Judgment and Grace Simultaneously
Peter 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.”
At 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. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
Acts 5:9-11 (NIV)
Recently, I was asked an excellent question. In regard to Acts 5:1-11 and the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira: “Why did God judge Ananias and Sapphira so completely when the New Testament period is supposed to be an age of grace?” “Is not judgment an Old Testament characteristic of God?”
First, we need to avoid dividing the various and seemingly contradictorily attributes of God between the Old and New Testaments. The Marcion heresy of the early church taught that the Old Testament God was a god of judgment and wrath, but in the New Testament, Jesus is a god of grace and love. Today, we often fall into the same post-modern trap in our thinking. Some teachers contrast the mean and angry god of the Old Testament with Jesus meek and mild–the friend of all–in the New Testament. Anglican pastor, John Stott notes:
God is not at odds with himself, however much it may appear to us that he is. He is ‘the God of peace’, of inner tranquility not turmoil. True, we find it difficult to hold in our minds simultaneously the images of God as the Judge who must punish evil-doers and of the Lover who must find a way to forgive them. Yet he is both, and at the same time.
John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1986), 131.
The Holy Trinity is the same God in both testaments: a God of love, grace, mercy, judgment, and wrath. Read Jesus’ statements in Mark 13, Matt 23, and the Rev. 1. He is the God of justice, holiness, and righteousness in the New Testament as well as the Old. I am currently reading The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer. Tozer comments that God’s attributes are the same in both the Old and New Testaments.
We should banish from our minds forever the common but erroneous notion that justice and judgment characterize the God of Israel, while mercy and grace belong to the Lord of the Church. Actually there is in principle no difference between the Old Testament and the New.
In the New Testament Scriptures there is a fuller development of redemptive truth, but one God speaks in both dispensations, and what He speaks agrees with what He is. Wherever and whenever God appears to men, He acts like Himself. Whether in the Garden of Eden or the Garden of Gethsemane, God is merciful as well as just. He has always dealt in mercy with mankind and will always deal in justice when His mercy is despised.
Thus He did in antediluvian times; thus when Christ walked among men; thus He is doing today and will continue always to do for no other reason than that He is God.
A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1961), 97.
New Testament scholar, Ben Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles, comments about Acts 5, “Luke’s [the author of Acts] view is that the God of the Hebrew Scriptures is the same God Jesus and the disciples served, and so one should expect continuity of character and action.”
Second, we often misinterpret John 1:17, “For the law was through Moses: grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” We commonly think that the verse is pitting grace against law,” The Law is judgment and it was in the Old Testament, it was bad, and needs to be discarded, because in Jesus we now have grace.”
However, the Apostle John was not contrasting grace against law. John believes that the law is good: the Law (Torah) is the promises of God, and Jesus is the fulfillment of those promises. Grace and truth are covenant terms which designate God’s loyalty and faithfulness. John declares that in Jesus, the Lord is fulfilling his promises and covenant commitment found in the Law (Torah).
Third, Ananias and Sapphira’s sin was very grave. Giving was voluntary in the early Church. However, Ananias and Sapphira lied about giving all the proceeds for the sale of their property.They “kept back” (v.2) which in the Greek implies the utmost dishonesty and secrecy. Not only were they lying with conspiratorial intent, but that lying was Satanically inspired (v.3). Satan was using their flesh to corrupt and divide an early church which was just beginning its witness to the world. God’s judgment of their sin had be swift or the early church would lose its witness and unity.
Again, New Testament scholar, Ben Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles, states, “In Luke’s view this couple is guilty of secrecy, collusion, and attempting to lie to the Holy Spirit. What is at stake here is the koinonia of the community which the Spirit indwelt. One act of secrecy and selfishness violates the character of openness and honesty which characterized the earliest community of Jesus’ followers.”
Lesson to today’s church: The God of the New Testament is still concerned about the holiness of his people.