Question:

I a question for you regarding a scripture. It was a passage that you showed someone grappling with blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.

"Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you" (Acts 8:22)

I am sure I am misunderstanding or overthinking the passage, but it is the "perhaps" that give mesome pause. When reading this I got the feeling that when you pray to God about your sins that He may perhaps forgive you. Any thoughts you have on this passage would be greatly appreciated.


Answer:

Simon was once a sorcerer and like many who claim to have special powers, he used is claims to put himself over other people. "Now there was a man named Simon, who formerly was practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great; and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him, saying, "This man is what is called the Great Power of God"" (Acts 8:9-10). Seeing real miracles caused him to change, and Simon became a Christian. "Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed" (Acts 8:13).

When Peter and John came to Samaria and gave the Christians there gifts of the Holy Spirit, Simon saw it and wanted, not a gift, but the same ability to give gifts of the Holy Spirit to other people. "Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, saying, "Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit"" (Acts 8:18-19). In other words, Simon's old sin of pride -- wanting to be greater than others -- had resurfaced. It isn't that this ability was every up for sale or that the apostles even had the ability to give this ability to anyone else. The problem was Simon's pride and his worldly way of thinking. "But Peter said to him, "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. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity"" (Acts 8:20-23). Peter said that it was bitterness that was driving Simon to think he should be able to have power greater than others and that bitterness was trapping him in sin.

So, if you understand that Simon's problem was pride, then Peter's wording makes more sense. When we repent of sin, the motivation ought to be that we change because we realize that our action was wrong. We cannot go to God with the attitude of "Well, I repented so You owe me forgiveness." God doesn't owe anyone anything. When God forgives, He does so from His great mercy, not because we forced Him into forgiving us. In other words, to repent of pride, a person cannot approach God in proud assurance of his earning God's forgiveness. "But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble." Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:6-8).

This doesn't mean that God won't forgive a humble, repentant sinner. God promised forgiveness, and He always keeps His promises. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9). God requires that we confess our sins to Him, but the reason He forgives is not because we earned it, but because God is faithful and just. Take note of David's prayer:

"Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions; according to Your mercy remember me, for Your goodness' sake, O LORD. Good and upright is the LORD; therefore He teaches sinners in the way. The humble He guides in justice, and the humble He teaches His way. All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth, to such as keep His covenant and His testimonies. For Your name's sake, O LORD, pardon my iniquity, for it is great" (Psalms 25:7-11).

David saw that God didn't owe him forgiveness. God forgave because that is who God is. David didn't deserve it, he didn't not proudly demand it. He understood that forgiveness only came to the humble, and he understood that forgiveness only came because God was merciful. As God said, "I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins" (Isaiah 43:25).

Thus Peter could not tell Simon repent and God would forgive him because that implies it would be owed to Simon. Peter made sure that Simon understood that forgiveness originates and is granted by God alone. We can only humbly request it, and then trust in the mercy of God that we received it. It is only mercy when we realize that it doesn't have to be given, even when it is always given.