Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ananias and Sapphira – not believers, how convenient!

The myth of “Not talking to believers”
Coming principally, from the present day and growing crowd of overly grace preachers, is this teaching that we have been misled by the traditional church (TC), concerning applicability of scriptures referring, purportedly, to only non-believers.  Such preachers claim that quite a number of significant scriptures are NOT applicable to us, believers, but have been taught to us, by the TCs, to be applicable to us.  So strong was their push, that there is now a wide following among believers to reinterpret by an easy-way out - of taking scriptures as NOT applicable to them, by simply saying that the concerned scriptures were NOT targeting at the believers, but were talking to non-believers or referring to non-believers.

We, closer to the last days?!
I don’t know.  Will Jesus be coming back within my own life-time? I don’t know, but one thing I can see is this - the unfolding in greater and greater measure, of the warning contained in 2 Tim 4:3.  This is what is said in this text:

For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

Easy-believism on the rise
Easy-believism is on the rise, and very quickly.  We are NOT referring to separate groups coming by different names of identification, like the many “Christian cults” that have come.  I am generally NOT bothered with the separate-name groups, for because of their separate entity by name, they are understood to be different from us, main-stream Christians.  What irks me is the proliferation of different, highly skewed and even false, core tenets of the Faith, within our general body of believers or Christians.  At least in the past, these people broke out into separate-name groups; but the present easy-believism bunch is NOT.  The biggest issue with this is that it confuses and misleads both the common believers and the pre-believers, alike.

Be careful of the overly grace preachers
I will NOT name individuals, but I feel compelled to name the major bunch tearing at the established core tenets of the Christian faith.  The overly grace preachers and their followers are growing in great numbers through their easy-believism teachings.  The internet world is full of their teachings, and today’s enquirers are making their enquiries on the net, and are therefore, easily misled by such skewed and even false teachings.

Be part of the balancing voice
Easy-believism including the overly skewed grace teachings have contributed to Church growth, but at the same time, that growth is NOT accompanied by depth but superficiality – the Church is growing but it is growing with superficiality and NOT with depth.  For properly grounded preachers and servants of God who so dearly love the Word, may I take this opportunity to urge you (to make time) to contribute to the internet space, your valuable inputs of correct interpretation of the Word, to balance out the inaccuracy of the teachings of our faith on the net; be part of the voice leading to real water and life, so that wanderers would NOT be taken to mirages that lead only to dryness and death.

“Not targeted at believers” wrongly applied – egs.
The most hotly debated one is of course, 1 John 1:9.  The overly grace preachers and their followers are claiming that 1 John 1:9, calling for us to confess our sins (and God is just and faithful to forgive us, and cleanse us of all our unrighteousness) is NOT for believers.  In fact, according to such proponents, a believer to confess his sin, is guilty of unbelief and profaning the name and grace of the Lord.  1 John 1:9 is for believers; if you want to read my take on the text, go to: 1 John 1:9 is for believers.

Because of the core tenet of the overly grace believers being that upon one’s conversion (or entry into salvation), all his FUTURE sins are forgiven him at that moment of conversion, no repentance, confession, and asking for forgiveness, and seeking of righteousness, is ever necessary or should be engaged in, subsequent to conversion!  And so, armed with a need to make their core tenet hold true all the time, overly grace believers, are “pushed” to believe that wherever Scripture talked about repentance, confession, forgiveness, seeking or practicing righteousness, NON-BELIEVERS must have been referred to.

Matt 6:33 has NOT been spared.  This text calls for us to seek, first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness, and then all our needs would be added to us; yet some overly grace believers had taken the text to be NOT applicable to them.  Their fallacy in reasoning is this: The moment they became a believer they have become fully righteous, and so, they cannot be seeking righteousness anymore; and so, that exhortation cannot be targeted at them!  How wrong they are; the words were said to believers!  Just read the context, it is staring at us, that the words were said to believers!

