When we talk about living a victorious life, an overcoming life, being able to live in this world in victory, it is a fair question to ask: Will it last? If I ask you, or any preacher or teacher asks you, to commit yourself to Christ in this way, totally under his Lordship so that you can live in victory, it is a fair question to say: All right, I will do this and have a great experience, but I want to know something. Will it last? Or am I doomed to live on a rollercoaster-kind of Christian life? Up and down, up and down. Or is there such a thing as constancy in the Christian life? I want to answer that question this morning. There are two answers to it. Will it last? Yes and no. Don’t you feel better? We solved that. We may as well quit right now. Don’t get scared off by that word no for it is not a bad no. As a matter of fact, it is a necessary no. It is necessary in order for there to be the yes part of the answer.
Let me try to explain. First of all, I think it is essential that we understand there is no such thing as a quick fix, sure cure, once and for all experience in the Christian life that will immediately elevate us, catapult us into a life of constant victory. We need to understand that. There is no magic formula, no quick fix, no special secret experience that will do that. Understand that. Let’s suppose you’ve come to this meeting, and you realize that your Christian life is not what it ought to be, and you have a hunger for more to experience more. You know that you are not experiencing everything in Christ that you ought to experience. There are battlefronts in which you are constantly being defeated. So you answer the challenge and say I want to live that kind of life. I want Jesus to be absolute Lord of my life. I want the Holy Spirit to have me and fill me so I am coming and committing myself to him today. What you have done at that moment is that you have committed all that you know about yourself to all that you know about Jesus. I’ll call that the present level of commitment.
Commitment is based upon two things: knowledge of yourself and knowledge of the Lord. When I was saved at the age of nine, I took Jesus for all I knew him to be at that moment. I didn’t know a lot about him. I didn’t know a lot about theology or doctrine, but I knew something about him—that he was God’s son, that he died for my sins, that he would save me if I asked him to. So as incomplete as my knowledge was, I accepted Jesus for all I knew him to be at that time. If a person will take Jesus for all he knows him to be at that time, he will be saved. He will be saved. And I gave all that I knew of myself as a nine year old boy to all that I knew of Jesus.
Now, it would be ridiculous to think that my level of commitment was going to stay where it was when I was nine years old. Right? In the ensuing years I have learned more about myself, more than I really want to know, and I have learned more about the Lord. So it is impossible for me to say yes I will enter in at this level, and this is a once-for-all experience. I drive the stake, nail it down, and I never look back. From here on out it is victory all the way. That will not last. That present level of commitment will not last. Why? Because you are going to discover some things about yourself that you didn’t know earlier. You are going to discover some areas of jealousy, or envy, or greed, or other things in your life that you were not aware of. Also you are going to discover that the Lordship of Jesus has a wider scope to it than you thought. He is ruler over more than you realized he was. What are you going to do?
There must be in the second place a progressive level of commitment. With the progressive level of commitment, you can say yes, this experience will last. Why? Because as I learn more about myself, I bring that under the Lordship of Christ, and as I learn more about the Lord, I yield to that. So I am constantly updating that commitment.
In Romans 6:17 there is a very interesting picture there that I think explains it so very well. Paul says that he is thankful that ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. There are two things I want to point out about that statement. The last statement is ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you really ought to read the opposite. The Greek text and most of the newer translations translate it that way. You have obeyed that form of truth to which YOU were delivered, to which YOU were handed over, to which YOU were committed. Do you see the difference? It is not so much that I am delivering the Word of God to you; rather you are being delivered to the Word of God. You are being handed over to the Word of God. The word form there is the word form. It is the kind of form or mold you would build if you were going to pour concrete. So there is a true form, and you have been delivered to this form, and you obey that form to which you have been delivered.
Several years ago when we still had our farm in Arkansas, we all liked to play tennis. As a gift to the whole family, Dad had a tennis court built. I was there and watched them build it. When they had the ground all prepared, they took some wooden planks and built a form. That form was the size and shape of a tennis court. It wasn’t a tennis court, but it was in the size, shape, dimension, design of a tennis court. Then when they had the form built, they brought out a cement mixer truck, backed up to that form and delivered the cement to the form of truth. Do you know what that cement did? I stood there and watched it. That cement obeyed the form to which it had been delivered. When that form said turn right, it turned right; when it said turn right again, it turned right again. When it was finished, that cement looked exactly like the form wanted it to look.
