Are you fearful?
We live in a time when many kinds of fears dominate many kinds of people. Fear of financial woes, fear of exams and school, fear of music, fear of the dark, fear of clowns, fear of heights, fear of death, fear of commitment, fear of being alone, fear of speaking in public, fear of flying and fear of men are but a few of hundreds of kinds of phobias.
But most fear is misplaced. The tendency is to be controlled by a fear of something that is ultimately powerless and to be fearless before that while is supremely powerful. There is a fear that is legitimate and even necessary. But most people don’t have that fear.
However, the dual deaths of Ananias and Sapphira on the same day (Acts 5:1-11) produced a godly fear in the church and in those who heard of the event (v. 11). Ananias and Sapphira sinned (not by withholding their money, but by lying about what they had given) and God struck them dead instantly. Notice that they were not struck dead for adultery or murder or homosexuality or abortion or rape or armed robbery. They were struck dead for lying.
And at first reading, it doesn’t even seem that the lie is that significant — they gave the money they gained from the sale of their property to the church, they just kept back a portion of it for themselves without disclosing that fact. In modern terms, it was a “white lie” — an “innocent” lie. No one would seemingly be harmed by the lie; yes, it fed their pride and self-importance, but it wasn’t so bad, was it?
Yes it was. It was bad enough that it warranted the judgment of God.
And that was the lesson for the church that day and the lesson for us as well. Every sin — any sin — is enough for God to be justified in the immediate condemnation of the sinner. Just because God is patient with sinners and does not immediately execute His judgment after the first sin by the sinner, does not mean that He is unjust or unfair when He does carry out His justice. The death of Ananias and Sapphira is a sober reminder that it is good and wise and godly to be fearful of God’s discipline (for believers) and wrath (for unbelievers).
What happened in Acts 5 parallels the events of Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6. When Isaiah saw the greatness and holiness of God and the holiness that surrounds His throne, he responded in fear — “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Is 6:5; NASB). He was fearful because in that moment he understood the truth that no man can see God and live.
When we see the holiness of God for what it truly is, we won’t be self-justifying and self-righteous. We will shrink back in horror with a clear understanding that we are worthy of all God’s wrath.
Yet we are not fearful. We are afraid of spiders and snakes while we are fearless before God, flaunting and enjoying our sin, presuming on the patience of God and ignoring the discipline, correction and wrath of God. When we trifle with sin, we expose the shallowness of our comprehension of God. Someone who is careless about sin is either uncaring or ignorant about God.
So one of the two greatest gifts God can give us is a clear understanding of our sinfulness. There is no redemption and no forgiveness (the second great gift) and no righteousness apart from comprehension of sinfulness.
Two theologians, writing on the holiness of God understood this well:
“For one sin God banished our first parents from Eden. For one sin all the posterity of Canaan, a son of Ham, fell under a curse which remains over them to this day (Gen. 9:21). For one sin Moses was excluded from Canaan, Elisha’s servant smitten with leprosy, Ananias and Sapphira cut off out of the land of the living.” [A. W. Pink]
“Until we have seen ourselves as God see us [sic], we are not likely to be much disturbed over conditions around us as long as they do not get so far out of hand as to threaten our comfortable way of life. We have learned to live with unholiness and have come to look upon it as the natural and expected thing.” [A. W. Tozer]