The Danger of Living a Double Life

Acts 5:1-11      |     Sermon Resources         26 January 2020


We come this week to one of the most difficult to understand passages in the book of Acts.  Ananias and Sapphira, two members of the early church, sell a piece of property (v.1) and keep back for themselves part of the proceeds while claiming to have laid all of the proceeds at the apostles’ feet (v.2).  They have their sin exposed by the apostle Peter and end up dead as a result.  Some commentators have attempted to explain away this passage suggesting for instance that the couple died from the shock of their sin being suddenly uncovered.  But clearly Luke intends for us to see their deaths as coming from the hand of God himself.  Anyone who has held a “fluffy” view of the Holy Spirit thus far in Acts will certainly have to readjust their thinking after reading this passage.  Ananias and Sapphira serve as a warning, then and now, of the seriousness of sin and the holiness of the Holy Spirit.

And what exactly was their sin?  We might be tempted to believe it was greed.  While money was clearly involved, the bigger issue was their attempt to hide their greed.  In other words, the primary issue was not greed but deceit.   They hid their sin and attempted to project to the church a false image of wholesome living.

This is what we call double living and we are all guilty of this on some level.  It is the near universal “older brother” temptation (c.f. Luke 15)—the desire to appear holier than we actually are.  It is a particular danger for leaders in the church.  For instance, our elders and deacons take a vow that by the grace of God they will endeavor “to set a worthy example before the Church.”  I have made a similar vow myself.  But it’s far easier to settle for projecting an image of worthy living rather than humbly walking in actual faith and repentance.  The worthy example the church needs to see is not sinless perfection, but rather people who feel the weight of their sin and the glory of God’s grace, and are driven continually to go to the Lord for forgiveness and healing.

It’s this humble confession of sin and walking with the Lord that will build authentic, Christ-centered community in our church.  If we are truly in Christ, we are already knit together in the Lord.   But don’t you find that we experience that unity with others at our common points of brokenness.  This is because it’s in our brokenness that we most deeply experience the love and grace of our Savior.  It’s in our brokenness, the very thing we are tempted to hide, that we experience unity with others.

Sadly, for Ananias and Sapphira their brokenness was not a connection point but a wedge that drove them further and further into hypocrisy and isolation.  Double living.  As this is a danger for all of us, I want to help us to understand a little more deeply what double living is and why it’s so dangerous.


#1 The Soil of a Double Life

If you go to the desert, you wouldn’t expect to find a tulip but a cactus growing in the sandy soil.  Different soils nurture different plants.  What kind of soil nurtures double living?


-1- Pride.  The prodigal son (again c.f. Luke 15) didn’t live a double life.  Why not?  He had nothing to hide.  All of us at one time, at some level, lived as a prodigal son.  When you discovered grace, you came out of the darkness and into the light.  But a strange thing seems to happen to almost every former prodigal.  We shake off the sins of the younger son and begin to live as the older son.  We know we are saved by grace but after our conversion we are fooled into believing that what God wants from us is our righteousness.  And yet we still sin.  Continually.  Everyday.  It’s just easier to settle for projecting an image of righteousness rather than walking in faith and repentance.  We become unwilling to confess how badly we need his grace.

-2- Fear of Man.  This was certainly in play with Ananias and Sapphira.  Peter makes clear (v.3-4) that they had every right to keep their property or to sell it. They had every right to give part of their money, all of their money, or none of their money to the church.  We are told that earlier Joseph (aka Barnabas) had sold a field and gave all of the proceeds to the church.  This was a praiseworthy sacrifice.  Ananias and Sapphira wanted the praise without the sacrifice.  They settled for an appearance of generosity rather than the reality of generosity.  This is dangerous territory.  I have to believe that this was not the first time the couple had done something like this.  In all likelihood it started with something much smaller.  They found a subtle way to put their righteousness on display and minimize their sin in order to receive praise from others.

3- Shame.  We’ll see later that shame is a side effect of double living but it also makes for fertile soil.  Shame is that dirtiness we feel sometimes because of our sin and sometimes because of sin committed against us.  Shame keeps us in the dark.  Surely Ananias and Sapphira knew that what they were doing was wrong but even as their sin was coming unraveled, they still held to the lie.  Luke does not tell us whether or not Ananias had the chance to repent but we do know Sapphira did.  Peter asks her directly (v.8) about the proceeds from their sale.  In that moment she could have come clean.  But she did not.  We can’t see into her heart, but it would seem that pride, fear of man, and yes shame, that kept her living the lie.

