Lessons from Ananias and Sapphira – Part 1 (Acts 5:1-11)

POST OVERVIEW. A study of the incident with Ananias and Sapphira from Acts 5:1-11. This post considers the severe judgment these two receive for what seems like a fairly minor offense. What is the message of this sudden judgment? We will also explore why the punishment was so severe and what God’s purpose was in this judgment.

The story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 is one of the most startling events in the New Testament. These two seemingly upstanding disciples join with many others in making a sizeable contribution to the Jerusalem church, laying their large gift at the apostles’ feet. Their contribution, which would seem to be worthy of notice or even commendation, is met instead with a withering rebuke by the apostle Peter and, within a few hours of making their gift to the church, both Ananias and Sapphira have dropped dead and have been buried. And why have they been so severely judged? Because they “lied to the Holy Spirit and kept back some of the price of the land” that they sold (Acts 5:2-3). To many readers, this doubly lethal judgment seems confusing and maybe even unfair since their violation appears to be relatively minor. How do we explain this radical justice?

GOD IS HOLY AND HE WILL JUDGE SIN

Before we dive into this text, we need to remind ourselves of some fundamental ideas. First, God is holy and He decides when He will judge. In this age of grace, even disciples of Jesus can begin to believe that God is obligated to indefinitely delay His judgment, but we will search the Scriptures in vain for any such promise. God remains God and He is free to unleash His judgment when He chooses (Psalm 115:3). Consider Uzzah when he tried to steady the ark and the LORD struck him dead (2 Samuel 6:6-7). The LORD will be treated as holy and He reminds His people of their call to be holy as well. (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2; 1 Peter 1:14-16.)

THE CHURCH IS HOLY AND MUST PURGE SIN

The New Testament community, the church, is to be holy and, therefore, the foundational church in Jerusalem must establish its complete intolerance of sin. But notice that it is the Lord Himself who purges the evil from the midst of this church. (ASIDE: Later Paul will instruct the church to maintain purity from sin by removing an unrepentant member from their midst in 1 Cor. 5. Thus, one mark of a true New Testament church is that there is no tolerance of known sin. If sin is discovered in the ranks, then it will be exposed and, if there is not repentance, the sinning member must be formally removed.) The Lord Himself takes this action because, in the newly formed Jerusalem church, there was as yet no instruction for how to treat sin in the church and the holiness of the church had not yet been clearly established. Thus, in this instance, God Himself demonstrates the church’s absolute intolerance for sin as He Himself purges the evil from the church.

HOLINESS AS LEGAL AND EXTERNAL VS. HOLINESS AS ESSENTIAL

Of course, even in the Old Testament, the people of Israel were commanded to be holy (Lev. 11:44, 45; 19:2), and that the people were also commanded in the Law to purge the evil from their midst (see Deut. 22:21, 22, 24, to name only a few of the references). But under the old covenant, Israel continued to view holiness as legal and as obtained by external adherence to the Law (for example, see Paul’s words about his own pharisaical attitude in Phil. 3:6, 9).

In the new covenant church, however, holiness is essential. The disciples of Jesus, the people who have believed in Him, are now part of an entirely new covenant community, for whom holiness is no longer merely external and legal, but holiness has now become an essential part of what it means to be a disciple. The New Testament makes this very clear in numerous places, perhaps none more sobering than in Hebrews 12:14, where the writer says, “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” Therefore, since the members of the new covenant community are individually holy, it follows that the congregation of holy disciples will have no tolerance for sin.

And so, in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, when sin was discovered among the ranks of those who claimed to follow Jesus, God Himself judged that sin swiftly and decisively. Through Peter, God judged sin in the church and so gave the fledgling church and every church of any age, a clear picture of the seriousness of sin in the body. As God tolerates no sin among His people, so the church is to tolerate no unrepentant sin in its professing members. As the LORD commanded His old covenant people to purge the evil from their midst (see Deut. 22:21, 22, 24, etc.), much more the Lord commands His new covenant church to REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES (1 Cor. 5:13, quoted from Deut. 13:5).

DIFFERENCE IN THE MEANS OF REMOVING EVIL

Although church discipline is not addressed at all in this passage, it seems appropriate to make a couple of comments on the subject to remove any remaining confusion about the judgment of Ananias and Sapphira.

There is a significant difference between how the old covenant people of God purged evil from their midst and how the church does this. Under the old covenant, the Law required that, on the evidence of two or three witnesses, this purging of evil was to be conducted by the people stoning the offender to death. As the author of Hebrews writes, under the Law, willful sin brought with it “a terrifying expectation of judgment. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Hebrews 10:27-28). So, under the old covenant, the people purged the evil by executing the offender.

