Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Questioning the Old Testament: Ananias and Sapphia, Life after Death, and Judgment on the Sins of Christians

I wrote a previous post that followed up on a Deeper event at Life Bible Fellowship Church. The event was about the connection between the Old Testament and the New Testament. You can listen to it in its entirety through our podcast, either through iTunes or on our website. The event ended with a Question/Answer time, and I am blogging about some of the questions that we didn't get to. I hit the biggest (and most common) question in the previous post. In this post, I will hit three others.

Assuming that Ananias and Sapphira were believers, did they lost their salvation when they were judged?
In order to demonstrate the continuity between the OT and NT, I mentioned that judgments by God show up in the NT also. Ananias and Sapphira (in Acts 5) are a prime example of this. In the story, Ananias and Sapphira sell their property and give a portion of the price to the church. There was nothing wrong with them only giving a portion of what they received. The problem was that they deceptively said that they were giving the whole price. They were bringing deceit into Jesus' church, and pumping themselves up falsely.
The Holy Spirit allows Peter to discern their deceit, and both Ananias and Sapphira are struck dead instantly.
So, the question is whether or not they "lost their salvation." This begs the bigger question about whether or not a person can lose their salvation.
We all know people who at one time appeared to be Christians. Then, later on in life they live in such a way that makes us wonder if they are truly Christians. Others live in open defiance of God and don't even claim to be Christians any more. What do you conclude about these people? There are three basic options:
1. They were Christians at one point, and now they are not Christians. They "lost" their salvation.
2. They were Christians and they are still Christians. Once you believe in Jesus, nothing can undo that, even if you openly deny believing in Jesus.
3. They appeared to be Christians, but now they have revealed that they are not Christians.
Without making this too long, I believe that the third option is the most biblical. Speaking of "losing" your salvation is a strange concept. We come to God only by his grace. We receive salvation as a gift. It seems odd that, since we did nothing in order to gain our salvation, we could do something that would allow us to lose it. At the same time, it is thoroughly unbiblical to call someone a Christian when they themselves are not even claiming to be a Christian.
So, that said, back to Ananias and Sapphira. In this case, we have to plead ignorance to some extent. The story is not about the nature of salvation. It is about the purity of the church and the seriousness of sin within the church. Ananias and Sapphira may have been true believers who sinned and ended their lives badly. They would not be the first. One of the best kings in the OT (Uzziah) was judged by God and struck with leprosy late in life. Other believers throughout history have made bad decisions that lead to their death. This does not mean that they were sent to hell.
When we talk about Ananias and Sapphira, we might be tempted to say, "Their sin at the end of their life did not undercut their godly lives before then." This is the wrong way to think about the issue. The better statement would be, "Jesus died for the sins of his people. That covers the sins in the past, the sins in the present, and the sins in the future. If you die as a result of a sin that you commit, that sin is not somehow outside of the covering sacrifice of Jesus."

Why does the Old Testament say so little about the afterlife?
The New Testament gives us a good amount of information about what we can anticipate after death. Believers anticipate being "with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8) in a place that is "much better by far" (Philippians 1:23). In Revelation we see scenes of believers in the presence of God, worshiping and enjoying rest and comfort. And the final Christian hope is that our bodies will be raised, just as Jesus' body was raised. We will be given new, redeemed bodies and we will live on a new, redeemed earth in the presence of God forever.
The Old Testament is a bit more fuzzy on its own. In fact, in Jesus' day the Jews were divided. The conservatives, the Pharisees, believed that there would be a final resurrection. The liberals, the Sadducees, believed that there was no afterlife. This debate comes to the forefront in at least two passages (Matthew 22: 23-33 and Acts 23:6-10).
Jesus clearly affirms that there is life after death. There is a resurrection to come. While it doesn't seem quite fair to say that the OT is clear on this, there are hints about it. Job 19:27, Isaiah 26:19, and Daniel 12:2 are some of the most prominent.
So, why was it not more clearly laid out? Again, we have to plead a bit of ignorance. There have been many things that were not revealed to the patriarchs. Then there were many things that were not revealed to the Israelites. Then there were many things that were not revealed to the prophets. Then there were many things that were not revealed to the apostles. There are many things that are not revealed to us. God has always revealed himself, but he has done so gradually. He knows what we need to know in order to trust him.
As a quick note, Jesus seemed to think that the Jews should have known that there was a resurrection. He says that the Sadducees know neither the Scripture nor the power of God when they deny the resurrection. We may think that the OT is fuzzy on this, but Jesus thought it was clear enough for people to understand.

As Christians we still sin. What judgment is there for the sins of Christians?
As part of the Deeper event, I talked about the fact that people in the Old Testament were not saved from their sins by obeying the law. They were not forgiven through the sacrifices. They were saved, ultimately, through faith in God. And each believer (OT or NT) only receives forgiveness from sins through the sacrifice of Jesus. So, all the sins of OT believers were judged when Jesus died for them.
But what about us? For those of us living on the other side of the cross, the case is the same. Our sins, past and present and future, are all forgiven because Jesus died for them on the cross. This does not simply mean that Jesus was judged for the sins that we committed as non-Christians. He also died for the sins that we would (and will) commit as Christians.
This is the glory of the cross. It revealed God's grace and his justice. When Jesus returns there will be a final judgment. Every person's sin demands judgment. We will either be judged for our own sins, or our sins will be judged at the cross. All believers, before Christ or after Christ, are free from the penalty of our sins because Jesus was judged for all of them!

I thought I would include one more somewhat-mystifying question:
Do you mean that we should not put criminals in prison or have our soldiers fight against evil?
This question is odd to me. I am not sure where it came from. My best guess is that this comes as a result of the teaching that God is the ultimate judge. He promises to avenge, so that we don't have to. The context of this point was to show that it is not bad news that God judges sin. It is good news. We don't have to take revenge because God is the judge.
This does not mean that we don't still have laws, punishments, and order in our society. This is an important distinction between the OT and the NT. In the OT, God's people were a nation. They had their own laws, borders, army, and legislative system. In the NT, God's people are the church. In some sense we have our own sphere and domain, but in another sense we live as citizens of our individual cities and states and countries. So then, the question is how we should conduct ourselves as citizens of God's kingdom, but also as citizens of the United States (or any other earthly nation).
Just a quick plug. We did a series called "American Christian or Christian American" at Life Bible Fellowship Church, and we covered this subject through the 10-week series. You can check it out in our sermon archives. The series took place in September-November of 2012.
In short, does God's promise to be the final judge mean that Christians should oppose prisons, war, the death penalty, etc.? The answer is "not necessarily." Christians should not always be in favor of war, nor should we always be in favor of the death penalty or other criminal punishments. God is a God of order. He is not opposed to people looking to set up order. A necessary component of order in a fallen world is punishments and even the instigation of death (through war or other means).
This is messy and we must take each case on its own. In the bigger picture, though, we should differentiate between a desire for order and justice and a desire for revenge and retaliation. As a Christian, I want criminals to be caught and punished. But I am free from agony if this doesn't happen. Why? Because God will judge. As a Christian, I want those who have wronged me to be held accountable and experience appropriate consequences. But I have been given the freedom to proceed in life if they never admit their wrongs and never suffer consequences. Why? Because God is just and he will take care of it.
Christians have a valuable role in society as lawmakers, police officers, soldiers, and judges. But we all proceed in our lives, seeking a semblance of order and justice, knowing that God is the ultimate judge and that this is a sobering and hope-giving reality.

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