It is so easy, right; just add “non-“ and they are out of scope; no need to seek righteousness, no need to repent, no need to confess our sins, and no need to ask for God’s forgiveness.  Now, such easy-believism is spreading, and it has now also being applied to the account of Ananias and Sapphira.

If all sins are forgiven, how come Ananias & Sapphira were struck dead?
Some overly grace preachers said, “No-lah, God did NOT kill the duo; Peter was probably the culprit!”  But what make them say that? One answer is this:  the sin of Ananias & Sapphira God had already forgiven; had got to be, to be consistent to the tenet that all FUTURE sins were forgiven of the duo when they became believers or followers, and so, no matter what, it could NOT have been God who killed them!  God could have no reason to kill them since all sins were already forgiven. The most “logical” speculation, according to such preachers, is that Peter killed them, purportedly abused the power of his tongue!  Is this NOT mere speculation?!  Before I say more, let us read the account of the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11

Acts 5:1-11 - Death to Ananias and Sapphira
1Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2With his wife's full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet.

 3Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God."

 5When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

 7About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8Peter asked her, "Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?"
      "Yes," she said, "that is the price."

 9Peter said to her, "How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also."

 10At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

Death for premeditated conspired lying to God
Very simply the account is like this: A certain couple, Ananias and Sapphira also sold a piece of land (Joseph Barnabas, we can read from the end of the previous chapter {Acts 4:36-37}, sold a field). The couple conspired to lie to the apostles. 

I believe the background could be along the following lines:  Perhaps, visibly people could see what Joseph Barnabas did; he encouraged everyone by his sacrificial giving and sharing.  Perhaps, he was commented for this act of selflessness. Perhaps, this couple also wanted the praise from the people, and decided to sell their land to give to the apostles for distribution.  The problem was that they conspired to lie to the apostles, which was not different from lying to God.

They did not say they were giving part of the proceeds from the sales, but rather they must have said the entire proceeds was given up for God’s use as the apostles saw fit. The Apostle Peter, who could from time to time exhibit supernatural abilities (like healing of the crippled beggar from birth, at the temple gate {Acts 3:1-10}), by the Holy Spirit enabling, spoke out that Ananias had lied when he brought in the money. 

Peter declared that Ananias had not lied to men but to God.  When Ananias heard this he fell down and died. A great fear fell on all the people who had heard what happened.  Ananias was taken out and buried. 

A few hours later, Ananias’ wife, came in without knowing what had happened.  Peter gave Sapphira a chance to own up that she had lied, but she still insisted the amount given was the full price.  Again, at Peter’s declaration (….. they will carry you out also), Sapphira fell down and died at the feet of the Apostle.  She was buried, and buried beside her husband; and with this, a great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

It is one of those “not easy to explain away” texts
Now, this account of Ananias and Sapphira’s deaths is one of the several “not easy to explain away” events in Scripture; and we should treat it or them, as such.  It is not easy because it seemed clashing with our perception of love and grace.  Other difficult accounts, along the same line, included The Flood, where all men except Noah and his family were spared; and God’s killing of the great prophet Ezekiel’s wife with one blow (Eze 24:15-18). 

Please, at times, it is NOT that simple as “God is love or God is grace, and so, there cannot be death by God!”  In brief, I can only say, one has NOT known of God enough (although He cannot be fully known), if he insists God cannot kill because He is love or grace.  For those of us with deep understanding, in explaining the workings of God, we know, that God is love or God is grace, may be adequate to explain many scenarios, but is NOT necessarily sufficient all the time; there is more to God, than God is love or God is grace.

Speculation, at best
What is wrong with filling in the gap, or even hypothesize?  Yes, you can fill in the gap, or even hypothesize, but you have to say so, including your assumptions and all; and let the readers know that you are suggesting that it could be this or it could be that.  It is wrong when you hold out your speculation as “gospel truth”!  On top of that, meaningless or contradicting assumption or speculation or filling in the gap, should be avoided as a respect of the Word, and as a correctly dividing of the Word.

Yes, we sometimes, fill in the gaps, but such filling in the gap must be consistent with what little that has been revealed in the text or be consistent with the overall counsel of the Word.