The death of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 may appear no different than “purging the evil” under the old covenant until we realize that it was God, not the church, who administered this punishment. This means that Acts 5 is not an example of church discipline but is an example of God’s holy judgment. To compare old covenant purging of evil (above) by the people of God with its new covenant version, we need to compare the death by stoning without repentance (Num. 15:32-36; Deut. 22:21, 22, 24) with the administration of church discipline that we find in 1 Cor. 5. This new covenant “purging of evil” has the aim of restoring the offending member to the fellowship and so provides generous time for repentance. If the offender does not repent, he is not executed but is removed from the church. But even if removed from the fellowship, there is still an opportunity for restoration on the condition of genuine repentance.

THE HOLY SPIRIT IS DIVINE

One final comment before we go to a verse-by-verse exegesis of the passage is that Acts 5:1-11 makes plain the deity of the Holy Spirit. This will come out clearly as we go through the text and see that the Holy Spirit is God, the third member of the Trinity.

SDG                 rmb                 11/23/2022                 #591

Embarking on the path of discipleship (Matthew 28:19)

POST OVERVIEW. Thoughts about when I embarked on the path of sanctification and then on the path of discipleship and how I progressed as a disciple after that day. Distinguishing discipleship from sanctification. In practical terms, when does the sinner become a disciple?

Once I had passed from death to life (John 5:24), I became a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:19) and, whether I understood it or not, I had embarked onto the path of sanctification. On that day I was as unlike the Lord Jesus as I would ever be and I was as far from God as I would ever be. My years of running away from God, of willful disobedience, and of giving myself over to my own selfish, fleshly desires were abruptly ended. On that day, now alive in Christ (Eph. 2:4), my life’s direction was reversed. I was born again (John 3:3) and, as a newborn disciple, I began to take my first stumbling steps toward holiness, obedience, and usefulness. By the end of that first day, whether I could recognize that day or not, I was a little bit more like Jesus than I had been and I was a little bit farther from my most ungodly place. I was a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) and had begun my sanctification.

THE BEGINNING OF DISCIPLESHIP

But while my sanctification began on the day of my conversion (Phil. 2:13), I would argue that my discipleship, my “working out my salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), did not. To understand this statement, you must realize that, as declared in Philippians 2:12-13, the sanctification of the disciple has a divine component and a human component. The divine component is the sanctification which is conducted by the Holy Spirit that increases our Christlikeness. Beginning at my conversion and continuing until my physical death, the Holy Spirit is at work within me, working without my cooperation and even without my awareness, to conform me to the image of Christ. But the human component of sanctification, that which is worked out by fear and trembling, the sanctification that is the result of the disciple’s own Spirit-empowered effort, is what I am calling “discipleship.” Since discipleship is conscious, intentional, and purposeful, it is obvious that significant growth in discipleship only begins when the disciple chooses, by an act of their will, to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling.” Discipleship is not automatic, but rather is willful and effortful, and involves decision, commitment, and perseverance.

PRACTICAL CONVERSION

Another comment may be appropriate here in terms of practical application of the disciple’s justification. We know that the moment of conversion is when a person actually becomes a disciple, but rarely does a person recognize that moment when they first believed. Much more common is that the converted person is led by God’s providence to a church where the gospel is proclaimed and explained, and it is then that the person becomes aware of what has happened to them. In addition to that, the New Testament models for us over and over again that the prescribed pattern for the disciple is to believe in the Lord Jesus, then to be baptized, and then to be joined to a church where he can learn obedience. For example, we need look no farther than the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) to see this pattern in seed form. Make disciples (proclaim the gospel), baptize them into the local church, and teach them, in the church, what it means to be an obedient disciple. So, I would argue that the believer’s baptism is most often when he or she consciously and formally becomes a disciple.

SO MANY AREAS OF GROWTH

Because there are so many areas of development in which we, as disciples, need to grow, it may seem to us or to others that our growth is too slow and that there is something “wrong.” For example, I grew rapidly in Word and in knowledge of the Scriptures and in some prominent areas of discipleship (1 Cor. 8:1) but grew more slowly in putting sin to death and in personal holiness. There were areas of my life that were moving toward maturity, but there were other areas that were neglected and were lagging. Was something wrong? No, there was nothing wrong. God is sovereign in all things, including the sanctification of His children, and He was crafting my sanctification according to His perfect plan. Remember, “it is God (the Holy Spirit) who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

ILLUSTRATION OF PHYSICAL BIRTH AND PHYSICAL GROWTH

At the moment of conversion, every disciple, whether he realizes it or not, begins the journey of sanctification, of growing in increasing Christlikeness in all areas of life, and he continues on that journey until the day he dies. This is true for every true disciple of Jesus. As physical growth is the inevitable result of physical birth, so growth in increasing Christlikeness is the inevitable result of the second birth. Sanctification is certain for every genuine believer because this is THE work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity.

As there should be concern when physical growth does not follow physical birth, so there should be concern when tangible growth in Christlikeness does not follow a claim of second birth. While the new disciple’s growth, which is typically quick and obvious, may start slowly and imperceptibly, an absence of spiritual growth over an extended time is most often an indication of a false birth, that the would-be disciple was stillborn.