God has given us a form—this book. This is the form of truth. Occasionally, like today, God delivers you to this form. What are you going to do when he delivers you to this form? You are going to obey the form to which you have been delivered. When this book says to turn right, you are going to turn right; when this book says go, you will go; when this book says stop, you will stop. If you do that, then you become more and more like this book says you are supposed to be. It is the progressive level of commitment. A year from now God will deliver you to the truth, the form, and you may see something in this Word, or you may see something in the Lord that you have not seen before—something you have not yet brought under his control, something you have not yet committed yourself to. It is like God delivering the cement to the form. If you obey the form to which you have been delivered, then that will raise the level of your commitment. That is the way you can make the commitment to Christ last. It moves in cycles as God delivers us to this form.
Now, I am ready to read my text for the morning. Open your Bibles to Joshua 24:14. The first 13 verses of Joshua 24 Joshua is rehearsing with the people all the great things God has done. On the basis of that, in verse 14 he challenges the people to a new, higher commitment. I think it is important for us to notice (and you will see this all through the Bible, but especially in the Old Testament) that God never asks us to commit ourselves to him without first of all telling us why we should do it. He always reminds us of who he is and what he has done. On the basis of that, he challenges us to a new obedience. God never asks us to obey him blindly. He never asks us to make a leap into the dark. He always says this is who I am, this is what I have done, and because of this, I want you to trust me. In the first 13 verses this is what is happening.
Look at verses 14 and 15:
Now therefore (because of everything that I have told you), fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the Gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD. And if it seems useless or of no value to serve the Lord, then take deep thought, real concentration, and choose you this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your father served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
Joshua, an old man about to die, is now issuing this last challenge to the people. It is a challenge to a deeper, new, fresh commitment. The challenge is summed up in three commands found in verse 14: fear the Lord, serve him, and put away the gods of Egypt. In those three commands or statements I believe you have the means whereby we keep our commitment up to date, thereby insuring that it will last, that It won’t just fizzle, that we won’t just drop backin the valley of despair where we were before. Those three statements: fear the Lord, serve the Lord, and put away false gods.
First of all he says fear the Lord. That is one of the most common phrases in the Old Testament. You won’t find it much in the New Testament. Fearing the Lord in the Old Testament is sort of the same as trusting the Lord in the New Testament. In other words, if I were to sum up in one word everything that God expects of me as a New Testament Christian, I could sum it up in the word faith, for without faith it is impossible for us to please him. The one thing that God is wanting from all of us is faith. So I would describe the ideal Christian as a person of faith.
In the Old Testament, if I had to sum up everything that God required of man, I would use the word fear, the fear of the Lord. In the Old Testament, you would designate that religious person as one who fears the Lord. In the New Testament it would be as one who trusts in the Lord. So the designation fear the Lord is the sum of all that God expects from us. To fear the Lord is the beginning and the ending of all wisdom and all obedience.
Joshua says here is what I want you to do. Fear the Lord. There are people that have trouble with that word fear. I was talking to some just a few days ago. They said, “Oh, don’t talk to me about the fear of the Lord. I don’t think we ought to fear God. I think we ought to love him.” That kind of attitude is a result of a misunderstanding of what the word fear means in the Old Testament.
I think there are three kinds of fear. First of all, there is what I would superstitious fear. You serve a god because you are superstitious. A great many of the world religions have been based upon superstitious fear where people serve their gods out of superstition. If they don’t do this, something bad is going to happen to them. I do not mean any unkindness to our Catholic friends, but I believe that a great deal of Roman Catholicism has been based upon superstition. I think sometimes Christians have a superstitious fear of God.
I remember some years ago I was in Wichita, Kansas, in a meeting. I arrived at the airport, and the pastor picked me up. As we were loading my things into the trunk. he said, “Don’t you have an album series on the devil, demons and the occult?” I said, “Yes, I do.” He said, “Do you have one of those with you?” I said, “Yes, it is in that box.” He said, “Would you sell me one?” I told him I would be happy to. He said, “How much are they?” I said, “They are $13.” He said, “Could I write you a check for $12 and owe you a dollar?” I asked why. He said he didn’t feel good about writing a check for $13. This is a Baptist preacher. I should have given him the tapes. He needed them badly. I told him to write me a check for $14, and I would owe him a dollar. Do you know what? He did! Folks, that is superstition.
