He was a new believer who had forsaken his old way of life and had recently been baptized. He was amazed at the powerful work of God he was seeing in his town. Most amazing of all, Simon watched as people received the Holy Spirit when the apostles laid their hands on them. He had practiced magic most of his life, but he had never seen anything like this before and he wanted in on the action.
“Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit,” Simon pleaded. The apostles were doing a good work and Simon wanted to be involved.
While it seems like Simon desires a good thing, we see otherwise in Peter’s response. He states, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God…for I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity” (Acts 8:20-23).
While Simon was mistaken to believe that he could purchase this gift with money, it seems there’s something even deeper going on here. Peter, guided by the Holy Spirit, discerns that his heart is not right as he’s making this request. While he outwardly desired a good gift, his heart motivations were wrong and deep down he was filled with bitterness and iniquity. Therefore the Lord rebukes him through Peter.
Beyond External Action
As humans, we naturally view the world through what we see with our eyes. Someone might have certain outward actions that are commendable, but Scripture teaches that God doesn’t look merely at the outward action; he examines the motives of our heart. Doing “good things” for all the wrong reasons does not please God. I can preach a sermon, write a blog, or visit a widow for selfish reasons instead of doing them for God’s glory and the good of those affected.
Scripture often reminds us that God cares about our heart and our motivations instead of just the external work:
- Proverbs 16:2- “All the ways of a person are clean in his own sight, but the Lord examines the motives.”
- 1 Sam. 16:7- “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.'”
- Jeremiah 17:10- “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
- Jeremiah 20:12- “O LORD of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind…”
- Genesis 6:5- God floods the world because “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
- Luke 16:15- “God knows your heart.”
- 1 Chronicles 28:9- “And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought.”
Internal and External
This doesn’t mean that external actions don’t matter at all…they certainly do! God sees what we do AND why we do it and takes both into account. Outward obedience is vitally important, but it is not all that is needed.
Christian, let us examine both our outward works and our inward motivations. Let us ask ourselves why we do what we do. The hard work of deep self-evaluation is difficult but necessary. Let us not be like the Pharisees who were so pleased with their outward works they never examined their motivations. Their self-righteousness didn’t lead to life, it kept them from true healing and grace. The good news is we can evaluate ourselves truly and honestly because we need not fear condemnation.
Whenever we see our outward actions or inward motivations don’t line up with God’s standard, the response isn’t either cover-up or despair. Instead, because of Christ’s atoning work and indwelling Holy Spirit, we can repent of our sin and confess. We can plead with God to continue the work he began in our heart and mold our thoughts and desires to look more like Him. There’s grace when we deal honesty with our motivations and plead for mercy and the power of the Holy Spirit to change. Only he can bring the internal change that bears visible fruit in our external actions.