We Have Fallen and Can’t Get Up

November 3, 2006

By Lance Johnson

What is God like? Most in our society, both those active in church and those with little or no religious conviction, would answer that God is love. Certainly, one of God’s prominent characteristics is his love. It is a major theme in the Scripture. A casual computer query of the New American Standard translation of the Bible returns 540 occurrences of the word ‘love’ or one of its forms. (Biblical linguists would probably take exception to my casual query, but it is sufficient to make my point.) However, there is a much more common characteristic of God in the Scripture. A similar casual query of the NASB text returns 670 occurrences of the word ‘holy’ or one of its forms, and 175 occurrences of the related terms ‘sanctify’ and ‘consecrate’ or one if their forms. That’s astounding. So much is said in the church about God’s love and so little is said about God’s holiness, yet the Scripture talks much more about God’s holiness. Granted, the two concepts really cannot be separated. John 3:16 says that Jesus died because heloved us. Titus 2:14 tells to what purpose he died, “[Christ Jesus] who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” In other words, holiness. His purpose is that the redeemed be a holy and separate people.

(Contemplate this. It is the holiness of God that requires man’s repentance/redemption and the love of God that makes man’s repentance/redemption possible. That, however, is a topic for another day.)

Sadly, the popular view of God, even among active believers, puts so much emphasis on God’s love that his holiness is for all practical purpose lost. It is a lop-sided, unbalanced understanding of who God is, how he works, and how he relates to men, particularly the elect. This results in an emphasis not on God,but on men. What? How does one come to that conclusion? Simple. The focus of love is on the object of that love rather than on the subject of that love; on the one loved rather than on the one who loves. The love of God is an appealing characteristic for it focuses on us. The result is a church that lives in a state of self-indulgence rather than self-denial. A church that is turned inward rather than upward. A church that is weak rather than strong; defeated rather than victorious.

The greatest example of the importance of the holiness of God’s people is in Joshua 7. It is a familiar story. The Israelites were riding a spiritual high after God so soundly defeated Jericho on their behalf. It was certainly a great demonstration of God’s mighty work. It was done in such a way that no one could mistake the power behind the victory. It was God’s and God’s alone. The Israelite army simply obeyed God’s command and he did a great thing. However, when a few days later the Israelite army went to battle a small town called Ai, they were soundly defeated because of the sin of just one man, Achan.

Joshua and the other Israelites were astounded and perplexed. Why had they been defeated by such a small, insignificant enemy? To his credit, Joshua immediately fell on his face and sought God’s counsel. God answered simply and plainly in Joshua 7:11-12, “Israel has sinned . . . For they have even taken some of the accursed things, and have both stolen and deceived; and they have also put it among their own stuff. Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies . . . Neither will I be with you anymore, unless you destroy the accursed from among you.” God had told them that all the spoils from Jericho were to be destroyed or dedicated to God. Achan, however, was more concerned with himself than with God’s commands.

Generally, we have a difficult time making the connection between sin and defeat, or even sin and consequences. Certainly, sometimes the connection is easy, such as the connection between drunkenness and being injured in an accident. Other times it is not so clear because the link between the spiritual and the physical is not discerned with the five senses, but by the spirit of the living God (1 Corinthians 2:14). Even though the connection is less visible, it is no less real. This is a topic in and of itself that is beyond the scope of this blog entry, but look at Psalm 32. The Psalmist connects sinfulness with the fatigue of the daily grind of life. He says that his “vitality was turned into the drought of summer. (Psalm 32:4)” In these days of pandemic fatigue, this is definitely food for thought.

The result in the case of Achan, however, was tragically clear. The Israelite army was defeated by a small, militarily insignificant town. Far from the God-glorifying victory over Jericho, this was a humiliating defeat. God told Joshua that because of the sin among them they could not stand against their enemies. This in itself was bad enough, but the worst was yet to come. The secondary defeat was less visible, but more tragic. God told Joshua that not only could they not stand against their enemies,but that he, God, would not be with them any more unless they destroyed the accursed things from among them (Joshua 7:12). Contemplate the ramifications of that statement. God said that as long as there was sin among them he would not be with them. They would be on their own. They would have no strength. God told Moses the same thing in Exodus 33 after the incident with the golden calf. If God was not with them they knew they would perish. If only the church of today would learn that lesson. Without the presence of God, the church is powerless and pitiful.

