Monday, May 22, 2006

Spirit's witness

Ananias and Sapphira are the couple whose slick plan was to sell their property, hold back some of the payment from it for themselves and bring the remainder to the common pot. By that action they hoped to give the impression that they’d given the whole amount – like others were doing. Their sin was not in holding back some for themselves, but in trying to give a false impression. In that lie they hoped, with their supposed generosity, to earn similar praise that others had earned (envy) and to advance their own reputations (self-seeking).

This story pricks me. I sense in myself too, actions that arise from envy and self-seeking. If God struck me dead for every time... oh my. God’s opinion of these things is spelled out in James 3:13-16:

But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth.
This wisdom does not descend from above but is sensual, demonic.
For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.

However, we live in an atmosphere of discontent, covetousness, manipulation. The economic engines of our society run largely on envy (isn’t it the psychology behind most advertising?). Self-seeking is regularly cloaked in an appeal to common sense or common practice. As a product of my environment, my mind is clever at manufacturing rationalizations for why I should take matters into my own hands to get what I want: Of course one has to be a big cagey to make one’s way in the world. Everybody gets ahead that way...

But if we are truly Christ’s and citizens of His kingdom, His Spirit will trouble ours when we begin to walk down this path. A. W. Tozer says:

When there is a divine act within the soul there will always be a corresponding awareness... God waits to assure us that we are His children in a manner that eliminates the possibility of error, that is, by the inner witness.

- A. W. Tozer in Born After Midnight

I would say, by experience, that this inner witness not only assures me that I’ve met God in the first place, but is an irritant to my spirit – like the feeling of a splinter in the skin – when I respond to these or any temptations by sinning. It means I’d better spend some time with Him, deal with that splinter, and again leave the satisfaction of my needs, physical or psychological, in His hands.

It’s easy to think God was harsh when He struck down these two so suddenly and with no second chance. But I wouldn’t be the least surprised, if we knew Ananais and Sapphira’s back-story, we’d discover that they’d been given the witness of the Spirit about this sort of thing before, and ignored it. May I not be so callous.

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