Now, concerning the exposition above, by some grace preachers, that because “FUTURE sins were forgiven at conversion” of Ananias and Sapphira, and so, there could not be death punishment by God for the lying, and so, it probably was the abuse of power by the Apostle Peter, it is far from even being adequate, not to mention, it isn’t sufficient.

One more, so typical of the grace preacher
Here is one more explanation by a widely known grace preacher: Ananias and Sapphira were NOT believers!  How convenient, but it was most likely they were believers.  In fact, the context strongly suggested that they were believers.

This is what is just above the Acts 5:1-11 text:

32All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. 33With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.  36Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), 37sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet. (Acts 4:32-37)

Acts 5:1 was the immediate continuation from this text; remember now, that in the original manuscript, there were no chapters and verse numbers; Acts 5:1 was just a continuation of the above. Verse 32 above said all the believers were of one heart and mind with no one claiming that any of his possessions was really his own. They shared everything they had! 

Now, it was the believers who were of one heart and mind, and shared together generously; not the non-believers with the believers.  Now, would you, if you are NOT a believer, join us, believers, to be of one heart and mind, and share with us, your hundreds of thousands of dollars, from the value of your property to be sold?!  It was more UNLIKELY, rather than likely, that Ananias and Sapphira were non-believers (By the way, the name, Ananias, in Hebrew, may mean "the Lord is gracious”, still it did NOT stop God from acting against him).

The argument that because it was non-believers coming to deceive the believers or the church, God must necessarily punish harshly, death, even, is NOT necessarily true all the time.  The Apostle Paul, as Saul before his conversion, persecuted the believers or followers of Jesus, but God did NOT kill Paul.

They NOT truly converted-lah!
Now this is again often a wrong prognosis.  Just because one sins, he is NOT truly converted?!  How can this stand?: “There, there, you see, they lied, they kept some back; they were still engaged in deception, so, they could NOT have been converted or truly believed! They were NOT believers-lah!”  No, we must NOT simply jump to such conclusion.  Have I not sinned?  Have I not lied?  Of course, I have.  And so, I am NOT a believer?  Nonsense!  I am a believer.  I may be a believer with some unbelief; at times, sinned; at times, doubted; at times, unwilling; but I am a believer, albeit NOT a perfect believer.  I have NOT arrived; and so, I have the need for God’s grace and mercy; and I am dependent on God’s grace, mercy and compassion; and I better be mindful of that; and you, too! 

We will read further down this article that the Apostle Peter denied Jesus 3 times, so was he no believer or follower of Jesus Christ?!  Of course, not.

Please, what kind of a pastor or preacher are you, if you are always wondering if this one is truly converted or NOT, and that one over there, in the 3rd row, whom you baptized a year ago, is truly converted or NOT!  Come on, we don’t mature instantly; Scripture painted the picture that we, as a believer, grows from infancy into maturity, from drinking milk to eating solid food.  We should stop buying into the teachings of instant perfection and righteousness, and instant full mind of Christ.

Isolated event, it would NOT happen to you-lah!
I have heard of preachers saying this was an isolated event, and apparently implying that it should be treated as such.  Now, it is NOT common, but it does NOT mean it cannot happen to you, a believer!

God is holy and righteous; if you sin, you sinned; punishment and chastisement are His to call the shot.  God is sovereign; mercy and compassion is His prerogative; it is all up to Him if he will have mercy or compassion on you and I (Rom 9:15).  The point is that we are to embrace His holiness, and be righteous.  When we sin, and He is NOT yet punishing, and He is longsuffering, it is still His prerogative, but it does NOT mean that He is NOT entitled to punish or chastise.

Don’t profane His grace and mercy, and longsuffering
If He does not strike us down, it is out of His grace and mercy.  Don’t over-argue that God is love and God is our father, and imply that we can approach God carelessly (not be bothered) without incurring His wrath. We must approach God with the fear of the Lord.  Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and the fear of the Lord is to hate that which God hates, which is, evil.

