We find ourselves in the eighth chapter of Acts, verses nine through twenty-five. The spotlight rests squarely on a man by the name of Simon. He came to Jesus with quite a colorful past. He was a local celebrity because he was known for his practice of sorcery. For this reason, he is remembered as Simon the Sorcerer. As the story goes, one day Simon accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior and was baptized into the faith. He must have been on a spiritual high. He should have walked away from his old ways, but that was not the case. Even today, the church will not tolerate the practice of the witchcraft or wizardry. His mixed-up priorities are exposed when Peter and John come to his hometown, Samaria, to introduce the Holy Spirit. Simon is impressed by the divine power and attempts to buy the Holy Spirit for personal gain. The apostles are shocked by his behavior. In verse twenty-two, Peter tells Simon to repent of his wicked ways and pray that he will be forgiven.
Do not be critical of Simon because there is so much of him inside of us. What worldly ways do you cling to as you walk with Jesus? You can be honest. We have all done it.
The details of the story are different, but the storyline is the same. It all begins with a promise made on a spiritual high. Perhaps it happened at some spiritual retreat weekend. Your words were sincere, when you said, “I believe.” The problem is the weekend ended and you had to go home. Perhaps it happened at the birth of a new family member. You marveled at creation and knew there was a God. The problem is the baby came home and the promise was forgotten during one of those sleepless nights. Perhaps it happened at the end of some personal crisis. You beat the disease or recovered from the accident. Thankful, you promised to follow Jesus. The problem is you resumed your life and responsibility got in the way. Perhaps it happened when the preacher found just the right words at just the right moment. You made that long walk down that short aisle and told your world you were a believer. The problem is the benediction was given and the crowd walked away. The details don’t matter. The only thing that matters is it happened. Like Simon, you promised God you will live a better life. You promised God to make Him your top priority. You promised God to be more like Jesus every day. You were not lying.
You made that promise with a sincere heart, but life, itself, has a way of eroding away the long-term impact of that promise. It happens to us all. It is hard to live a better life when you live in a world that has mastered the art of compromising. It is hard to live a better life when you are facing a mountain of problems. It is hard to live a better life when you experience one more disappointment. It is hard to live a better life when you are smothered with concerns. It is hard to live a better life when you are buried by responsibilities. It happens all the time. In many ways we are like Simon the Sorcerer. At some point in our lives, we promised God to live a better life, but old habits got in the way.
Spiritual backsliding is a part of life. We all fall or backslide occasionally. You are not the first person to backslide, and you will not be the last. This is the good news for today. Spiritual backsliding is not terminal. The Bible doesn’t tell us, but I like to think Simon corrected his ways. I like to think he learned from that experience and lived a better life. He may have been face down on the ground on that day, but he got up and moved forward. It is our story as well. Because of the grace of God, we have another opportunity to get up and move forward. Proverbs 24:16 says, “Though the righteous man falls seven times, he rises again.” The number seven in the Bible means “many.” In other words, a righteous man falls many times in life, but he always gets up to try again. How many times have you fallen spiritually? How many times have you gotten up? I hope you are never content lying on the ground. Get up on your feet and try again. This blog is written to anyone who wants to try again. Here are three quick words you need to remember to prevent falling.
The first word is the word regularly. 2 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” In other words, you need to regularly examine your faith. Are you living a life that is pleasing to God? What in your life needs to be eliminated? What is God calling you to do? Regular examinations are vital. Only a fool would not take advantage of modern medicine. Only a fool would not turn to God regularly. When was the last time you gave yourself a spiritual self-examination? The word is regularly.
The second word is the word run. 2 Timothy 4:7-8 says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” What is Paul saying? He is saying life is a race. The goal is not simply running in the race. The goal of running any race is to win the race. No one runs a race hoping to finish in the middle of the pack. No one runs a race hoping to finish last. The goal is not just to finish the race. The goal is to win! As you run the race of life, are you keeping the finish line, heaven, in mind? Are you practicing today what you will do in heaven for eternity? The word is run.
The third and final word is the word remember. Hebrews 10:32 says, “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering.” It is important to tell your testimony for two reasons. First, you need to tell others what God has done for you. Second, you need to remind yourself what God has done for you. How many times have you turned to him when life was hard? How many times has God gotten you through some difficult situation? The word is remember.
Several years ago, I officiated at a wedding. It was one of those weddings I do for non-church members. I will be honest with you. I don’t even remember the name of the bride or the groom. However, I do remember the wedding was traditional in nature. The ushers walked out of the side door with the groom. The bridesmaids walked down the center aisle ahead of the bride. The groom brightened when the back doors opened, and he saw his bride for the first time. They said their vows flawlessly. They exchanged the rings without mishap. They lit the unity candle on cue. Everything was perfect until the congregation said the Lord’s Prayer. Somewhere between “Our Father” and “Amen”, there was a sudden commotion. I looked over to my left and saw one of the ushers had passed out. The good news is he responded quickly and was back on his feet before ‘Amen’!
Most of the congregation didn’t notice. We finished the service and the day continued. It was while they were taking pictures, I found the young man. At that moment he looked fine. I think his name was Shawn and he was a Marine who was home on leave to be in his friend’s wedding. I asked him the question, “Are you ok?” Before he could answer, his significant other spoke up. She was a little mousey girl with a low-cut dress. She kept pulling up the top of her dress so she wouldn’t expose herself to the world. She looked at him and said, “He is fine. He drank too much last night, got up early to go golfing with the other ushers and hasn’t eaten a thing so he would be hungry at the reception. He is fine! He is an idiot, but he is fine. The only thing damaged is his big Marine ego.” I said, “I am glad you are OK, and I glad you recovered quickly.” There are days when you are going to be just like that young Marine.
The question is not if you are going to fall. You are going the fall. The question is, how fast are you going to get up? Like that young Marine, I hope you get up so fast that your world doesn’t even notice. That is possible if you can remember these three words. 1. Regularly – regularly examine your faith. 2. Run – Run the race to win. 3. Remember – Remember what God has done for you. English Anglican bishop J. C. Ryle (1816-1900) once said, “Men fall in private long before the fall public.”