Acts 8:18 – Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money,
19 – saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
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.”
According to the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia (online), the term “simony” comes “from Simon Magus; Acts 8:18-24.” It describes simony as “a deliberate intention of buying or selling for a temporal price such things as are spiritual or annexed unto spirituals.”
This same article also states that simony is a very serious sin:
“To estimate accurately the gravity of simony, which some medieval ecclesiastical writers denounced as the most abominable of crimes…”
“To uproot the evil of simony so prevalent during the middle ages, the Church decreed the severest penalties against its perpetrators.”
Ok, that’s great. I am glad to see the Catholic Church officially condemning the sin of simony. They certainly should. However, there is another aspect to what Simon did.
What he witnessed was the people receiving the gift and manifestation of the Holy Spirit. But what about the gift of salvation? Almost everyone would agree that salvation (the new birth) is certainly a gift from God. In fact, eternal life is the greatest gift that God has offered mankind.
But can anyone buy this gift? Absolutely not. The very fact that it is called a gift tells us that it is not for sale.
Then why do so many people in the world (including Catholics) think that salvation can be received, or merited (at least partially), by good works? Catholics would look down on Simon for what he did, but they are doing exactly the same thing! Aren’t they trying to buy salvation/eternal life when performing good works? They’re trying to purchase it, but they’re just not using money here. So, what’s the difference?
Peter didn’t say, “No, Simon, you can’t use money to obtain this gift, but you can use good works or personal suffering!” No, attempting to buy salvation with works or personal discomfort also falls under the condemnation of Simon Magus. It is just as bad as trying to do it with money.
But Catholics may say, “But the works that merit justification/salvation are grace-driven (or grace-infused) works from God. These works come from God’s grace, so our works-based salvation is still by grace!”
But if these works are done by grace, then aren’t our money and our effort obtained by God’s grace also, since God gave us the strength to earn that money? Grace-infused good works would be no different than grace-infused labor to earn and use money, right? It would be the same thing – but the Bible tells us that works and grace are in two different categories. Romans 11:6 says:
“But if it [salvation] is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.”
If Simon was so severely rebuked for trying in any way to purchase any gift from God, shouldn’t those who try to earn or merit salvation by anything other than faith be rebuked just as harshly? What Simon did was an insult to God and to the apostles, and if Simon was wrong, so are all those who believe in a works-based salvation (including Catholics, Orthodox, and even some Protestants).
We MUST understand that the new birth is not obtained from the ability to do “grace-infused” good works, but it is obtained by faith, apart from works (Romans 3:21, 28), by SURRENDERING to the will and purpose of God and by trusting ONLY in Jesus’ work on the cross. Again, it is a gift.
Trying to buy salvation with your works tells everyone that:
1) You, like Simon, have no portion in the kingdom of God (Acts 8:21)
2) Your heart is not right before God (v. 21)
3) You need to repent, since it is wickedness in the eyes of God (v. 22)
4) You are in the gall of bitterness (v. 23) and
5) You are in the bondage of iniquity (v. 23).
Doesn’t sound like a very good place to be. Once again, to answer the question that the title of this article asks, eternal life/salvation is a gift, and no, this gift can never be purchased.
Catholics, along with the apostle Peter, rightly condemn Simon for trying to buy this gift of God. Interestingly, the Catholic Church has recognized simony in their own papal “elections” in the past where the “chair of Peter” was given to the highest bidder, yet, they don’t seem to recognize the parallel when it comes to purchasing salvation with good works.
We could also mention indulgences, which could certainly be considered (by Catholics) to be a gift from God. An indulgence was a promise to get out of Purgatory earlier than “scheduled” and not suffer as long. Yet this “gift” of an indulgence, from its beginning, was always purchased with either money or good works, and it still is today.
Let’s learn a lesson from Simon – salvation is not obtained by silver or gold, not with good works, or a “spiritual” lifestyle. It is not by godly suffering, enduring persecution, being kind to people, helping the elderly across the street, or by being a pastor’s kid. It is not by going to church every week or by frequent Bible reading. These may all be good things, but none of these can do what only the blood of Jesus Christ can.
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