us what you think (<250 words)...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s