Reconciling the Story of Ananias and Sapphira with the New Covenant of Grace

August 27th, 2010 § 1


Recently I had an exchange with a believer about Ananias and Sapphira. It was on my heart to share it with you guys. I hope it shines new light on the subject and blesses you guys! You’ll find the exchange below:

Stephen: Heard some talk lately about God’s “judgment” in various forms and contexts. By basic response, without getting too deep, is that there’s no way God can judge us in the sense of punishment for sins and still keep His word under the new covenant. How can he punish us for sins He is not holding against us? That’s inconsistent. Crap happens in life and we do reap the consequences of our own failures and poor decisions, but that has nothing to with divine judgment.

Anyway, my question is, “How do we reconcile what happened to Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 with new covenant theology?”

Any thoughts??

James: Good question Stephen. I believe you are correct in saying that God will not judge believers in Jesus for their sins because He judged them already when He condemned sin in the flesh when Jesus died in our place.

What makes you think that Ananias and Sapphira were believers in Jesus and therefore under the New Covenant?

I’m driving. Have more to say later. Read the Scripture again and see what is there to discover.

James Barron

Stephen: Well, after looking again, it doesn’t say so definitively. I assumed that was the case because at the end of chapter 4 it was talking about believers selling their possessions and bringing offerings to the apostles. But reading it and ignoring the chapter delineations the scripture is definitely trying to separate Ananias and Sapphira from that group. I don want to read too much into it, but it’s almost like they are trying to buy their way into the fellowship…anyway, never thought about it from that angle.

James: Stephen, I think you are reading it exactly correct. Preachers for years have told us that Ananias and Sapphira were believers because they wanted to see it that way and they wanted their hearers to understand it that way. Fear of judgment on the believer is one of the false teachings out there that many use to keep the saints walking in obedience. It doesn’t work, but they try it any way. But the New Covenant knows nothing of a fear of judgment on the believer. The very “idea” is a misnomer. As John wrote, “We have confidence in the day of judgment and we have no fear for as Jesus is so are we in this world.”

In fact, the most glaring fact found in Chapter 5 of the Book of Acts that proves Ananias and Sapphira were not believers is the very event of judgment itself that fell on these two people. It should be our first reaction to say that they must have not been believers, but because we are not confident in the bold assertion of God Himself that “He will be merciful to all our iniquities and remember our sin no more” in this New Covenant because of the death of His Son, Jesus, we wonder about this scene.

The chapter does not state clearly that Ananias and Sapphira were believers, nor does it say that they were unbelievers. The reader must read the context with an understanding that judgment simply cannot fall on a believer, not a true believer, otherwise we don’t have a New Covenant and all the promises of God relative to the work of His Son are meaningless. So what clues can we find in the passage that indicate they were not believers. To begin with, every time Luke refers to a believer in the book of Acts he prefaces it by saying, “a certain disciple named . . .” But in the case of Ananias and Sapphira Luke writes, “A man named Annanias, with his wife Sapphira . . .” Because of this one statement one could say Luke is clearly saying that they were not believers. Also, Peter refers to Ananias as one in whom “Satan has filled his heart.” The same phrase used of Judas and certainly not a phrase you can use when referring to any believer for the believer has a new heart and is filled with the Holy Spirit. As Peter says in the meeting in Jerusalem, recorded by Luke in chapter 15 of Acts, God “cleanses the heart” of all who believe on Jesus. Another clue is the reference to “the rest of the group” that Ananias and Sapphira came out of being in fear. The “rest of that group” that Ananias and Sapphira came out of “dared not try” the same thing. Ananias and Sapphira saw a good thing and tried to buy themselves a place among the believers.

Also, Luke writes that all the more people were constantly being added to the church. People were flocking to the church. True believers. There was no fear that they would suffer the same fate as Ananias and Sapphira if they committed some sin, but rather they had heard the joyful news that all their sins were placed on the Christ and through Him they could receive the complete forgiveness of all sin so that sin would no longer even be imputed to them ever again. And they also understood that there was a God in heaven, a Heavenly Father, who was going to watch over His sheep and protect His sheep from those who would try to enter in to the flock by another door, other than through faith in Jesus. This kind of drastic action is not something God does to unbelievers on a regular basis because He has provided forgiveness for all people and He is constantly reaching out to the unbeliever in great patience and mercy, but at the inception of the tiny church He was zealous to make clear that the only currency He recognizes in His kingdom is the currency of faith, not money.

The only fact in the entire passage that may indicate that Ananias and Sapphira were believers is the fact that they were trying to join the church. That’s it. That’s the only fact that might lead someone to see them as believers. All the other facts and clues in the passage clearly argue that they are unbelievers without doubt. Think of all the people in our society that join churches across the world every day for whatever reason (social, business, moral, etc.) and they are no more a true believer than, as it has been said, being in a garage makes you a car. Hopefully those people will become believers as they hear the good news but to say that Ananias and Sapphira were believers based on this one fact alone is not only intellectually dishonest but a sloppy reading of the text. It is sad to me to think of the millions of believers through the centuries that have been put in fear of judgment because of preachers who preached this passage wrongly. With out realizing it, they were doing the work of Satan himself. For as Paul said, think it not strange that Satan himself is able to make himself appear as an angel of light and his ministers as ministers of righteousness.

I’m so glad we can with all confidence proclaim the good news to all that whosoever believes on Jesus shall receive the forgiveness of all sin, past, present and future, and be given the gift of the Holy Spirit, joining them to God Himself through Christ. As Jesus said so clearly, “He who believes on Me shall not come into judgment but has already passed from death and into life!”

Love you,

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