Belief vs. Repentance
James 2:19 says, “You believe that God is one; you do well.
Even the demons believe—and shudder.”
From what we know about demons, we know that demons cannot, or certainly choose not to, repent.
We know that the devil and his minions have chosen to live diametrically opposed to God, to live apart from God.
We also know, according to the scripture we just read, that the devil can believe that God is.
So, then the devil is an example of a creature that can believe there is a God but can and does choose to live an unrepentant life, a life turned away from God.
We know from what scripture teaches about the nature of the devil that the devil’s knowledge that God is, does not, cannot lead the devil to repent; to turn from self-worship to worshipping the One God.
Therefore, we know that although the devil can have a form of belief in God, the devil cannot actually have faith in God. Because faith in God entails becoming a member of God’s own family, the body of Christ.
And this is not possible without turning to God in Spirit and in truth, in order to bear the fruit of faith, the fruit worthy of repentance.
That is to say you cannot partake of the life that is ours in God without living fully into a faith-life that draws you, through the love of God, into living a life of repentance, a life of turning to God daily so the Holy Spirit can actually change from within the way that you live.
A case in point: when John the Baptist saw the Sadducees and the Pharisees trooping across the desert to be baptized by him, he said,
“… ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance.
9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
10 Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Mt. 3:7b-10
John was speaking here to the leaders of the Jewish nation at the time. This was a group of people who believed in God, who knew there is a God.
But John was pointing out to them that their belief in God was not actually faith in God. Because their belief in the existence of God had not resulted in any evidence of regenerated hearts as manifest in the changing of their lives.
Simply put, the Sadducees’ and Pharisees’ belief in God had not resulted in their lives bearing fruit worthy of, or as proof of, repentance.
So, then it is possible even for religious people to know there is a God, to even believe in God. But still to live lives that display no evidence of repentance; lives that show no sign of them actually turning from self-worship to turn and worship God in Spirit and in truth.
Simon of Samaria, in our reading for today, was a man who when he heard the Good News of the Gospel, believed there was a God. He knew God was present in Philip’s ministry.
Simon knew that Philip was the real deal because he saw the genuine signs and wonders that God performed under Philip’s ministry.
As a practicing sorcerer Simon knew how easy it was to trick people into believing you had the inside track with God.
Simon had deceived the people for years with his parlour tricks, convincing them that he was the power of God. So, when the real power of God, the Holy Spirit, came along, Simon recognized him for who he was,
the real Power of God.
Simon, used to living by deceiving others saw the power of the Holy Spirit as a meal ticket. And so, he went through the motions to get himself on the inside track to accessing this power.
The story tells us Simon, upon seeing the reality of the power of the Holy Spirit operating in Philip’s ministry, got himself baptized.
The story does not mention that Simon repented of his sorceries, only that he got baptized.
And then when the apostles showed up and taught about the infilling of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands. The unrepentant Simon tired to buy his way into God’s family. Simon bore fruits not worthy of repentance.
Simon demonstrated for us what belief without repentance looks like.
Simon is an example of a person whose belief in God did not result in a loving faith filled response to the goodness and power of God.
Simon demonstrates to us that it is possible to hold a form of belief in God that sees God as something to be used, as a tool to be used to advance your own agenda.
If we take the lesson of the Simon story, we understand that belief without repentance, belief without a genuine turning to God from the heart, will not result in us coming to the true faith in Jesus Christ as Son of God, which alone has the power to transform the way we live.
We don’t know from the story how Simon ended up.
It is not clear from the story that Simon’s entreaty to Peter prevented the dire predictions Peter said were coming Simon’s way because of his attempt to make merchandise out of and to manipulate the Holy Spirit.
But we as believers can take an object lesson from this story. The lesson is this.
Let’s not take our agendas: our desire for personal power, our need to be recognized by others as someone important, our tendencies to present an image to others that is not who we really are; let’s not use these tactics to attempt to manage our God and manipulate our relationships with others.
Let’s not use these types of faithless and unrepentant tactics in the living of our lives and expect God to bless us in them.
Rather, with all the saints of God who have gone before us, let us offer our lives to God.
Offering them by faith and by the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.
Offering them up to God as fruits worthy of repentance.
Let’s allow the power of the Holy Spirit to manifest himself in our lives by working through the free gift of faith that God has given each of us.
Because as Galatians 5:6b says,
“…the only thing that counts is faith working through love.”
To God be the glory, through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, ours is the gift of faith manifesting itself in our lives: as love for the Father, as love others as love for all of God’s good creation.
All praise, glory and honour to our gracious God.