February 24, 2019
When Saints Act Like Sinners
Pastor Jeff Struecker
Have any of you ever been rock climbing? Would consider yourself an expert rock climber? If you want to know what the difference is between somebody who’s recreationally climbing and somebody who’s an expert rock climber, I could tell you really easily. In fact, I’ll just show you. Here is the difference between an expert and somebody who’s just a recreational rock climber. This mountain that you see on the screens is El Capitan. It is a three thousand foot, almost smooth granite surface. It’s at the entrance to what I consider to be the most beautiful spot in God’s creation. This is the Yosemite Valley in California. When you get good enough, then maybe you’ll attempt El Capitan. Do you know that people from all over the world will travel to California to go try to climb this mountain? At the peak of the climbing season, there will be somewhere between fifty and seventy-five people a day attempting to climb it. This is one of the most challenging mountains in the world for a rock climber.
Two guys have been on this mountain together almost two hundred times. Jason Wells, who is a world record speed climber, has personally climbed El Capitan one hundred and seven times. Tim Klein has climbed this mountain sixty-five times. June 2nd of last year, Jason Wells and Tim Klein were climbing the mountain together. They were climbing a route called Free Blast. While they were on that route, some people on the valley floor heard a scream. Then they watched two of the most expert climbers in the world fall more than a thousand feet to their death. Both Tim and Jason were married and had children. They left their wives and their children behind. There was an investigation that was inclusive. Nobody really knows what happened to these two on June 2nd of last year while they were on El Capitan. Most of the climbing world thinks it must have been an equipment failure because there’s no way out of all of the people in the world that one of these two (let alone both of these two) could make a mistake on that mountain and fall to their deaths.
Their deaths sent shock waves through the climbing community because everyone in the world realized, if this can happen to Wells and Klein, this can happen to me, too. You see, when you’ve been climbing for a long time, you can get really good, and maybe you can forget just how dangerous this is. Maybe you can forget that one small mistake can kill you. The rest of the climbing world got a wakeup call last June when Tim Klein and Jason Wells fell to their deaths while trying to climb El Capitan.
I’m using this story today to set up what we’re going to read about in the book of Acts. Today you’re going to hear this tragic story about two people from Acts chapter five. What I want you to understand is, sometimes we can start to play fast and loose. We can start to play some games when it comes to faith. We can start to act like what we’re doing is no big deal. It’s a “little white lie”. It’s an “innocent little sin” that didn’t hurt anybody. We can start to rationalize, or at least start to dismiss, what we’re doing as no big deal. What we’re going to hear from the Bible today is, every sin is a really, really big deal.
Leading up to today, the book of Acts has been kind of a drama of sorts. Today it becomes a tragedy because today you see two people who made a simple mistake, and it literally killed them. Here’s what I want you to hear, if you hear nothing else from me today. When we talk about faith, the faith that we’re describing at Calvary Baptist Church is life changing. If your faith didn’t change your habits or your behaviors, it probably also didn’t change your heart. -because the kind of faith that Jesus is describing, the kind of faith that the Bible talks to us about is life changing. It comes from a changed heart.
So, I want you to hear something from me today. I’m going to preach for something today, and I’m going to preach against something today. I want you to pay close attention to what I say next, because I am going to say to you that holy habits come from a holy heart. It doesn’t work the other way around. Since your heart has been made holy, your lifestyle, your behaviors should have become holy. But I want you to hear this very clearly. Don’t miss what I’m going to say next because if you don’t hear me, you could really get confused. Here’s that I’m preaching against today: There is a false gospel, a false doctrine, that some churches teach, and that Gospel to is, if you will walk an aisle, check a block on a piece of paper, or pray this prayer, then you got saved, and you can walk away and live the exact same way for the rest of your life.
