“Many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver” (Acts 19:18-19).
Ephesus had the well-deserved reputation of being one of the most pagan cities in the ancient world. There stood the Temple of Artemis, the city’s patron goddess. Much of the city’s social and economic life centered on their precious goddess and her temple. This shines through in Acts 19 as some idol-makers in the town riot because of a downturn in business as the gospel was gaining followers. When those followers obeyed the gospel, they put away their former passions and devotions. To that end, many came to together and burned their magic books.
This amounts to a giant and expensive object lesson on repentance. As a concrete, public, and unambiguous act of repentance, the Ephesian disciples removed all vestiges of their former lives, which they now knew to be full of ignorance and sin. They understood that they were new people, having been born again in Christ. No sacrifice was too great if it meant an obstacle to Jesus was removed, even if those obstacles were valued at 50,000 pieces of silver.
What book burning have you done? Do you still have vestiges of your former life of sin and ignorance around because of sentimentality, their monetary value, or because you might not be done with it? Consider a few modern versions of keeping those magic books around. We claim to be a new creature in Christ, but we still have the same worldly friends that egged us on to sin before. We claim to have set our minds on things above, but still watch the same trash on TV. We claim to have put away sin—except for my one or two “pet sins” I keep around and maybe even defend. We claim to have a new Lord and master, but keep the same calendar and priorities as those who serve the god of this world.
See these for what they are: a refusal to truly repent. We want the blessings and benefits of God without giving our whole hearts to him. We want salvation without discipleship, justification without
holiness, and remission of sins without repentance. It’s no different than an Ephesian pagan being baptized but keeping his magic books around “just in case I need them again.” But the fact that you still have them around shows how double-minded you are!
Repentance in practice means burning your books, severing all ties with sin, ending ungodly relationships, and following Jesus wholeheartedly. Burning your books means being ready to remove any obstacle that gets in the way of Jesus no matter the cost or sacrifice.