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Counterfeit Discipleship

Published: 1 month ago- 19 May 2024
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The Story of Ananias and Sapphira is shocking and unsettling, disturbing

Troubling on a number of fronts …

  1. Not all of us are going to make it … for the thousands who were saved during this great outpouring of the Holy Spirit, there are some who won’t be there when Jesus returns to usher in his kingdom in the final sense. What Ananias’s and Sapphira’s final state? We do not know for sure, but it does not look good.
  2. The account challenges our understanding of God … the same God who stretches out his hand to heal the lame beggar, is the same God who takes the lives of two church members, in the middle of a church service.
  3. Maybe most troubling of all it leaves us wondering … Did God over react?

Why did God do what he did?

Is God guilty of over reacting?

Did God have a stressful week running the universe?

Maybe he was a little tired and emotional, and flew off the handle without reason.

Ananias and Sapphira appear to be very generous. OK, they lied about the sale price and kept a little back for themselves. But is that such a big deal? Isn’t it harmless, a little white lie, and a minor peccadillo amongst friends? We’re going to explore this a little more.

Counterfeiting … as a weapon of war

During the 18th C American Revolutionary War, the war of independence between the British crown and patriot colonists, Britain employed a very effective, though ultimately unsuccessful, tactic.

One that the patriot Thomas Paine (1737 – 1809) …

  • Decried as … ‘A conduct so basely mean … that every nation on earth, whether friends or enemies, will unite in despising you.’
  • And condemned as … ‘an action exceedingly unwise … to promote … encourage, or wink at … ‘

What was this horror?

  • Firing upon surrendering troops?
  • Abusing prisoners of war?

No, counterfeiting currency.

Flooding the colonies with it, devaluing the genuine, destabilising the economy and hopefully, bringing the colonies to their knees.

These counterfeits were cheap as chips and so good the risk in passing them off was considered minimal.

So, with little risk of detection Colonists loyal to the crown began circulating them.

One of the most notorious was a New Hampshire Tory named Stephen Holland …

“Damn him,” said the New Hampshire patriot John Langdon, “He has done more damage than 1,000 men could have done.”

One counterfeiter could do more damage than 1000 good soldiers?


Wow! Now that’s effective!

As in war, so in the church … today we learn that counterfeit discipleship, hypocrisy, is an effective and damaging tactic in Satan’s war against the church.

Left unchecked counterfeit discipleship would have caused serious damage to the fledgling church, devaluing its witness to the resurrection and interrupting the outward march of the gospel.

That is why God acted as quickly and decisively as he did. That is why judgement and death visited the church.

This passage is a warning to us, hypocrisy is serious. God will not be deceived … Counterfeit discipleship ends in death. Whereas genuine, Spirit empowered discipleship leads to life.


What is counterfeit Discipleship?

It is pretending to be what I am not, to gain a reputation that is not mine to have.

It is duplicity, being two faced.

The pretence of being a Spirit filled disciple without the cost.

It is a public display to look good.

Why is it so serious?

The first reason, is because it is of Satan

Luke speaks of 2 ‘fillings’ …

  • The filling of the Holy Spirit (4:32) … brings life, openness and vibrancy to the church.
  • The filling of Satan (5:3) … brings deceitfulness, hypocrisy and death into the church.

Peter said to Ananias, “Why has Satan filled your heart … ‘ (5:3)

This is the first time Satan is mentioned in Acts.

The deceiver; the father of lies makes his entrance. He is introduced as the infiltrator.

What Ananias and Sapphira do is not of God, it is of Satan.

A second reason why it is so serious is because this hypocrisy is not just deceiving the church, it is lying to God

Peter continues … ‘Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land”‘ (5:3)

And in v.4c … ‘You have not lied to man but to God.’

What does Peter mean?

Let’s think this through … We know from Sam’s previous sermons in Acts that in this age of the Spirit, the church is God’s temple … He has left the building, the physical temple. The place on earth where God dwells by His Spirit is now his church. When the church is gathered in Jesus’ name, God is present by His Spirit. Therefore, to lie to the church is to lie to God.

Further to this, we see Satan prey on Ananias and Sapphira’s greed, their love of money and desire for status amongst the Christian community. Satan fills their hearts to hold back some of what they had previously wholly dedicated to God, i.e. the full sale price. They make a pact together, and with great pretence Ananias pretends to lay the full proceeds at the apostle’s feet. They lie to God and the church. They want the reputation and the money. Not only do they lie, they think they will get away with it, and that God won’t know, or care. They mock God.

