“Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.” (Acts 5:4, AV)
I believe it would be incorrect to study the Book of Acts and gloss over one of the more difficult passages in it. In Acts 5, we find the record of a husband-and-wife team that died because they lied. While the passage does not directly say that God brought about the death of these two, the context clearly associates their lie “to God” with their death. The passage presents us with some difficulties. First, it seems harsh that this judgment would come upon these two for something we would see as minor as lying. Second, we wonder if we can expect this same type of cause and effect today.
Why was this situation so problematic? Well, Ananias and Sapphira’s sin was one of a heart steeped in pride. Other believers had sold their property, giving the full proceeds to the church. Yet, unlike other believers, Ananias and Sapphira chose to hold back some of the proceeds for themselves. Holding back some of the proceeds, in itself, was not the big problem. Peter indicates that the proceeds of the sale belonged to them. No, their big problem was putting on the pretense of having sold the property, giving all to the church when they had not. They seemingly did this to elevate themselves in the sight of the Apostles and the church body. I suppose this would be like a person giving testimony that he tithed on all his income but only gave a percent or two.
Moreover, their sin had greater implications than a mere display of pride. While their deception seemed to be to the church, Peter indicates they lied to God and not men. Since the church is the Body of Christ and Christ is God, they were working to deceive not only the people, but also the Lord. This means that our interaction with the church body is a direct interaction with our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Their sin was more serious than one of mere pride since it was a direct affront to God. Sinning against the body of Christ is a very serious issue.
The question that remains is this. Do people die when they sin against the body of Christ today? We, in general would say that today we are under grace and therefore this type of incident would not result in physical death. However, since the early church was also under grace it is difficult to arrive at a universal conclusion. We can conclude that believers are eternally secure in their salvation (Romans 8). However, we cannot conclude or prove that people do not physically die for certain sins. For example, Paul writes that many in the church at Corinth were sick and dying due to their abuses in partaking of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:27-30). John speaks of a sin that leads to death (1 John 5:17), though he does not tell us what it is. Yet, I do not think that the Lord wants us to adjust our actions based upon some morbid fear of death. We, in Christ, are to operate within the body under the direction of the Spirit of God and, in this way glorify God.
What is the lesson for us? Be honest! In particular, consider your actions in the body of Christ. Always engage the church, which is the people who collectively are the body of Christ, with the highest level of integrity. Do not try to deceive the church. Be honest. Be genuine. Be faithful. Keep your word. Remember that integrity with the church, the body of Christ, is integrity with God.