A group of us were in Switzerland, and we were flying back to the States and had a layover in Paris at De Gaulle Airport. We found out that our flight on Swiss Air was 666. About half our group said they were not going on that flight; they would wait for a later flight. I think that is superstition.
Then I had an evangelist who went to a church and had a dud of a revival. He told me later that he knew why God didn’t bless the revival. He said it was because the pastor drove a Plymouth Demon. Folks, that is superstitious.
If you will think about it hard enough, you’ll find that sometimes your own religion, your own practice of serving God is based on a lot of superstition—is you don’t do thus and so, something bad is going to happen to you.
Then there is what I would call slavish fear. That is the kind of fear where you are scared to death of your master. You hate to hear his voice because you always know he is going to beat you. A lot of people serve God out of that kind of fear. They are afraid not to serve him. I don’t believe this is the kind of fear that God wants.
I believe God wants what I will call spiritual fear, for lack of a better term. The word fear in the Old Testament really has the idea of awe, or reverential awe. It means to hold somebody in high regard, to have high respect. For instance, I fear my wife for good reason. I fear her, but I’m not scared of her. She is not here so I can say that. I love her and hold her in high regard and I respect her. The last thing I would ever want to do would be to disappoint her, to hurt her. I fear my children. I’m not scared of them, but I rather die than do anything that would cause them to be humiliated or embarrassed that I was their father. Do you know what I’m saying? It’s that kind of fear. The fear of the Lord is the kind of fear where we hold him in such reverential awe that we rather do anything than offend him. We want to do the things that please him. We do not take lightly and flippantly our relationship with him. Fear the Lord. That is the attitude.
Second, he says: serve the Lord. Third: put away the gods of Egypt. This second and third, serving the Lord and putting away false gods, are really practical expressions of fearing God. In other words, if you fear the Lord, you are going to serve him, and you are going to put away the false gods.
So the first command is fear the Lord. Then he says serve the Lord. Well, of course, you pay homage to him. That is the idea of the word. It doesn’t necessarily mean to teach a Sunday School class, although that is involved. It doesn’t necessarily mean preach a sermon or sing in the choir, although that is involved. Basically, it has the idea of paying homage to him, both in what we would call service and worship. I think we have too narrowly defined the word worship to where worship is when we come inside the four walls of a church. But worship is paying homage to God in many ways. In Colossians 3 Paul is not talking to preachers about preaching sermons, he is talking to slaves about serving their masters. He says whatever you do, remember you have a master in heaven. Whatever you do, do your best. Why? Because you do it unto the Lord. That’s worship. You may sell shoes, or insurance, or pump gas, or drive a van, or be a lawyer, a doctor, or whatever you do. You say you have a boss. Yes, but you have a higher one, a master in heaven. He is the one you are really serving so whatever you do, do your best. You don’t just try to get by. I think the worst testimony a Christian can give is not giving a good day’s work for a day’s pay—just seeing how little he can do. Paul said whatever you do, you do your best, do it heartily as unto the Lord. That’s worship. That’s service. That’s paying homage to him. So whatever you do, whether it is church work, or secular work, you don’t get with as little as you can do. That’s a dishonor. Laziness has no place in the life of a believer. Whatever you do, you are to do your best, and do it heartily as unto the Lord.
He says you are to do this in sincerity and in truth. First of all, in sincerity. I guess sincerity would be what you see is what you get. Sincerity means that there is harmony between what is on the inside and what’s on the outside. In other words, it is not just that I act like I love the Lord, or I act like I love you, or I act like I’m serving the Lord, I feel the same way on the inside. There is no conflict, no contradiction between what you see on the outside and what is really on the inside. That’s sincerity.