SDG                 rmb                 10/24/2022                 #583

The Helper is to your advantage (John 16:7-11)

“There is no way that Your going away is to our advantage!” This is not in the biblical text, but I suspect that more than one of Jesus’ disciples had this thought when the Lord told them, in John 16:7-11, that He was going away to the Father.

But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.

Once again, we are in the Upper Room as Jesus is giving His disciples final instructions and preparing them for what is to come. In a few hours, Jesus will be arrested, tried as a criminal, scourged, and crucified, and thus He will accomplish the work He was given to do (John 17:4). But now He has a couple of last hours to spend with His apostles. One of the most important teachings of this discourse is Jesus’ teaching here on the Holy Spirit.

SENDING THE HELPER

Jesus has told His disciples that He is going to the Father (John 16:5), “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away.” Before the disciples break out in a panic, Jesus explains that He is going to send the Helper to them (16:7). Who is this Helper? They have already learned about this Helper, the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). He is a member of the Trinity, fully God and worthy to be worshiped. But more than that, Jesus introduces Him as the Helper. That means that one of His primary roles is that of helping the followers of the Lord Jesus. And, while Jesus, because He had taken on a body of flesh, was localized in one place at one time, the Holy Spirit can be in multiple places. Thus, the Helper can be helping believers in far-flung places at the same time. Jesus must go, but He will send the Helper to them.

CONVICT THE WORLD

The primary area in which the Helper will help the disciples is in the area of fulfilling the mission that Jesus will give them. After His resurrection, but before He ascends to heaven, the risen and victorious Lord Jesus commissions His church to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20) and to be His witnesses in all the earth (Acts 1:8). Their primary “weapon” is the gospel, but their source of power is the Holy Spirit. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you (Acts 1:8).” And so, the weak and mortal and often-fearful disciples of Jesus go out into the world empowered by the divine Holy Spirit. And what will the Helper, the Holy Spirit, do? “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:8).” The Holy Spirit, then, is the One who works in the hearts and minds of unbelievers to bring a sense of guilt on the ungodly. He will convince the wicked of their fault, and He will show the unrighteous their sin. The church proclaims, but the Helper brings conviction. This is a huge advantage.

CONCERNING SIN

“concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me (16:9).”

Fallen man is sinful by nature and by choice. The natural man is a slave of sin (John 8:34) and he loves the darkness and hates the Light (John 3:19-20). For the world, sin is enjoyable, and the world does not mind evil at all. Those who do not believe in Jesus have no one and nothing to convict them of sin, and so they continue in their wickedness.

But there are some among the ungodly, some who do not believe in Jesus whom the Father is calling and drawing (John 6:44), and for these, the Helper begins convicting them concerning sin. The Helper, the Holy Spirit, is speaking to their mind and to their heart and changing their view of sin. For these whom the Helper is convicting, sin is gradually losing its pleasure. Because of the Holy Spirit’s conviction, sin begins to look less appealing and more disgusting. Eventually, under the Holy Spirit’s conviction, those who did not believe in Jesus repent of their sin and forsake their sin and believe in Jesus. This is a huge advantage.

CONCERNING RIGHTEOUSNESS

“concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me (16:10).”

For the duration of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the world had a vivid display of perfect righteousness. Wherever Jesus was, there righteousness was displayed. And when Jesus was around, the unrighteousness of everyone else in the world was painfully evident. When Jesus was there, you were automatically convicted of your unrighteousness by comparison. But Jesus is going to the Father, and who will convict the world of their unrighteousness now?

The Helper is the Person who convicts the world of unrighteousness now that Jesus has gone to heaven. The Holy Spirit speaks to the minds and hearts of the unrighteous and convicts them. “Your words are vile.” “Your thoughts are wicked.” “All you care about is you.” “You know that you just lied to her.” “God condemns your hatred.” There is no longer conviction by comparison; now there is direct conviction from the Helper. And this is a big advantage.

CONCERNING JUDGMENT

“concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged (16:11).”

When Jesus was on earth, he warned the world concerning the final judgment and urged people to repent of their sin and to believe in Him. His message of coming judgment was clear, even though most hearers ignored His warnings. But now Jesus is going to the Father. Who is going to convict the world about the perils of the coming judgment?

Jesus has not left the world without a witness but has called His church to proclaim the gospel and to warn the world of the judgment to come. The church now has the responsibility to warn the world of coming judgment, and the Helper is the one who brings conviction on the world when the church proclaims. The final judgment of the world should bring fear into the hearts of all unrepentant sinners, but the world scoffs and mocks (Genesis 19:14; 2 Peter 3:3-7). But while most of the world scoffs and mocks, the Helper convicts some in the world of the peril of the final judgment. Under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, some will begin to hear and to fear. Some will cry out for salvation (Acts 16:30). Some will be cut to the quick (Acts 2:37). Some will heed the warning and will flee from the wrath to come (Matthew 3:7). This is the conviction of the Helper, and it is a huge advantage.

SDG                 rmb                 4/28/2021