Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me. (Acts 8:22-24 ESV)
We have before us two examples of men who were in great danger because of what both writers have termed as “bitterness.” This is an allusion to Deut. 29:18 where we read, Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, “I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.” This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike. The LORD will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the LORD and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven. (Deuteronomy 29:18–20 ESV)
I must say from the start that sin typically does not rise to the level that I am describing in this entry. However, occasionally it does so we must address these occasions. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine a more severe and sobering warning than what both Peter and the writer to the Hebrews alluded to in Deut. 29. By making this reference, the Holy Spirit is drawing our attention to an attitude that will destroy the person who displays it and those who are impacted by it (the church). As Paul told the Corinthians, if any man destroys the Temple, God will destroy him (1 Cor. 3:17). At issue is the stance of the person who blesses himself in his heart, saying, “I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.” This character, flaunting the curses of the covenant against disobedience, scoffs at God’s judgment. They are near to a hopeless state; not because God can’t or won’t forgive, but the person’s outlook is determined, destructive, repulsive, unredeemable, and intolerable before God. It is expressive of Satan himself whom God cast out of heaven.
Moses was reminding the people saying to “consider this,” or “do not forget what ye have seen, that no one, either man or woman, family or tribe, may turn away from Jehovah our God.” (Keil and Delitzsch) God had sent plagues upon Egypt that amounted to a foretaste of Hell itself. He was saying to the people that God will not pardon a person who stubbornly rejects God and behaves like (what some might label) a privileged character. That is to say, the person brashly thinks that they can rebel against God’s authority and that the word of God doesn’t apply to them. In their arrogance, they believe they can sin and get by with it. God’s response to such high-handedness is that His jealousy will smoke against that man. Some will say, “Well, that was under the Old Covenant!” Should that comfort the rebellious of heart? Nay, verily. What did the writer to Hebrews say?
“He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:28–31 KJV)
As a rebellious root, the person is a satanic agent of defilement (unholiness), the opposite of the holiness that God has called the people to. The net effect of their influence is that the people of God are led away from God and not towards Him because of their poisonous and defiling influence. Contextually, Hebrews takes up this line, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” Their behavior is so utterly outrageous that it destroys the peace and rest among God’s people essential to His abiding presence. Gross sin always has the effect of outrage among those who tremble at the word of God (Ezekiel 9:1-6). Therefore, the rebellious persons’ high-handed behaviors themselves pricks the saints into hostility and grief (See 2 Cor. 11:29 NKJV, Heb. 1:9, Matt. 18:6).
Repenting of a Poisonous Outlook
Peter told Simon to go and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven. He had displayed wickedness that bordered on blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Peter didn’t close the door on the possibility of being forgiven, but clearly, Simon’s forgiveness was tied directly to his repentance. What would a person have to do under these circumstances to find forgiveness and redemption? What is God’s definition of repentance? We need not look far, as Jesus said that the people of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah (Matt. 12:41). This was the Lord’s illustrative definition of true repentance. What did they do?
The Ninevites were Assyrians who had a reputation for unconscionable brutality. They realized through Jonah’s solemn warning that Divine judgment is about to fall. What did they do? First, they utterly humbled themselves in sackcloth and ashes. The enemy will always challenge this. The first step in every situation is to humble ourselves before God (1 Peter 5:5-6, James 4:6-10, Matt. 23:12, et al.), but the enemy will voice his opposition in our hearts and possibly through people who proport to be Spirit-filled. I’ve seen it happen. For Nineveh, even the animals were in sackcloth. Without a Bible, they used common sense and did whatever they could to make things right with God. They left no stone unturned. Jesus said, “the people of Nineveh repented…” If I were Simon the Sorcerer, I would have taken a page out of Nineveh’s book (so to speak).
Why would a person say in their heart, “I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart?” I suggest it’s because they are under the spirit of antichrist (2 Thess. 2:10-12). Such an attitude, if not repented of, is sure to invite the undiluted wrath of God. Notice that nobody else in Israel seemed to know that this was their attitude. Just as God looked at Lucifer’s heart and found pride and arrogance, God looks at the NT saints hearts as well.
In Hebrews 12:13-16, we have three famous “lest any’s” that unite and are reminiscent of Deut. 29:18. First, we have “failing in grace” as a consequence of pride and arrogance. God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). Second, we have already described the “root of bitterness.” Third, we read, “lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright.” (Hebrews 12:16 NKJV) God’s displeasure with such persons is realized when we remember that only a handful of people turned the wilderness generation away from God, and unfit to enter the promised land.
Is There a Place of Repentance?
What should a person do who finds themselves like Simon the Sorcerer who abused the holy things of God and nearly blasphemed the Holy Ghost? What about the rebellious, fornicating, Deuteronomy 28:18, and Esau types we are warned about in Hebrews 12? Are these people beyond hope? It depends. Peter warned Simon the Sorcerer in a way that should have made him tremble. And I believe it did. The sobering thing is that we are left to wonder if he ever got right with God. We simply don’t know. God didn’t want us to know.
Sometimes people make excuses for bad behavior and prop people up only to see them utterly destroy themselves. Peter got it right. Paul turned a Corinthian fornicator over to Satan in an attempt to see him saved from the sin that was trying to destroy him and the church. These are radical steps, but the treatment has to fit the sickness (so to speak). There is no place for inadequacy when it comes to peoples’ eternity. As Leonard Ravenhill once said, “There may be a million roads into Hell, but there’s not one road out.”
My advice would be to utterly humble yourself before the Lord and get alone with Him in the word of God until your mind and heart understand the severity of your sin. You have to acknowledge it and own it. You can’t keep thinking. “I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.” Do a study of John the Baptist and his brand of repentance. All the comfort I can give is what Peter said, Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.