We ask people every week around here to check a block or to pray a prayer. I don’t ever want you to believe that that prayer alone changes you or that prayer alone saves you. No, it must be a radical new heart transplant if your life is going to be changed. Today, I want us to take a look seriously at what the Bible says about holy habits that come from a holy heart and what happens when saints start to live like sinners.
I. Be consistent with your message
Here’s the first thing that I’d like for you to hear from me. If you’re going to have holy habits that come from a holy heart and if you’re going to be consistent with your beliefs, then you have to day in and day out, consistently live what you believe. Your behavior and your message, your message and the methods should line up. This is the word consistency that we’re talking about for the next few moments. But, can we use another word? If you were to say this a different way, it would basically be saying, “don’t be a hypocrite,” because that’s what you’re going to hear from Acts chapter five.
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property. 2 However, he kept back part of the proceeds with his wife’s knowledge, and brought a portion of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
If you’re in the habit of writing in your Bible, go ahead and circle the word “but” at the start of Acts chapter five. Those of you who have been in church for a while know that verse numbers and the chapter numbers that we have in the Bible weren’t written in the original manuscript. Those came hundreds, sometimes more than a thousand, years later. So, what you’re reading in verse one of chapter five comes directly on the heels of chapter four. If you don’t remember this, here’s what chapter four ended with. There was a guy by the name of Joseph who owned a piece of property. He sold that piece of property and gave one hundred percent of the proceeds to the church. He was such an awesome believer. He blessed the church so much that they changed Joseph’s name, and we call him Barnabas, son of encouragement. The Bible is using that story about Barnabas and comparing and contrasting for us today with what we’re reading about of an Ananias and Sapphira. The same thing happens, but different people with very different results.
Let’s talk about Ananias and Sapphira for just a second because this is a Greek couple (which means they’re not Jewish), and they are probably new to the faith. Maybe they heard the wind when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles during Pentecost. Maybe they saw the man who was crippled get healed. They have become relatively new Christians. So, they decide to go out and to sell a piece of property too. But they handled the money very differently than Barnabas did.
Ananias’s Greek name means, God is merciful. Sapphira literally means beautiful. I think this is the super expensive makeup and perfume store called the Sephora. I think they probably just misspelled her name, and that’s where it comes from. If not, then that name for that store must mean super expensive stuff that can’t possibly be worth this much money. How can a thing like this be worth one hundred dollars? What’s in that vial? Diamond juice? Where did that come from? Sapphira is a beautiful woman, and Ananias is a relatively new Christian.
They’ve sold a piece of property. They decided, though, instead of giving one hundred percent of the money (which, by the way, is not a crime), they were going to give a little bit or maybe a whole lot. Let’s give them the benefit of doubt. Maybe they gave ninety-five percent, but they kept five percent for themselves. The Bible word that you have today is actually, they embezzled from the church. They tried to embezzle from God, which is basically like saying, “Hey, I gave one hundred dollars last year to Calvary Baptist Church. Instead of writing one hundred dollars on my 2018 contribution statement, will you write one hundred thousand dollars? -because I need the tax deduction.” Do you know what happens to us if we write one hundred thousand dollars on that statement? We go to jail for that, and you would go to jail for that. That’s what Ananias and Sapphira are doing right now. They’re playing games with God’s church. They’re playing games with God’s people. The Bible makes it very clear that they both know exactly what they’re doing, and they’re doing this on purpose.
I was thinking today about living a consistent life. I share my faith a lot. Sometimes when I’m sharing my faith, I will talk to people about Billy Graham. I have never, ever had somebody argue with me about the sincerity of Billy Graham’s faith. I’ve had people tell me that they don’t agree, or they don’t believe what Billy Graham believes, but I’ve never had anyone tell me they don’t believe Billy Graham believed what he believed. In other words, it’s not the size of the crowds that really made Billy Graham’s name a household name. It’s the strength of his convictions that he lived day in and day out in front of the entire world that caused everybody to say, “That man really believes what he preaches; there’s no question about it. -because you can see it in the way that he lives his life.