I am not saying God is not love, and God is not our father, but I am saying, even for our earthly fathers, we approach with proper conduct of the heart, what more when we, the Father God, whose fundamental nature is holiness.

Of course, what happened is not a simple lie; it is a premeditated conspiracy to deceive.  Such plotting is wickedness in the eyes of God, and stubbornly wicked people can be punished by God presently, i.e. in their current lives, not necessarily at Judgment Day.

But people are NOT struck dead every now and then.  Why?
Yes, it is true, we don’t get believers or non-believers struck dead by God every now and then.  It is because God is longsuffering and desire all men be saved (1 Tim 2:4).  If you, as a non-believer, are struck dead, your chance of becoming a believer becomes nil; death is the cut-off point; once you are dead, you can no longer able to accept Jesus into your life. If you are a believer, it still does NOT mean that you cannot be punished or even be struck dead by God.  It is rather God would like to reform you (chastise) so that more and more you will take on the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ, and end up an overcomer, to the very end, and then enter into the fullness of what God has prepared for you (1 Cor 2:9). But remember, the volition of a man is still with the believer; in other words, you and I, as a believer can still choose to go against God.  In the same token, God always have the prerogative to chastise and punish, according to demand of His own holiness.

God chose to
In the case of Ananias and Sapphira, God had chosen to punish, and plain reading of the text is that they were struck dead by God, NOT an abuse of power of the tongue by the Apostle Peter, like what some overly grace preachers had said it to be.

In a way, this story paralleled another in the OT, that of Achan’s case.  In Joshua 6 & 7, we have the account of God’s bringing down of the walls of Jericho, and capturing the city for the people of God, on entering into the Promised Land.  In Joshua 6:17-19, God gave clear instruction as what was to belong to God, absolutely (called devoted to the Lord {Joshua 6:17 & 7:1}); no one was to take any of it for himself.  But Achan took some from it when going through the city of Jericho.

The common thread here is that, that which is dedicated to the Lord, belongs to the Lord, you and I should NOT take it for ourselves.  When we take it (especially through thought-through deception) that is embezzlement of sort.  Achan was put to death, too.  The LORD’s words to Jsohua calling for the death of Achan can be read from Joshua 7:10-12.

Another closely paralleling death punishment found in the OT is the offering of strange fire of Nadab and Abihu (sons of High Priest, Aaron) - Lev 10:1-7.

But why God chose to be so severe with this case?
Firstly, the seriousness of the sin is NOT “not giving the whole lot” as such.

It is NOT the matter of NOT being generous enough.  Peter made it clear that the land or the proceeds, they belonged to Ananias.  The latter could have kept some or the whole lot, and NOT incurred God’s wrath, had he NOT lied. 

Yes, there had been more serious cases during that period of time; the Apostle Paul, before his conversion, as Saul, persecuted the believers, but God did NOT kill him, and instead turned him into a great apostle of the faith; the Apostle Peter himself denied Jesus 3 times by lying, but God did NOT struck him down; and of course, there must have been many other sins done by people, believer and non-believers alike; but why this?

Many possible reasons can be given, and if they are generally consistent to the overall counsel of the Word, they are acceptable as one or more possible reasons God did what He did.  Of course, the precise reason(s), only God knew. These are possible ones:

1.   Generally, God abhors sin, and He can punish;
2.   As an example, lesson for the church;
3.   Sin of hypocrisy;
4.   Not recognizing God is the knower of heart; contempt;
5.   God hates liars;
6.   Evil with deceit plotted in the heart;
7.   Even Pro 6:12-17; Ps 7:11-17.

My own set is evident all over this article – premeditated conspired lying (premeditated plot - evil), rebellion by deceit and lying to God (NOT to just men), dishonest with God, embezzling God (held out as belonging to God, and then one takes it for himself), deceiving and testing God – maybe God can be fooled?!;mocking God.  And of course, finally, there is the element of “it is His prerogative”.

