Truth Exchange (6)
But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?” Acts 5.3
A high price to pay
The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was not that they only gave part of what they had gained from the sale of their land to the work of the Church. As Peter pointed out, it was their property, and they were free to do with the proceeds as they chose. The sin was that they lied. They represented their gift as the whole of the proceeds, so that they would look good to the apostles and everyone else. In so doing, they brought the lie into the congregation of the truth and robbed God of His glory.
They had fallen for the devil’s temptation, and conspired together to introduce the lie into the Body of Christ.
They paid a high price for their attempt. The story of Ananias and Sapphira puts us on notice that the Church is not immune from the presence or influence of the lie. Though Christ has bound Satan, and his power against true believers is therefore limited (Matt. 12.22-29), still, he remains a potent force and a persistent threat to corrupt the community of truth by various manifestations and machinations of the lie (1 Pet. 5.8, 9).
The devil and his brood of human and angelic agents are like the clean-up squads in the film, Men in Black. They usually show up after the truth has made itself known – a message preached, a word of witness, a good deed of love, a manifestation of hope and courage, a fresh insight from the Word of God – all witnesses to the realm and reality of the truth. While those who are deceived and prisoners to the lie are pondering what they’ve heard or seen, and perhaps even considering further examination into the claims of the truth (Acts 17.32-34), the devil comes along with some “flashy thing” or other, blinds them in an instant of confrontation, then proceeds to explain that what they heard or saw can be accounted for in a much more reasonable manner, one that does not require toeing God’s line, or of giving up one’s own preferred ways of thinking.
But we see from the story of Ananias and Sapphira where such trafficking with the devil can lead.
So even in the Church, the devil stalks about deceiving people into believing the Gospel is something other than the Good News of the Kingdom of God. The Gospel, the devil will insist, is having all the health and wealth you could desire; knowing ecstatic experiences; being loving and tolerant to all people, no matter their preferred lifestyles or worldviews; living a “Gospel lifestyle” without having to worry about something so inconvenient and unattainable as holiness; forging new paths for love apart from the Law of God; and so forth.
The Gospel, the devil will suggest, is all of grace, so we don’t need to fuss with God’s Law any longer. The Gospel liberates us to live in the joy of Jesus; no need to submit to rigorous disciplines of prayer and Bible reading – legalistic stuff like that. The Gospel teaches us to love everyone, so we don’t judge people whose lifestyle choices differ from our own, and from those set forth in the Bible. We need to keep in step with the times. Be relevant. Embrace change. Jesus is all about us, and so life in the church should be all about us, too. The Spirit can lead us by love alone; we don’t need doctrines and Bible study, which only fill our minds with high-falutin’ theological nonsense.
Thus in the name of the truth, false teachers promote lies, half-truths, and outright deceptions within the holy confines of the Body of Christ, seeking to make a name for themselves, fill their pews and coffers, or gain a little adulation by telling people what their sinful souls want to hear, rather than what the truth of God requires.
Make no mistake about it, the lie occupies a place in the pews, pulpits, and theater seats of America’s churches, just as it did in the days of the apostles; and its mission to dethrone God and install human autonomy in the name of the Lord is as active today as it has ever been.
The Church today features a wide range of expressions of we might call “near Christianity” – explanations of the Gospel and Christian life which include parts of the truth, but which leave ample room for people in whom the lie has taken root to operate unchecked, and to carve out their own autonomous “Christian” lifestyle.
“My Jesus loves me even though I sin,” they protest, against calls to repentance. “My Jesus doesn’t want me to be a legalist,” they object to those who insist they bring holiness to completion in the fear of God. “My Jesus is my Friend; why should I fear Him?” they confidently declare. “My Jesus will accept me no matter what,” they opine as they pursue lifestyles clearly at odds with the plain teaching of God’s Word.
Thus, blinded by the lie, they have made another gospel, rather than the truth that is in Jesus Christ, their preferred avenue to the good life. Ananias and Sapphira thought they could make it work. So do multitudes of ersatz believers today.
Make sure you aren’t one of them.
For in bringing the lie into the community of truth, all such contemporary Ananiases conspire against the Lord of glory and make a pact with the father of lies.
1. Do you agree that the lie can be found in the churches in our day? Why or why not?
2. Peter took it upon himself to confront the lie boldly and decisively. How does his example instruct us? Explain.
3. How can you keep the lie from gaining entry to your own soul (Psalm 139.23, 24; Proverbs 4.20-27)?
Next steps – Preparation: What can you do to make sure you aren’t helping the lie find its way into your church?
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.