Outside of the church they have a word for people like us inside the church who tell others to do one thing but don’t do it ourselves. -or worse, tell people not to do something, and then we turn right around and do it. You know what that word is? It’s hypocrite. People call us hypocrites, and they should call us hypocrites when we say one thing but show other people something totally different. In my opinion, this is the single greatest problem that is preventing the Gospel from changing our community and changing the world. It’s the lifestyle that we Christians live. We don’t always follow or live out what we claim to believe. This message today from Acts chapter five is showing the real seriousness of sin.
II. Be deadly serious about your holiness
Take this deadly seriously. These are the strongest words that the English language can use. I’m not just using these words because they’re the strongest in our English language. This is quite literally what the Bible says to us today. God is deadly serious about our lifestyle, our holiness, and our purity. We should be deadly serious about it too, because look at what happens when Ananias and Sapphira try to cheat just a little bit from the church and God.
“Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the proceeds of the land? 4 Wasn’t it yours while you possessed it? And after it was sold, wasn’t it at your disposal? Why is it that you planned this thing in your heart? You have not lied to people but to God.” 5 When he heard these words, Ananias dropped dead, and a great fear came on all who heard. 6 The young men got up, wrapped his body, carried him out, and buried him.
The real crux of the issue is now not cheating or even how much Ananias gave. It’s actually that he lied. He tried to pass this lie off not only on the church, but also on God. Lying is still a sin. There is no time where a little white innocent lie is not a sin. What Peter says is that the Holy Spirit was working in Ananias and Sapphira’s hearts and then somehow Satan crept in and twisted their heart. It’s actually Satan that prompted Ananias to lie. Peter also says, “You in your heart chose to lie, Ananias.”
Now, I want you to think about it this way, because sometimes it’s so subtle, but it’s so easy for Satan to get in and start to do damage inside a relationship. How many of you have experienced this in your marriage? Now, I didn’t say that you married Satan. How many of you in your marriage have gone home from work and tried to do something nice for your husband? You were going to try to take care of something in the yard for him, and all of a sudden, he got super defensive. Now, five seconds later, we’re in this massive argument. Or guys, you were going to invite your wife out to dinner because you wanted to bless her and do something nice for her, but she took it personally and said, “You don’t like my cooking, and you’re calling me lazy.” Now all of a sudden, she’s angry at you. It was so subtle, but it quickly became an ugly argument. This is how Satan moves in and starts to attack even Christian relationships, and it’s dangerous.
The Bible says that when this happened, God immediately took Ananias’s life. You can imagine how terrified everybody else in the church is as young guys run up, grab his body, throw it in a body bag, and pull him out of the church. Peter doesn’t even stop preaching. Now, I want you to picture this in your mind for just a second, because they’re doing the Lord’s Supper. Ananias knows he’s got some sin in his heart, but he gets up flaunting himself and goes to take the Lord’s supper. Before he even gets the bread and the juice in his mouth, he falls over dead, and everyone in the room realizes something terrible just happened.
I’m going to ask you a question. This is not a trick question. Does God have the right to kill me instantly when I sin? Yes or no? God is absolutely morally justified in killing me the second that I sin. The Bible makes this clear for us, the wages of sin is death. Sometimes I think we can start to play games with temptation. We can start to act like it’s just a little sin. It’s no big deal because we didn’t get punished the last time, and we got away with it the time before that. So, I guess it’s no big deal. What God is reminding his church today in Acts chapter five is that no, this is still a really big deal. All sin, even the smallest most innocent little sin is still a really, really big deal to God. It should be a big deal to us too. My purity should be my priority. The purity of Jesus’s church should be really serious for you, too. It has to start with you before you can start looking at other folks. Be deadly serious about it, because God is.