I want to emphazise that attempting to deceive and lie to God is very serious, and I will elaborate more subsequent to this.  This combination, deception and lying, is NOT mere disobedience, NOT wanting to do something God want us to do; it is you are trying to cheat God, trying to outwit Him; it is audacity to the extreme.  It is better we tell God honestly that we need it (money, etc, etc), and say to God, “please let me take it”, than to try to deceive and lie to God, and inadvertently make a mockery of God (if you succeed).  I believe God can take it like this: “If you would deceive Me, I am NOT your God.”  Think about it, if God can be deceived by you, obviously, He is no (longer) God to you!  It is a refusal or about-turn of recognition of who He is.  Another way of looking at it, it is you are declaring to Him that you are smarter, you are God, NOT Him -rebellion!

Can and does Satan tempt the believer to lie?
Apparently, Peter thought it was all possible, and he put it to Ananias as Satan had filled his (Ananias’) heart to lie to the Holy Spirit.  Well, Peter himself was taken hold by Satan (Luke 22:31), and he, Peter lied 3 times that he knew NOT Jesus, when before that, he assured Jesus that he would even go to prison and death, with Jesus!  Judas Iscariot was a follower of Jesus, he lied big time, too!  Satan entered him (Luke 22:3); and he ultimately betrayed Jesus to the Cross. Satan even came at Jesus when Jesus walked the earth – Jesus was tested in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-11). We just have to be careful, Satan is the father of lies (Jn 8:44), and he, Satan, would start works in the heart, the source of all decisions concerning possessions and their relation to God (Lk 12:34 – where your treasure is, there your heart will be; Lk 16:14-15 – love of money from your heart, God knows and detests; Acts 8:21-22 – heart not right with God; 2:46 – of glad & sincere heart; 4:32 – heart of unity & sharing).

Don’t deceive & don’t put God to test
Deception against God is a serious matter.  It is open rebellion against God; why do I say that?  You see, we actually know that God is the knower of heart (Acts 1:24), and God can know it all and see it all, yet we dare to pull a fast one on God, so to speak.  Please, again don’t try to deceive God.

Also do NOT put God to the test.  Don’t try to deceive God, and see if you can get away with it; that is testing God.  Of course, testing God can take other forms (e.g. Jesus’ Temptation – Lk 4:12), but the point is: don’t do that.

In the wilderness the Israelites through their unbelief and murmuring against God were actually putting Him to the test to see if He would punish sin. At Kadesh in the Desert of Paran they discovered that he does (Num 14:20-23; Ps 95:7-11; Deu 6:16).

Here, from the Ananias and Sapphira account we can learn that in our curent life God can, and when he chooses, will, punish sinners either by immediate death or by some other means. This can happen to those who claim to be, and may truly be, a part of his covenant people, having enjoyed his salvation blessings and yet deliberately sin and remain unrepentant (1 Cor 5:5 – be given over to face the full fury of evil with the hope that one may repent; 1 Jn 5:16-17 – except for the one sin that leads to death, we are to pray for a brother with sin to repent, and be forgiven by God).

God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows
We, believers, are to be warned: Do NOT so luxuriate (self-indulge) in the love and grace of God that we do not take seriously the consequences of our deliberate sinning. God will not be mocked (Gal 6:7- Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.).

Lastly, be careful if you want to go legal with God!
Overly grace preachers love to harp on standing, and legal status, and implying to their followers that right standing is all that matters.  That is a dangerous position to take with God.  Yes, we are a child of God on conversion, but Scripture also have it said about who is truly a child of God – 1 John 3:10 – “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother (NKJV).”

Can you be a believer who practices NOT, His righteousness?  Can God NOT punish you now, if you are so, if He so chooses?  My friends, guard your heart; may it be found by God to be ever so sincere and humble.  Let NOT deceit enters it; be honest when it fails (sin), repent, confess, and seek God’s forgiveness; in other words, be broken and contrite of heart.  Only in this way, we get to be assured of NOT be despised by God (Ps 51:17b).

Anthony Chia, high.expressions

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