In a previous career, I worked with historic property owners who were looking to restore and maintain their historic buildings. This meant I got a lot of behind-the-scenes tours in many cool, unique old buildings.
Occasionally, I’d visit a building that looked fine at distance from the outside. But once I got up close and walked around inside, I could see the evidence of possible structural integrity issues, like cracked walls, unlevel floors, water damage, or rotting support beams. If unaddressed, eventually those interior problems would gradually become obvious on the exterior of the building. The seemingly fine building facade would eventually begin to crack and crumble as the supporting structure weakened beneath it.
Christian holiness works in a similar way. Trusting in your own strength to do good works is like trusting rotted support beams to hold up your roof. People might not notice any problems from the outside for a time, but eventually it’s coming down.
We can’t sustain outward holiness ourselves. If we rely on our own efforts and abilities, our attempts at outward holiness will eventually crack, crumble, and fail. Only when the Spirit lives within us through faith in Christ do we have the inner “framing” that makes outward holiness even possible.
Ananias and Sapphira
The account of Ananias and Sapphira provides a warning of how precarious our attempts at good works are if they’re not supported by the inner-workings of the Spirit.
Acts 4 ends with the account of Barnabas and others selling property and giving all the proceeds from the sales to the apostles to use to help any among them in need.
This is quickly contrasted in the beginning of Acts 5 with the account of Ananias and Sapphira. They too sold property, but instead of donating the full amount, or even any portion of that amount which would have been well within their right to do, they lied about the sale price. So it looked like they were donating the full amount when in reality they kept back some of the proceeds for themselves.
This lie is revealed to Peter, who challenged them both separately about the sale price. They each lied about the price and immediately perished by divine judgement.
Ananias and Sapphira wanted to appear holy outwardly without the buttressing inner power of the Spirit. They wanted to appear to others to be generous more than they actually wanted to be generous.
Their self-sought attempts at holiness were exposed and crumbled.
Freedom From Propping Up Our Own Façade
The reality is trying to prop up our own façade in life with our own strength is exhausting. You can never let anyone get close to you to see behind the curtain of your life out of fear that they’ll find out the truth that everything isn’t as you pretend it to be. You’ll obsessively compare yourself to others and be whipped around like a leaf in the wind by whatever they think of you. And all of this striving will gain you no favor with God. Trying to appear kind, generous, loving, and holy is exhausting and futile compared to the kindness, generosity, love, and holiness that flows out of a heart at rest in the gospel.
Jesus died to free us from flimsy and exhausting self-sought holiness and instead produce in us by grace a holiness that never crumbles. Through faith in Jesus, we are given the holiness we need to come before our holy God as well as the power and desire to grow in personal holiness now until the day we actually meet him face to face.
Only when Christ is our cornerstone do we have the inner “framing” that makes outward holiness possible.