Acts 4:32-5:16 The Danger of Dishonesty and A Healthy Fear of God

Meditation for Preparation

First of all, [this passage teaches us about] the seriousness of sin. You know, we live in a day and age even in the church – even in the church! – where we make light of sin. We joke about it, we dismiss it. You know, we’re Christians, we’re forgiven, we’re covered by the blood…. We are unworthy even to come into the very presence of God. And if this story teaches us anything at all, it teaches us the seriousness of sin, and the seriousness of the sin of hypocrisy, because Ananias and Sapphira wanted a name for themselves. They wanted a name that said ‘We are one of the great givers in the church.’ And they were hypocrites.

Now, I have to say to you with all honesty tonight that in the 35 years or so I’ve been reading my Bible, ever since I was converted, I find this story immensely difficult. I have to be honest with that. To lie about the sale of a piece of real estate that is effectively mine in the first place… how great a sin is that? How great a sin is that? And you see, in asking that question we reveal how easily we view sin differently from the way God views sin. Because what is sin in the eyes of God? It is that which cost the life of His Son in order to atone for it.

It teaches us something of the holiness of God. Peter says to Ananias that he had lied not just to the Spirit, to the Holy Spirit. He’s the Holy Spirit. God is holy. He’s set apart. He’s different from creation. He cannot look upon sin. He’s of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. Dennis Johnson, in a commentary on Acts, says: “If we are shocked by what God does here, if we are shocked, we have fallen into sin. We have fallen into sin because we have failed to appreciate the holy character of God.” God is not just some benign Santa Claus in the sky; God is holy.

You know, this story doesn’t occur in the Old Testament. You know, if this story occurred somewhere in Joshua or Judges, we would probably try to dismiss it and bring some kind of redemptive historical perspective; you know…that we’ve passed from the old covenant into the new covenant – and we have an enormous tome of theological reference in order to put it way back somewhere in the back of our minds. But this is right at the very center of the New Testament, in the very center of the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. Ananias and Sapphira died, my friends, because God did it. God did this. This was an act of retribution.  And maybe you say tonight ‘My God doesn’t do things like that.’ My friend, I say to you that the God of the Bible does. And I don’t know what God you’re talking about, but the God of the Bible does this.

And lastly, it teaches us about the fear of God: “Great fear came upon the church.” Does this story make you tremble just a little? Just a little? It should make you tremble just a little! Is it ever right to be afraid of God? After all, I’m a child of God. I’m a forgiven sinner. I have peace with God. I repeat Romans 8:28ff to myself every day: “Nothing shall separate me from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord. Not life, not death, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything in all of creation…”

What have I got to be afraid of? Presumption. Presumption, because that assurance, my friends, comes only in the pathway of obedience to the stipulations of the way of the covenant. Is it right to be afraid of God? You know, I remember reading thirty years ago in John Murray’s Principles of Conduct an answer that I’ve never forgotten. He asked that very question: Is it right to be afraid of God? And he said: “It is the height of folly not to be afraid of God when there’s every reason to be afraid.”

If you have no reason to be afraid, then don’t be afraid; but if you’re living like Ananias and Sapphira, if you’re living in defiance of God, if you view of God is such that you convince yourself ‘God doesn’t see this, God doesn’t hear this, God isn’t concerned about this sin of mine,’ then you have every reason to be afraid. And the death of Ananias and Sapphira was only a little glimpse, a little portent of the fate that awaits those who defy Him in the ultimate sense; for then, my friends, they will be destroyed in eternal fire.

Ligon Duncan

Heart Preparation
Read Acts 4:32-5:16. How seriously do you view your sin? What is your reaction when you sin? Does your view and reaction to sin reflect the way that this passage teaches that God views your sin?

Posted on: July 4, 2013 - 3:17PM

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