III. Be passionate about Jesus’s reputation
Here’s where the story wraps us up for us today. You know what was really going on here? It’s not just that they embezzled. It’s not just that they lied. Ananias and Sapphira stole something that didn’t belong to them. They stole a little bit of Jesus’s glory. I want you to be passionate about Jesus’s reputation in your life, in this church, and in our community. I think what really happened here is Ananias and Sapphira started to flaunt the fact that, “Hey y’all, we sold a piece of property. See this big fat offering check that I’m getting ready to put in the offering plate? Here it is. I’m putting one hundred percent of the sale of this property in the offering plate. Look at what I’m doing.”
Ananias and Sapphira are drawing attention to themselves and by doing it, they’re taking attention away from Jesus, and they’re taking some of his glory. They’re stealing a little bit of his reputation. You want to know how serious God is about this? Read Joshua 24:19. God is deadly serious about his glory. I believe Peter is trying to give Sapphira, Ananias’s wife, one more chance to get this right, and she follows in her husband’s footsteps.
About three hours later, his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 “Tell me,” Peter asked her, “did you sell the land for this price?” “Yes,” she said, “for that price.” 9 Then Peter said to her, “Why did you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Instantly she dropped dead at his feet. When the young men came in, they found her dead, carried her out, and buried her beside her husband. 11 Then great fear came on the whole church and on all who heard these things.
Apparently, there’s a three-hour ladies’ Bible study that’s going on down the hall and Ananias’s wife, Sapphira, was in this Bible study. She didn’t know what just happened. I really believe Peter is giving her a second chance, a chance to get this right. Now we get a chance to find out if she really is a beautiful woman. Remember, a woman’s beauty is not on the outside; it’s on the inside. Is she really a beautiful woman? Well, let’s see. Peter says, “Hey, Sapphira, did you guys really sell this piece of property?” She replies, “Yep, sure did.” Peter says, “Did you guys really put one hundred percent of the sale in the offering plate?”
Now she has a choice to make. Listen carefully because some of you ladies have found yourself in this situation. Some of you guys perhaps have found yourself in it from time to time. Now she has to decide, am I going to honor God, or am I going to honor my husband? She decided to lie, “Yes, that’s how much we sold a piece of property for.” Instantly, she falls over dead. When the guys who were out burying her husband walked back in, she’s lying on the floor, and they pull her out of the room and bury her, too.
I don’t want to dismiss this. I don’t want you to feel like this is no big deal around here, because our church hurts for the women or some of you guys who find yourself married to a person who doesn’t care one thing about Jesus, and you’re stuck in the middle of this rock and a hard place. Now you’re in the middle of this tug of war, and you’re the rope because you’re married to a man who doesn’t give a flying rip about Jesus. Or maybe he deserted you. Or maybe he’s divorced you. Or maybe he’s dead, and you’re trying to figure out how to carry on and to keep the family together after he’s long gone. There are some guys in our church right now whose wives want nothing to do with Christ. The challenge is, if I honor my husband, which I know I’m supposed to do, it dishonors God. I’m going to give you the answers to the test, Ladies. Honor Jesus every time, even if it costs you your marriage. This is why we have a LifeGroup for women who are just by themselves because their husband divorced them, or he’s dead, or he’s deployed, or he just doesn’t care. They’re meeting together weekly and trying to support each other and love on each other. Sapphira had a chance to get it right, and she blew it too.
I’ve taught this to soldiers in the Army before, and the question that they will inevitably ask is, where are Ananias and Sapphira now? Are they in heaven, Jeff? Or, are they in hell? The problem with that question is it’s really hard to answer, because maybe their heart really did get surrendered to Jesus. Maybe he really was their Savior. Maybe they really were born again. Then Satan came in and tempted them. They gave in to a sin, and God just killed them dead as a consequence of their sin. If that’s the case, then there’s no question they’re in heaven right now. But maybe they just checked a block. Maybe they just walked an aisle when they were a little girl or a little boy. Maybe they just prayed a prayer and then have every day since then lived like they have always lived. In which case, there’s no question they’re in hell right now. I can’t possibly know that. You don’t know that, but my guess is, you know people exactly like Ananias and Sapphira.