-4- Passivity.  Passivity is the rich and fertile soil that double living loves.   Passivity leads us to the path of least resistance.  It will always be easier not to deal with our sin.  It will always be easier to pretend to be holy.  The longer we live with unconfessed sin and undealt with issues, the more difficult it will be to step into the light. Chronic passivity leaves us always running, always hiding, and never walking through the door of faith and repentance.  We are told that it was Ananias who sold the property (v.1) but that Sapphira had full knowledge of what was going on (v.2).  She could have stepped up.  But she did not.

-5- Lack of Accountability.   Call it accountability or transparency or whatever you want, but it does not seem that Ananias and Sapphira had it.  Actually, they were transparent with each other but clearly it wasn’t a helpful transparency.  Consider this.  One study of pastors who experienced a moral failure found that they had two things in common: none of them had real personal accountability and not one of them believed anything like this “would ever happen to me.”  We need open and honest relationships in our lives.


#2 The Shapes of a Double Life

We’ve considered the fertile soil in which double living thrives and now we consider what shapes double living takes.  What are those things that tend to make us hide?  For Ananias and Sapphira it was tied to finances – wanting to appear deeply generous rather than actually being generous.  But what about us?  Are we ever guilty of double living?  A low grade example of this is the frantic cleaning up we do of our homes before company comes over as if to say “No, our house looks nothing like yours – we live in a constant state of cleanliness and order!”

Let’s consider a few other shapes double living takes.

-1- Hiding our Addictions.  Any unconfessed sin exercises a measure power over us and we see this very clearly in addiction.  What some common addictions?  Let’s name a few: alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, opioids, prescription medications, gambling, food, shopping, video games, sex, pornography.

All of these are significant issues but none seems to be as prevalent as the issue of pornography.  Consider these statistics from John Freeman in his book Hide or Seek (p.8-9):

Pornography usage and online behavior is now a significant factor in two out of three divorces.

One survey said that as many as 50% of Christian men and 20% of Christian women are addicted to pornography.

More than 25 % of men admit to accessing porn at work, risking their careers and livelihood.

One out of three visitors to adult websites is a woman.

Romance novels increasingly contain porn in this $1.4 billion-a-year industry. Romance novels account for 55% of all popular mass-market fiction sold, and psychologist are increasingly concerned that romance novels are emotionally and sexually distorting the way women view relationships.

54% of pastors admit to viewing pornography at lest a few times in the previous twelve months: 18% admit to visiting explicit websites “between a couple of times a month and more than once a week.”

In Christianity Today Leadership Survey, almost 60% of pastors said pornography addiction is the most damaging issue in their church.

Among children between the ages of 8 and 16, 90% have viewed pornography on the Internet.

80% of 15 – to 17 -year-olds have viewed hard-core pornography multiple times.

The average age of first exposure to Internet porn is 11 years old.

In the U.S., mobile phones are now the preferred way to access pornography, making porn usage and addiction more likely because of its increased accessibility and anonymity.


2- Running From Our Current or Past Issues

Everyone seems to have unresolved issues in their life.  It’s the mistakes we’ve made, the sin we’ve fallen into, or maybe something else entirely.  The issue is we resist dealing with these issues. We run, we hide, we live a double life.

-3- Pretending We’re Perfect

Why is it that our anger can let loose in the privacy of our homes or even on the car ride to church but as soon as that car door is closed, we put a smile on our face and insist that “everything is fine, just fine”?  Why has it become a thing for people to maintain two social media accounts – one to project a carefully cultivated image for wider audiences to see and another account for our real friends (where yet another image is carefully cultivated)?  We are very good a projecting a false image to others.


#3 The Side Effects of a Double Life


-1- Self-deceit.  The real danger in double living is not that we fool others but that we end up fooling ourselves.  Ananias and Sapphira thought they had everyone fooled and in the process likely had fooled themselves.  They accepted the lie that they were truly a generous and sacrificial couple.  But Peter introduces a third party.  They have fooled others and they may have fooled themselves but he says you cannot fool the Holy Spirit (v.3).  Hebrews 4:13: And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

-2- Seared Conscience.  This is a graphic term that is part of our language, but have you ever thought about what it means?   It’s a cooking analogy.  You have a tender piece of steak and you throw it on the grill at a really high temperature to crisp up the outer layer of the meat.  This is good thing when it comes to cooking but a tragic thing when it comes to our conscience.  Our conscience is supposed to be soft and responsive to the work of the Holy Spirit and the truth of God’s Word.  But as we walk in darkness and ignore the prompting of the Holy Spirit, our conscience gets seared – our hearts slowly get hard.  And let’s be clear— this is not something that happens overnight.  How did Ananias and Sapphira get to where they were?  It seems unlikely that their decision to deceive the church was a one-time event.  They were very likely on that road of deceit and hypocrisy for a long time going and further and further with each act.

