The Power of the Gospel, Part 4

Romans 1:16 – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

In the last BLOG we looked at the words of Jesus in John 8:31-36 and what it meant for sinners to be enslaved to sin and the need to be set free by the Son who is the power of God in salvation. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation because it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ who is the power of God for salvation (I Corinthians 1:21-24). Acts 8 gives us another view of what Jesus was teaching when He said that those who commit sin are slaves of sin. “For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity” (Acts 8:23).

The context of Acts 8:23 starts with verse 9. We are introduced to Simon in that verse as a man who formerly practiced magic in the city of Samaria. He would astonish the people of Samaria and claimed to be someone great. He was called “the Great Power of God” (v. 10). However, when the people who had paid attention to Simon heard the Gospel when Philip preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ to them, things changed. Even Simon himself believed and was baptized. Notice that Philip preached the good news of the kingdom of God. The kingdom is the reign and rule of God, so Philip was preaching the kingdom of God that had great power. Simon began to follow Phillip and it was Simon who was now constantly amazed as he observed signs and great miracles taking place (v. 13).

The apostles heard that Samaria had received the Word of God and so sent Peter and John. They came down and prayed that the people would receive the Holy Spirit. When the apostles began laying hands on them, the people were receiving the Holy Spirit (vv. 14-17). When Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the hands of the apostles, he offered them money for this gift. Peter responded like this: “20 But Peter said to him, ‘May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.'”

Peter’s response to Simon was straight to the point and would not have been considered gracious in our day. However, it was just what Simon needed. We must remember that the text said that Simon had believed (Acts 8:13). This is another time when the Bible tells us of people who believe after hearing the Gospel but were not yet converted. We must wake up to this fact in our day that people can believe the facts of a message (assuming that they hear what is being said) and yet not be converted or saved from their bondage to sin. Evidently Simon believed enough that he had left his magic and so had a moral transformation. But he was still in bondage to sin. Luke, the writer of the book of Acts, takes the time to show us how highly Simon thought of himself and apparently loved the attention he obtained through his magic. When the Spirit of God began to work on people it was even better and more powerful than his magic. He believed, but his sinful heart that loved the attention and adoration of others had not been changed. Simon was still in the bondage of iniquity.

Simon had heard the message of Christ and believed in some way, but he had not been delivered from the bondage to iniquity. Simon had a moral transformation, but he had not been delivered from the bondage of iniquity. Simon could not deny the greater power of the Holy Spirit and the miracles that were being done, so he believed the message as to the facts of it. However, Simon had not escaped the death of sin and its death grip of selfishness and pride on his heart. He still wanted the applause and admiration of others. His heart had not been turned from its love of self to a love of God. He was still in the bondage of iniquity. This shows us the power of sin and the utter necessity of the new birth. Sinners are born dead in sins and trespasses and are by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3). As long as they do not see their helplessness in their sin they will continue to think that they can deliver themselves by believing and a moral transformation. What must happen to sinners is that a power greater than their self-love and pride must come and deliver them from the bondage of iniquity/pride. As we can see with Simon, he believed and had a moral transformation but he was not delivered from the very power of pride and self-love. He could not deliver himself from himself and so he remained in bondage to pride and self. The Pharisees were very religious but still in bondage to self. How many today have heard something of Christ and have believed in some way and made a moral transformation and yet are still in the bondage of self/pride? It makes one shudder.

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