I heard Adrian Rogers, the famous pastor from Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, tell a story about two friends who grew up together and were metal workers. They got a job using steel rivets to build skyscrapers. Do you remember back one hundred years ago when we used to make skyscrapers with these giant I-beams? Do you remember that picture of these guys sitting down on this metal I-beam hundreds of feet above the earth, eating their lunch out of a lunch box while they’re working on these steel skyscrapers? Well, these two guys worked together, and they were perfectly synchronized with one another. One of them would heat up metal rivets over a fire and would throw it to his buddy. He would catch the rivets, put it in the steel I-beams, and nail them into place. When the steel rivets cool, then the I-beams would seal together. They’d been doing this for years together. They’re families hung out with one another.
One of those guys had an affair with his buddy’s wife.
She couldn’t take it; she was consumed with the guilt and the shame. So, she told her husband what happened, but his buddy would never own up to it. His buddy would never volunteer the information. His buddy would never admit it. So, this guy got angry, and it went from anger to bitterness and bitterness went to unforgiveness. Then unforgiveness went to hatching a plan to kill him. Here’s what he did. He kept heating up those metal rivets and kept throwing them to his buddy. Every day that they went to work after learning about this affair, he would throw the rivet just at a little fraction of an inch farther today then he did yesterday. It was no big deal because his buddy was really good at what he did, and he would just reach out there a little bit farther, grab it, put it in the I-beam, and hammer it into place. One day he threw the rivet so far away that he knew his buddy could never catch it. Sure enough, his buddy reached all the way out, lost his footing, and fell hundreds of feet to his death.
The company investigated this, but of course the investigation said there couldn’t possibly be any foul play because this guy simply lost his footing. This guy just simply forgot how high up in the air he was and he fell to his death. Adrian Rogers says this: This story is really not about bitterness. It’s actually about what sin does to you. You see, it takes you a little bit further today and a little bit further tomorrow and then a little bit further the day after that. One day you end up with these cataclysmic circumstances where you’re asking yourself, “How did this happen? How could I possibly have made such a mistake?”
I’m going to remind us because I feel like I need to say this. Some of you ladies are hiding that purchase from your husband because you don’t want him to know about it. You’re lying to him about it and trying to act like it’s no big deal. Some of you guys are looking at stuff on your phone or on your computer that you don’t want your wife to know about. You’re lying to her about it and acting like it’s no big deal. Some of you are gossiping, and you’re claiming that it’s a prayer request. It may even be about something that’s going on in this church, and you’re acting like it’s no big deal, but it really is. If you’re not sure what gossip is, let me help you out here. It’s when you start to talk about other people in the church without talking to them face to face. You’re acting like it’s no big deal and it is because God is deadly serious about sin. I will say it again. Romans chapter three cannot be mistaken. The wages of sin is death. Somebody is going to die for this innocent little sin. Either you are going to pay the price for it, or God steps in and takes the penalty for your sin on his behalf and pays for it for you by the sentence of death to his son, Jesus.
• I need Jesus to forgive my sins. Today, I surrender to him for the first time.
– I have some areas of holiness to work on this week.
+ I will live differently than my friends or neighbors this week.
- Do Christians still struggle with temptation?
- Is it possible to live a morally perfect life after becoming a Christian? Explain your answer.
- If God can immediately kill someone who commits a sin, why doesn’t he do this every time someone sins? (Use the Bible to back up your answer.)
- How would you advise someone whose spouse is asking him or her to join in something that they believe is a sin?
- Read Hebrews 10:26-31:
a. Does this passage teach that it is impossible to sin after becoming a Christian?
b. Does it teach that you lose your salvation if you sin again in the future?
c. Why is God so serious about the holiness of his people?
- Pray for the Holy Spirit to help us live pure this week.