Lying to the Holy Spirit and Cognitive Dissonance
To the degree that you are honest with yourself, with the believers around you, and especially to the Holy Spirit; you will live. On one level of analysis, Ananias found out that you cannot lie to the Holy Spirit or play Him as a fool. The Holy Spirit is God, knows everything and should not be messed with.
But Peter’s response hints at a deeper issue. The land belonged to Ananias and the money after the land had been sold. There may have been social pressure to give it away but he was not under a direct order to do so. He could have kept it, offered for the church to use it, or simply stated that he was not ready to part with it. He could have asked for help from those around him: that he didn’t have the bravery to part with so much personal wealth.
Maybe the response would be a ‘greed intervention’ to try to help him come to terms with giving away his possessions. Maybe church leadership would have just said: “Okay. Your deal. Here’s what it means to obey Christ. You decide if that’s what you’re doing. If your perception of obedience is at too great a variance from ours, we will part company.”
But Ananias did not do that. He lied.
He wanted what I often want: to perceive himself as more devoted to God than he actually was. I want to wear my aspirations as though they were proof of my obedience. I care more about others thinking Christ has changed me than I care if Christ has actually changed me. The only path to being fully immersed in the fellowship of believers–to be filled with the Holy Spirit and changed–is to be radically honest about how little I have given of myself. God gives grace to the humble.
This also works on a purely psychological level. If I am preoccupied with fudging the numbers on my actions so that they align with my acknowledged aspirations, I’ll spend a life in misery. I’ll be busy creating and rehearsing justifications for doing the things I said I wouldn’t do or not doing the things I said I would do. The cognitive dissonance resulting from this would cause shame spirals and exasperate the very behaviors I wish to change.
This is the beauty of the gospel. Jesus demands obedience of us that’s far beyond human ability to produce. He does this because he must be a part of the solution: to forgive past sins and eradicate the possibility of future sins. Without Christ’s grace, we literally cannot be the people God designed us to be.
A quick side note to any non-Christians who were interested enough to read this far…cognitive dissonance and shame spiraling work in the natural realm, of course, but think about this: you’ve probably experienced enough existential angst, longing or dissatisfaction to realize that your own aspirations for your identity (even if fully realized) would not satisfy you. Life would not be perfect if you became, even what you had decided was the most important thing to become. I would like to suggest that there is something behind that.
Back to our impossible mission. We literally cannot become the people Jesus has in mind when he gives us his radical commands to obey. From that standpoint, we need His grace and this need cannot be spiritualized into a vague emotional realization. This ‘need’ needs to be manifested:
In honesty to ourselves, to God, to fellow believers. In radical reassessment of our life situation so that we can make conscious, irreversible choices to aid in changing the unconscious, harder-to-notice choices we make every day. If we can lie to the Holy Spirit, we have already lied to ourselves, we have lied to the believers around us then there is no remedy until we are honest. We might as well be called out and dragged from the room as men and women already dead.