Acts 8:9-24 :
But there was a certain man, Simon by name, who used to practice sorcery in the city, and amazed the people of Samaria, making himself out to be some great one, to whom they all listened, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is that great power of God.” They listened to him, because for a long time he had amazed them with his sorceries. But when they believed Philip preaching good news concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself also believed. Being baptized, he continued with Philip. Seeing signs and great miracles occurring, he was amazed.
Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for as yet he had fallen on none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of Christ Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me also this power, that whomever I lay my hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.” 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 neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart isn’t right before God. Repent therefore of this, your wickedness, and ask God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.”
Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that none of the things which you have spoken happen to me.”
This is a difficult passage because it sounds like the people became Christians when heard about “Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ,” and were baptized physically.
We know from other parts of the Bible that you can’t be a Christian without receiving the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9). It is clear, however, they were not yet Christians because they had not received the Holy Spirit yet.
When Luke says that Simon believed, I think he was talking about the external, human perspective rather than an internal subjective one. In other words, Simon said and acted like he believed on the outside but was actually still thinking like an unbeliever as became evident later. Also, the Holy Spirit had not come yet, and when He did, Simon clearly didn’t receive Him.
I think that one of the reasons that Peter sounds so harsh is because it stands out against how we act today. This kind of false conversion is tolerated in many “churches” today. The basic problem is that we cannot buy God’s blessing in any way at all, and to do so, is to miss His blessing entirely. The gift of the Holy Spirit can only be a gift and it must stay that way or we will end up “in the bondage of iniquity.”
There is no two-way transaction in grace. God’s favor is a free gift and that is what brings us the Holy Spirit. Also notice that Simon demonstrates that being amazed about miracles and getting physically baptized will not save us. We must receive the Holy Spirit and we must accept the Holy Spirit as a free gift.