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The Difference Between Being A Christian In Name Only (Cino) And A Real Christian: Acts 8:4-40

The Difference Between Being A Christian In Name Only (Cino) And A Real Christian: Acts 8:4-40

By Ted Schroder,
September 20, 2015

The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center. Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages.

The drop in Christian affiliation and the growth of the Nones (those who claim no religious affiliation -- 25% of the US population) is attributed to the decline in those who used to claim they were Christian and were nominally members of mainline denominations or who had dropped out of other churches. As the culture has grown more secular less people feel the need to identify themselves as Christian. What is the difference between those who are Christians in name only and real Christians?

In Acts 8 Philip escapes from persecution in Jerusalem and went to Samaria where he preached the word of the Gospel of Christ and prayed for those possessed by evil spirits, and those who were crippled. He brought healing and joy wherever he went. One of his converts was a local celebrity, Simon, a sorcerer, who had quite a following. Simon, we are told, believed, was baptized and followed Philip everywhere. He jumped onto the bandwagon of this new movement.

Because the Samaritans were a group despised by the religious authorities in Jerusalem for their heterodoxy, their intermarriage with pagans, and their rival temple on Mount Gerizim, the apostles thought it important that they validate this new church plant by sending Peter and John to bless them. They wanted these new believers to be connected with them in the Body of Christ. When they arrived they prayed for these new believers to receive the Holy Spirit as they had in Jerusalem at Pentecost. When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money and said, "Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit."

Peter was furious at this manifestation of unbelief. He replied, "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part of share in this ministry because your heart is not right before God...I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin."

Simon is representative of those who claim to be Christians, have been baptized but have not received the Holy Spirit. They cannot receive the Holy Spirit because their hearts are not right with God. The flow of the Holy Spirit is blocked by their lack of genuine faith in Christ. Many people do not have authentic faith but purely speculative faith. They seek the benefits of religion, and are willing to pay for them through their nominal church membership but their faith is spurious not genuine. They are baptized with water but not baptized with the Spirit. They do not have heart-felt faith. Jesus talked about those who heard his words but did not respond in faith. "For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them."(Isaiah 6:9,10; Matthew 13:15).

What is the message and application of Acts 8 to us? True belief and baptism leads to the receiving of the Holy Spirit, but nominal belief and institutional baptism does not lead to the receiving of the Holy Spirit. There are many people like Simon who have been baptized and nominally believe that they are Christians who have not received the Holy Spirit. It is not only a recent problem. It has been around for as long as the Gospel promised healing and joy in the name of Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Church membership can be taken very lightly. Baptism can be merely a rite of passage. In New Testament baptism the believer decisively separates himself from the surrounding heathen world, confesses his allegiance to the church which admits him, and becomes a member of the Body of Christ. The believer becomes united with Jesus through union with the church and membership of its body. In baptism the individual becomes identified with Christ who has assumed the sins of his people, and, through sharing in his death, becomes a member of his mystical body. It is a real act of assimilation to the community.

Candidates for baptism are required to have a knowledge of Jesus and his saving work, need to assent to the truth of the Gospel and their need for salvation, and must personally trust in the Savior. All this seen in the Ethiopian seeker.

Philip obeys the leading of the Spirit to ask this important court official: "Do you understand what you are reading?" "How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" He invited Philip to sit with him and teach him the meaning of Isaiah 53. "Then Philip began with that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about Jesus." The Ethiopian requests baptism, and Philip baptizes him. What a contrast with Simon. The Spirit of the Lord is present to lead, to illuminate, to guide, to teach to bring genuine, authentic faith so that his heart was right with God and his baptism could be with water and the Holy Spirit.

In the USA there are many people like Simon Magus who have a superficial understanding of the Gospel of Jesus but their hearts are not right with God. They are full of bitterness about their lives, and they are captive to their desires and their despair. They may even go to church occasionally and pray. They try hard to live good lives but it is in their own strength. But they cannot cope very well with the demands and the challenges of life. They do not have the healing and joy of the Holy Spirit.

"It is possible to hear the gospel, take part in church activities, and be a faithful contributor without the experience of a vital relationship with the Spirit of God. We can pray prayers without talking to God; we can teach and learn truth without being transformed by the truth; we can work for Christian causes without being healed ourselves; we can read the Bible and live with messed-up relationships; we can hear about the power of the Spirit and live inhibited, intransient lives....I have come to believe that the possibility of receiving the Holy Spirit ...depends upon one ingredient or a combination of ingredients. There is usually a need which we cannot fill ourselves, or a challenge which goes beyond our wisdom or strength, or a sense of unfulfillment in our Christian experience." (Lloyd John Ogilvie, Drumbeat of Love, p.107f.)

If you want to be more than a Christian in name only, then open your heart to receive the Holy Spirit in all his fullness.

(Ted's blog is to be found at www.tedschroder.com)

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