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The Church Is to Reflect God's Holiness

by Gil Rugh

From the beginning of the Church, God emphasized that believers were to reflect His holiness. Not long after the Church began (see Acts 2) an event occurred that dramatically emphasized the importance of holiness among God’s people.

Discipline by Death of Ananias and Sapphira

The early church in Jerusalem was characterized by unity. The end of Acts 4 says that the believers were sharing everything they had and giving generously to those who were in need. Barnabas, one of the Jewish believers in Jerusalem, sold a piece of land he owned and gave the money to the Church (see Acts 4:36, 37). Two other church members, Ananias and Sapphira, saw the respect and honor given to Barnabas for his act of sacrifice. Desiring to receive the same respect and honor for themselves, Ananias and Sapphira also sold some property they owned. However, they held back some of the money for themselves and pretended that they had given all the proceeds from the land to the Church.

Peter addressed Ananias, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit” (5:3). Peter got right to the point, “You have not lied to men but to God” (v. 4). Immediately Ananias fell dead at the feet of Peter. The money belonged to Ananias, and he had the right to keep some of it. He sinned when he lied and said that he had given all of the money when he hadn’t. A short time later, his wife came in and told the same story her husband had told. Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test?” (v. 9). Note that Peter did not say they lied to or sinned against him or the Church. He said they lied to God and put the Spirit of the Lord to the test. Immediately Sapphira dropped dead like her husband.

God’s declaration was clear. “You shall be holy for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16). God required and still requires that His Church manifest the holiness of His character.

“Great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things” (Acts 5:11). The immediate discipline by death of Ananias and Sapphira provided a dramatic incident, which emphasized the importance of holiness at the very beginning of the Church’s life.

“None of the rest dared to associate with them” (v. 13). Not only were believers in awe of what had happened, but word spread throughout the city. Unbelievers said, “We’re not going there!” However, that didn’t keep the Church from growing. “And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number” (v. 14).

Notice the distinction. It was not God’s intention to fill the Church with unregenerate people who had no fear of Him or concern for His holiness. The fact that some people did not want to associate with His Church did not keep God from doing His work. When the Holy Spirit does a work in the heart, it is transformed, and that person will desire to worship God in the beauty of His holiness.