To appreciate this devotional, you’ll need to read Acts 8:4-25. Go ahead; I’ll be waiting for you right here when you get back.
This past Monday I was walking down the hospital hallway when he stepped out of the room I had just visited. He spoke to get my attention, grabbed me by the arm, and began to ply me with religious questions. This went on for quite some time; probably not much shy of a full hour.
He was in his mid-60’s and he was very concerned over the spiritual condition of his mother-in-law who is slowly, certainly dying of heart disease. The story he told was of a woman who is by all outward appearances a person intensely devoted in faith to Christ, but who has alienated herself from virtually all of her family due to legalistic and overly strict ways. For decades she has used her faith as something of a club with which to beat others. Now she is dying, but doing so virtually alone, for precious few of her large family want anything to do with her anymore. That’s what legalism does: deceive our spirit and destroy relationships.
Even so, that great pain was overshadowed by his grave concern for her eternal destiny. It was obvious he is convinced that she is in as hopeless a condition spiritually as she is physically. The great tragedy of it all, as he put it, is that she was utterly and completely deceived; she is oblivious to any of her wrongdoing.
As he told the story, he also wove his own life story into the account. He had become a Christian in his youth, but from his late teens until just a few years ago he had lived his life with hardly a thought for God. Wine, women, and, well, probably not much song, was what he had spent the strength of his life on for decades. However, he has come to make an about face in his ways in recent years, has gotten married, is faithful to his wife, is stone-cold sober, and is now living a life of dedication to Christ. His past habits are just that, past; they’re dead and gone.
The most remarkable thing of it all to me, though, was the way he spoke of his standing before God while his ways reflected anything but God’s values. It was clear that even though he deeply regretted his having “chased every skirt” and “drunk every beer” he could hold for all those years, he doubted not one bit that he had been right with the Lord all that time. His reformation of ways had not come because of concern for God and his spirit, but simply because it “wasn’t a good life.” It was amazing to me, and to no small degree troubling, to hear someone so deeply concerned over another’s self-deception, all the while being completely oblivious to their own for most of their life. But that’s what deception does: desensitize our mind and corrupt our heart and life.
It’s a serious question that is often posed to me: “Is it possible for a Christian to so sin that they can lose their salvation?” If there is anything to be learned at all from the account of Simon and the words of Peter in Acts 8, it is that the answer is terribly and unquestionably, “Of course.” According to Luke, Simon had become a Christian and any of the other Samaritans who had believed and been baptized, responding sincerely to the “good news about God’s kingdom and the name of Jesus Christ.” He had witnessed the powerful working of God, was astonished at the power of the Lord, and had helped support Philip and his ministry.
But old ways die hard and even though we turn our back on them as Christians, that doesn’t mean we become deaf to their alluring song. It’s quite possible, as was the case with Simon, to become self-deceived and to allow ourselves to be sucked back into selfishness, greed, and ungodliness, all the while convinced that “it’s all okay.”
Such a mind and life must not be ignored, but be confronted. There is no room for deception in our life as a disciple of him who is True. Just because we’ve been set free from sin doesn’t mean we can’t be deceived again and so shackle ourselves anew. If that happens, we, like Simon, will need to completely change our heart and life. And when Peter confronted Simon with his self-deception and sin, Simon responded precisely as we would hope any Christian would who finds themself in a similar position: with great humility, pleading for intercession be made to the Lord for forgiveness and deliverance.
Heavenly Father, deliver me from any and all self-deception within me. Re-sensitize me to the incongruence of your holiness and my sinfulness, never allowing me to rely on presuming your tolerance and mercy. Ever show me the error of my ways that I may turn from them. Grant to me your grace, patience, and strength that I might do just that. Build up in me great confidence in the rescue your Son works for me, but never allow me to become complacent or careless in the way I think about you and the way I live before you. This I pray in the name of him who alone can save me, Jesus. Amen.