Ananias and Sapphira: Saved or Lost?
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 7:37pm
HERE’S AN INTERESTING QUESTION: “We are working through the book of Acts in our Sunday School class, and last week discussed Ananias and Sapphira. The question which hung a few of us was: ‘Did they go to heaven when they were struck dead?’ Most of us felt, assuming they were born again believers, they did. If all it took to banish a born again believer to Hell was sinning at the moment of death, Grace would seem less ‘graceful.’”
MY REPLY: I vote with the majority here. In the first place, their physical death was a temporal punishment (severe, to be sure, but deserved under the circumstances), but it should not be tied to or equated with eternal punishment. Second, contrary to a widespread fallacy, an individual sin (except for the sin of unbelief) does not necessarily separate us from the grace of God. It is possible to fall from grace, but this is a drastic step and should not be equated with individual sins. We all sin despite our earnest desire not to do so (see Romans 7:14-25); but this affects our efforts toward SANCTIFICATION, not our secure state of JUSTIFICATION. See chapter 4, “Grace as a Double Cure,” in my recent book on grace, “Set Free! What the Bible Says About Grace” (College Press). (Also in this book, see pp. 303ff. on falling from grace.)
Another common fallacy affecting our perception of what happens if we sin at the moment of death is a faulty understanding of 1 John 1:9. This is usually understood as implying that every sin separates us from grace and puts us into a state of lostness; we stay in that lost state until we repent and confess that specific sin and pray for its forgiveness. But if we die after sinning and before confessing, we have been taught to assume we will go to hell. But this is not what 1 John 1:9 means. Rather, John is saying that a continuing confession of the fact that we ARE SINNERS (i.e., a repentant heart) is part of what keeps us within the grace of God. See again my book, “Set Free!”, pp. 314-316, for a fuller explanation of why this is the correct understanding of this verse.
This gives us a whole new perspective on suicide, also.