Lying To The Holy Spirit
In today’s blog post we are going to talk about lying to the Holy Spirit beginning with Acts 5:1-11. Chapter 5 starts with the word, “But,” which means that it deals with the same subject as Chapter 4 but is the reverse side of the coin. We have turned a corner. We are looking now, not at the character and nature of body life, but at the peril and danger to it.
But there was a man named Ananias (with his wife Sapphira) who sold some property and brought only part of the money, claiming it was the full price. (His wife had agreed to this deception.)
But Peter said, “Ananias, Satan has filled your heart. When you claimed this was the full price, you were lying to the Holy Spirit. The property was yours to sell or not, as you wished. And after selling it, it was yours to decide how much to give. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us, but to God.”
As soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell to the floor, dead! Everyone was terrified, and the younger men covered him with a sheet and took him out and buried him. (Acts 5:1-6 RSV)
Here are a man and his wife earnestly wanting to have a part in what was going on; they wanted to have a piece of the action. They sold some property just as Barnabas did, but held back part of it, and brought only a part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
Is there anything wrong with that? Not a thing. When Ananias came, Peter said to him, in effect, “Ananias, while this land was yours it was your own. You didn’t have to sell it. We are not communists; you have the right to the disposal of your property as you see fit. You had every right to say what your money was for and that was entirely proper; there was nothing wrong with that.”
Well then, what was wrong? Peter, exercising his gift of discernment, said to Ananias, “You have lied. It wasn’t wrong for you to keep the property back, but to act as though you had given it all when you had only given part, that is what is wrong. You lied, you pretended. You’re a sham, a phony. You pretend to something that you’re not.” When those analyzing words hit the ears of Ananias, he dropped dead at Peter’s feet.
The Bible tells us Ananias’s wife had also been part of this process. “By his wife’s knowledge” this had been done. So the rest of the story follows:
After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Hark, the feet of those that have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things. (Acts 5:7-11 RSV)
There were three “greats” in the early church:
- Great power,
- Great grace, and
- Great fear.
Why did this occur? Why was the Holy Spirit so severe? Is this what he always does with his church?
Someone says, “Thank God this doesn’t happen anymore; if it did, we’d have to put a morgue into every church.” No, it does not happen now, but this is one of those sharp and penetrating lessons in which God teaches his church using pictures.
Just as the lame man lying at the gate of the temple was a picture of the need of a desperate world. And the healing of that man to wholeness is a picture of what the Lord Jesus does in the inner life of an individual who knows him and follows him. So this is a picture of what happens in life when pretense is indulged.
The moment you or I pretend to be something that we are not, the second, I assume before you a stance of spiritual impeccability, which I do not possess, that moment death enters in — just like that. I am immediately cut off from the flow of the life of Christ.
It does not mean I am not a Christian, but it means that the life of the body is no longer flowing through me. Instead of being part of living, vital movement, I become a dead and unresponsive cell in that body. Paralysis sets in — in the area over which I have influence.
That is what is wrong with the church today. It is the tragic sickness of the church in any age — pretense, sham, and hypocrisy — to pretend to be something we are not. The most astonishing thing about this is that it is unconscious hypocrisy, for the most part. We think it is somehow “religious,” or “Christian,” not to show what we are.
That is what this story of Ananias and Sapphira underscores for us. The minute they pretended to be something they were not — death! When we come to church we put on a mask of adequacy, but inside we are inadequate, and we know it. We are struggling with problems in our homes, but we don’t want to tell anyone about them. We can’t get along with our children, but we’ll never admit it to anyone.
The pride that doesn’t want anyone else to know what is going on between husbands and wives, and between parents and children, keeps us from sharing. We come to service, and put on a mask that says everything’s fine! Everything’s wonderful! Somebody asks us how are things going. “Great, great! Fine!” “How’s everything at home?” “Oh, wonderful! We’re having a great time!”
The minute we say that, and it is not the truth, we die. Death in the spirit sets in. Soon that death pervades the whole church. That is why dishonesty is the primary characteristic of the church today.