How wrong they were.

This passage shows Satan infiltrating the church through its own members. He’s passing counterfeits. The lure of the counterfeit is appealing, and the risk seems low. But unless repented of, death and judgement is always its end. Not necessarily immediately, but inevitably.

God is warning us … Counterfeit discipleship always ends in death. Will we listen?

A couple of things to take away from this …

Firstly, fear of God is the appropriate response … ‘Great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things’ (5:.11)

This really is a matter of life and death. Our eternal destinies are at stake. God is not to be underestimated or mocked. He cannot be deceived. He will judge hypocrisy.

‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’, (CS Lewis, Narnia series)

Susan and Lucy are speaking with Mr and Mrs Beaver, about Aslan, the rightful king of Narnia …

‘Is he quite safe?’ asks Susan, ‘I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion’.

If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re braver than most or else just silly’, replies Mrs Beaver

Then he isn’t safe?’ asks Lucy.

Safe? Said Mr Beaver, ‘Who said anything about safe. Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king I tell you’.

Secondly, MPC’s vitality, growth and witness to the resurrection are at stake. Counterfeiting wreaks havoc.

Thirdly, only the Holy Spirit can change us. None of us have within us the capacity for authentic discipleship. The Spirit must change us, breath new spiritual life into us. By nature we are dead in sin, separated from God, utterly unable to do anything about it. God must intervene.

Fourthly, maybe you are not yet a follower of Jesus. Welcome! You are in the right place. Eternal life is found only in Jesus, this is the place to start … seek it, search for it, and you will find it through believing in Jesus alone … His life, death, resurrection and ascension to heaven … for you!

Fifthly, for the follower of Jesus, i.e. the person who has repented and believed the good news … how can we guard against our own tendencies to hypocrisy? By humbly submitting ourselves to what is known as the ‘means of grace’ … reading God’s word, listening to it, being at church regularly, hearing God’s word taught and preached, submitting to its teaching and correction, being honest about our weaknesses, confessing our sin, joining in the life of the church as an active part, placing ourselves under its’ authority, being open to correction and rebuke, allowing the Holy Spirit to change us, so that we grow in Christlikeness. This is genuine discipleship and good fruit will result.

Which leads us to our second and final point …


If counterfeit discipleship is of Satan and ends in death; genuine discipleship is of the Holy Spirit and produces spiritual life, vitality and the thriving of the church.

A diseased tree produces diseased fruit.

A healthy tree produces beautiful, healthy fruit.

What does the Spirit filled church look like?

Firstly, there is genuine unity … ‘The full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul / mind … ‘ (v.32a)

  • Satan builds walls and hypocrites wear masks
  • The Holy Spirit breaks down barriers and the true disciple promotes unity

Secondly, there is a new attitude to possessions … generosity and stewardship are the marks … ‘No one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common’ (v.32b) … ‘as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet’ (v.35).

  • It is clear from 5:4 that the early church was not a forced socialism.
  • Rather it was a commonwealth of generous, concerned believers, stewards of what God had given them, and used at their Spirit directed discretion, for the good of the church

Thirdly, there is concern for, and practical aid to, those in genuine need … ‘There was not a needy person among them’ (v.34a) … ‘and it was distributed to each as any had need’ (v. v.35b)

Fourthly, the gospel is central … ‘With great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.’ (v.33a)

  • A Spirit filled community is a well taught community.
  • A well taught community is one where the gospel, as taught and applied by the apostles, is foundational.
  • It is the fuel of the Spirit filled community.
  • By God’s grace we have their teaching today in the New Testament.
  • By God’s grace at MPC we have faithful, gospel hearted, pastors, elders, teachers and leaders.

Fifthly, God’s grace is amongst them and evident to all … ‘great grace was among them all’ (v.33b)

  • It is obvious when the Holy Spirit is amongst a community.
  • It looks like grace … there is unity, truth, powerful gospel teaching, honesty, humility, authenticity, confession of sin, forgiveness, prayer, generosity and love. Those in need are not ignored, forgotten or overlooked.


Brothers and sisters, by the enabling and power of the Holy Spirit this is our goal. This is what we are called to be, more and more … A Spirit enabled, gospel fuelled, witnesses to the resurrection.