Friday, November 4, 2016

Fight the Good Fight of the Faith: After Sin

Because we had a limited amount of time in the book of Joshua over the summer, I needed to skip some content. Ideally, we would have work through every passage on Sunday mornings, but we did not have the time for that, as I have described in past devotionals. But, as I have also mentioned before, what I could not cover on Sunday mornings, I tried to cover at least briefly in the Friday devotional emails that I sent to my congregation over the summer. Those emails I have turned into these devotional posts, and that is what we are going to do with Joshua 8 in this post.

Two Sundays ago, I posted the sermon from Joshua 7, where we saw the destructive power of sin in the camp, both individual and corporate sin. Sin is far more deadly than we often think it is, and it must be dealt with. This next part of that episode--ch. 8--tells us the story of how God restored the people after the sin of Achan was dealt with and how, even though Achan had sinned and they had sinned, His plans could not be derailed by anything. The sin of God's people cannot overcome the glorious plan and work of God.

Again, I did not have time to look at ch. 8 specifically in a sermon, so let's look at a few highlights from ch. 8 in this post:

First, note how God encourages Joshua right from the start: "And the Lord said to Joshua, 'Do not fear and do not be dismayed.... I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land.'" With such a devastating loss because of sin fresh in his memory, Joshua may have thought that they had blown it and God was done with them, but, again, the sin of God's people cannot mess up the plan of God. Two quick points from that:
  • Think about our battles against sin in the Christian life. When we give into sin and temptation, satan is often right there with us as the accuser of God's people, whispering, "You've done it now. God's done with you now. You might as well go on and keep on sinning." He may also say to us, "God's name will be dragged through the mud because of you. You're such a scumbag!" Those are lies from the pit of hell, and they smell like smoke. Conviction of sin is never intended by God to drive us down into the dust simply to stay there bemoaning our sinfulness. The conviction of the Holy Spirit is meant to bring to Him in repentance, hear His words "Do not fear and do not be dismayed," and then move on in gratitude to serve Him again. Sin should never spiritually paralyze us. As the old hymn goes, "Grace, grace, God's grace. Grace that will pardon and cleanse within. Grace, grace, God's grace. Grace that is greater than all my sin." Or, as the modern hymn says, "Without Thy sweet mercy I could not live here. Sin would reduce me to utter despair, but through Thy free goodness my spirit's revived, and He that first made me still keeps me alive." Learn from this episode and do not listen to the lies of satan: once you have repented of your sin, move on to serve God again in gratitude for His great mercy.
  • Think also about our battles to share the gospel with friends, neighbors, and family members. Again, here satan attacks us and says, "Your sin is going to drag God's name through the mud. No one will listen to you because you're such a sinner, so get it together before you go out and try to share the gospel." That too is a lie from the pit of hell and smells like smoke. Just as God dealt with their sin and then brought them to victory over Ai, so God deals with our sin in Christ and sends us out as His messengers for the gospel. And, listen: your sinfulness is part of your witness. You are a great sinner going to other sinners and saying, "Look, I have nothing for you personally. I am big sinner whose only hope is Jesus Christ, and He's your only hope too." If we give into the lie of satan and think, "I really do need to clean up my act before I witness to my friend," what subtle message does that send to them (i.e. our friends)? It sends them the message that they have to clean up their act before they come to Jesus, and that is not the true gospel. Jesus doesn't say to anyone, "Clean yourself up some and then we'll talk." No, He says like God says here, "Do not fear and be not dismayed: there is more grace in me than there is sin in you."
Second, note the sad ending to Achan's story. It is subtle, but it is in v. 2: "...its spoil and its livestock you shall take as plunder for yourselves." When they "fought" against Jericho, all the plunder was to go to God, and Achan stole from God for himself. The sad ending of Achan's story is this: if he had just waited for a little while, he would have had all the plunder he wanted. But, Achan let his desire override his devotion to the LORD. Church family, often times our desires are not the problem. Often those desires in and of themselves are good desires. The problem comes in when we let those desires get out of order and we go after them before seeking God. For example, the desire for money to meet our physical needs is not the problem because God knows we need that for our physical needs. It becomes an idol when we go after it more than God, thinking that it will fulfill our needs. Or, the desire for sexual gratification is not in and of itself a bad desire because God created man and woman to be one flesh in marriage. That becomes a sin and an idol when we go after it more than God, seeking to fulfill it before God's timing and outside of God's plan for us, which is fulfillment in the context of marriage between a man and a woman. The sad conclusion to Achan's sin is that if he had just waited on God; if he had just sought God first, he would have had the plunder in God's timing. Is this not the OT equivalent of Jesus' teaching in Mt. 6:25-33 (cf.v. 33)?

Third, note that God's plan for His people is very different for this battle than it was for Jericho. Here, the whole army has to fight and they use an ambush strategy. Remember, while parts of God's plan for us in the battles of this life are constant, like using the means of grace (the Bible, prayer, and worship), we cannot put God in a box and think He will work the same way every time. We cannot think that because one strategy for evangelism worked for one person, it will work for all of them. We cannot think that because God met our needs in a particular way in one situation, that is always the way He will meet our needs. Our Lord is not a tame lion who shows up whenever we want and in the ways we want. So, we need to seek the counsel of God first, and then act after seeking godly counsel, knowing God may not work the same ways He has before (we will talk more about this in Sunday's sermon).

Finally, notice out Joshua renews the covenant at the end of this episode. This seems abrupt and even out of place in the narrative, but it is a very appropriate way to end the episode of chs. 7-8. One commentator notes: "After Israel had just experienced the curse of Yahweh’s anger (ch. 7) and the boon of Yahweh’s aid (ch. 8), what could be more appropriate than Joshua’s reading ‘the blessing and the curse’ (v. 34) of the Torah?" They have felt God's anger and seen God's blessing, and so what has happened to them in the space and time of life needs to be interpreted for them by the Word of God. But, even though it is appropriate, it is still and abrupt change: from war to worship. Yet, that abrupt changes brings back up one of the lessons we learned from ch. 1: Success for the Israelites was not primarily about defeating the Canaanites and taking the land. The land was simply a place where they could have rest from their enemies so that they could be prosperous in their relationship with God. Here, by bringing them to worship right after restoration and victory, God reminds them to keep first things first: their relationship with Him as His people. And, Church family, the same is true for us. In the battles of this Christian life, God gives us victory so that we can "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to [us]." In all the whirlwind of life, jobs, professors, family, friends, politics, struggles with sin, and everything else this life throws us, we need to keep first things first: our relationship with our Savior as His people and His Church.

By His Grace,

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