Our response to Achan’s sin is that it was such a little thing. After all, Achan was just one man among several thousand, some scholars would say one man among a couple of million. If we were speaking of human issues, it would be just a little thing. But we are not talking about human issues. We are talking about the divine issue of holiness. God took great pains to demonstrate just how serious sin is and how completely it debilitates his people. God’s method of exposing the sin was to march the people by Joshua first by tribe, then by family, then by household, and finally by man. This served at least two purposes. First it showed that no matter how many were innocent, the sin affected all God’s people, not just the sinner. This is something else we often forget. Second, it demonstrated that no matter how deeply buried, sin still debilitates and God still sees it. God may have had to work through the various layers of tribe, family, household, man, and even the man’s tent to expose the sin, but it was exposed. It was not buried so deeply that God could not find and expose it . Remember Numbers 32:23, “and besure your sin will find you out.”

Why all the fuss? Simple. God’s purpose for the Israelites was not a political or military victory, but holiness. Their enemies were to be defeated spiritually rather than politically or militarily. Their primary enemy was not the Canaanites, but Satan himself and the destructive power of sin. Nothing has changed.God’s purpose for his people is still holiness. Jesus died that his people might be holy (Titus 2:14). Our enemy is still spiritual. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.(Ephesians 6:12)” Our enemies are still to be defeated not by political or military power, but by the power of the Lord “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah4:6) The church in general and the “religious right” in particular would do well to learn this truth.

Interestingly, Achan’s particular sin was significant. It was the sin of covetousness or worldliness. This is a particularly pernicious sin for it eats away at the very foundation of holiness. The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness for the purpose of learning complete dependence upon God. That dependence was necessary for God to be glorified and for the conquest of the land. There are many examples and open declarations of the dangers of worldliness—the tenth commandment, many passages in Proverbs, the story of the rich young man in Luke 18, several passages on self-denial, Paul’s emphasis on dying to self,and James 4:4: “do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Worldliness always results in disobedience and a lack of holiness. Holiness requires that we go against the flow of society not with the flow of society. On this point, the church has failed. It has become so worldly that there is little difference between believers and the unchurched.

OK, so what is holiness? Theologians will certainly spend lots of time and ink debating the details, but for all practical purposes holiness is an issue of redemption and obedience. The Israelites were holy because, by the grace of God, they had been redeemed. They became unholy when just one among them disobeyed God’s clear command. The obedience God demands is total, complete obedience. Achan was just one among an entire people of God, yet his disobedience destroyed that people’s relationship with God and crippled their ability to stand before their enemies. This is not just an Old Testament concept. Jesus said that those who love him keep his commandments (John 14:15-24 and 1John).

The modern church in the West certainly cannot stand against its enemies. This is not what God had intended. Jesus told Peter, “upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)” His plan is that the church be on the offensive and Satan and his evil hosts be cowering behind the walls of the city. (See Joshua 5:1.) Why the church cannot stand is obvious. Sin. The church tolerates sin on every level. Today’s Dallas Morning News (November 1, 2006) has an article about the misuse of $1.3 million dollars intended for new church plants. Many pastors have recently been in the news because of their sexual infidelity or other sins. More importantly, several studies have shown that the incident of occurrence of virtually all sins/vices—alcoholism, domestic violence, adultery, premarital sex and pregnancy, drug abuse, etc.—is the same among active church attenders as among the population in general. Why? Because we have believed Satan’s lie that sin does not matter. We are unwilling to confront sin in the church. We are unwilling to confront sin in our ownlives. We tell ourselves that it is a little thing, and consequently willingly live defeated lives. We cannot stand against our enemy and God is not with us. We are truly “pitiful, wretched, and blind.”

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