-3- Isolation.  Sin isolates.  It separates us from God and from others.  There are two basic choices we have when confronted with our sin.  We confess our sin and begin to experience his forgiveness and healing or we hide our sin and experience isolation.  One path leads to life and to true commune with God and others and the other leads to death and to loneliness.  Ananias and Sapphira experienced a temporary exaltation from their Christian community for their generosity but it was founded on a lie.  And they continued to live that lie until they died.

-4- Spiritual Death.  This hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira led ultimately to their own deaths.  Peter acknowledges the spiritual warfare that was taking place (why has Satan filled your heart [v.3]), but still the couple were responsible for their actions.  Satan comes to kill and to destroy.   Peter will reflect on this topic later warning believers in the church that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  Satan came after Ananias and Sapphira and they did not stand firm in the faith.



#4 The Solution to a Double Life

We have to go outside our passage for this one as Ananias and Sapphira never came out of their double living.  Consider these words from Peter’s fellow apostle John, the man who has appeared constantly at Peter’s side so far in Acts.


If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:8-9 (ESV)


-1- Acknowledge Sin.  The true measure of godliness is not found in the absence of sin but in the presence of repentance.  Walking in the light is not about sinlessness but about allowing God’s light to expose our darkness.  We must acknowledge sin. The presence of sin in your life does not disqualify you from mature godly living but the absence of repentance does.

-2- Confess Sin.  This passage takes it a step further, telling us not only to acknowledge sin but to confess sin.  And not just theoretically or categorically or generically.  Specific sin must be acknowledged specifically.   Confession to God and to others is the means that the Holy Spirit uses to bring us out of darkness and into the light.  Because sin isolates we are fooled into believing that we are the only ones who struggle with a particular issue.  But how often is it the case that after we confess, we hear “Me too!”  Again this is why we are often knit together with others at the common points of our brokenness.  This is why there is such deep fellowship in an AA group.  Confession of sin becomes a means not only for receiving God’s forgiveness but also of building authentic relationships with others.

-3- Receive Forgiveness.  When we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.  God is faithful and just to forgive us!  We get the faithful bit but what about this “just” bit?  Why is it an act of justice for God to forgive us?  Because if you are a believer, Jesus has already paid the penalty for your sin and has already purchased your forgiveness.  It would be unjust of God to punish both Jesus and you for your sin.  Jesus has already paid it all.  We receive that forgiveness of sin by faith.

-4- Receive Healing.  Forgiveness is not all that is offered to us.  This passage also tells us that God will “cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Forgiveness itself is an incredible gift, but God desires to do more than forgive us.  He wants to restore us and to cleanse us.  He desires to undo the effect of sin in our lives.  He desires to remove the dirtiness we feel – the shame we tend to live in.  Wow!  And don’t forget how this comes about – when we confess our sins.  This road to forgiveness and restoration begins when we decide to stop settling for an image of righteousness.  It begins when we do what Ananias and Sapphira did not do – acknowledge and confess our sin.


Discussion Questions

  1. Explain why the main issue for Ananias and Sapphira was not greed but deceit. Why is deceit the bigger issue?
  2. What kinds of questions might this passage raise for someone and particularly someone who is new to the faith? How would you answer those questions?
  3. What does this passage teach us about the seriousness of sin?
  4. In what area do you need to grow: (1) feeling the weight of your sin (2) experiencing the power of God’s grace? How so?
  5. What are some reasons we live a double life? Do you think our double living is always intentional?
  6. Why is it so difficult to confess sin to others?
  7. Is your home a safe place where sin can be confessed and issues can be dealt with? How can we make our homes a safer place?  How can you become an easier person for others to share their sin and struggles with?
  8. Read 1 John 1:8-9. What is the difference between being forgiven of sin and being cleansed from all unrighteousness?