Then he said do it in truth. That is an interesting word there, the same word that is used of Rahab in Joshua 2. Do you remember when Rahab asked the spies to give her a pledge, a promise, some sign that she would know she would be delivered. They gave her one. It is the same word here translated truth. It has the idea of being faithful, dependable, trustworthy. Can you imagine the change in the church if you could depend on everybody who served him, if they were trustworthy? If they said they would do the job, they would do it. If they said they would be there, they would be there. If they took an assignment, they would be there. The shame of a great many churches is that 80 percent of the work is done by 20 percent of the people. Why? It’s because you can’t depend upon the others. We are to serve the Lord in sincerity, truth, faithfulness, steadfastness, dependability.
The last one is put away the gods of Egypt. I want to read verse 14 again, and I want you to see if you notice anything unusual. Fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD. Let me read that one phrase again: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt. Is there anything about that statement that strikes you as being a little strange? He is saying to this bunch, “I want you to put away the gods of Egypt.”
What is interesting there is that these people had never been in Egypt. They had never seen the flood. They had never set foot in Egypt. They had lived their lives in Canaan. I suppose most of these people were under the age of 40, except Joshua. The generation that came out of Egypt all died except Joshua and Caleb. (I think at this point Caleb may have already died, but I’m not sure.) He is talking to a bunch of people who have never been Egypt, telling them to put away the gods of Egypt. Isn’t that something? Joshua knew that even though they had never been in Egypt, yet the seeds of those Egyptian gods were in their hearts. If they didn’t watch it, they would sprout at any moment, like glowing embers under the ashes. It wouldn’t take much to fan them into a blaze.
The truth of the matter is, my friend, no matter how long you’ve been a Christian and no matter how deeply committed you are to the Lord, the seeds of Egypt are in your heart. They are there. A lot of time Christians after a period of years end up doing things they didn’t even do when they were lost. Do you know what I’m saying? Even when they were lost, they didn’t do some of these things. I know Christians who even when they were lost never committed adultery and never got drunk. But after they were Christians a number of years and their hearts grew cold, and they let down their defenses, they did those things. That’s the gods of Egypt in them, even though they had never been in Egypt in that sense.
Do you know what the people said? They said, “We’ll do it. We get the message. We’ll do it.” Oh, yes. Then look what Joshua said in verse 19: And Joshua said unto the people, (not so quick, folks) ye cannot serve the LORD: (That is kind of an unusual pose for a pastor to take. I’m going to give an invitation: everybody choose you this day whom you will serve. If God be God, choose to serve him. Everybody says, we’re going to choose him; we’ll serve him. Joshua said, no, you’re not. You can’t do it. I’ve been in some meetings where the response is so immediate and overwhelming I begin to worry that I’ve not made the message clear.) for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.
And the people said unto Joshua, Nay; but we will serve the LORD. And Joshua said unto the people, Ye are witnesses against yourselves that ye have chosen you the LORD, to serve him. And they said, We are witnesses. Now therefore put away, said he, the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the LORD God of Israel. And the people said unto Joshua, The LORD our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey.
First of all, Joshua tries to talk them out of that decision. They said, no, we really mean it. We are going to serve the Lord. He said, all right, prove it. Prove it by putting away the false gods and incline your heart unto the Lord. Literally he is saying stretch out unto the Lord.
Every time I read that, I think of a baseball player, perhaps the first baseman. He is standing there, and he hears the crack of the bat as the batter connects with the ball. What does he do? Ho hum, there’s a ball coming. That is not what he does. The minute he hears the crack of the ball, that does he do? He puts that foot on first base, and what does he do? He s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s out to catch that ball. He is inclined, expectant, anticipating. Joshua is saying that you and I ought to always maintain that posture, like that first baseman stretching out, realizing at any moment God is going to send you something; God is going to speak; God is going to lead. You aren’t casual, absentminded, unconcerned, standing around, but you are always expecting something from God. You are stretched out, inclined to him, ready to receive. That is what he is saying.
Will it last? Yes and no. The present level of commitment does not last, but if we maintain a progressive level of commitment, of keeping that commitment up to date, then it will last.
Bow your heads . . .
© Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2005
Would you open your Bibles tonight to the Old Testament, the book of Joshua, chapter 7?
The book of Joshua is comparable to the New Testament book of Ephesians in that both books have to do with our inheritance in the Lord. Ephesians has to do with describing the inheritance that is ours through the Lord Jesus Christ; Joshua has to do with the people coming into their inheritance.
You remember that they have wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. I heard someone say the other day that they were just a step away from victory. Well, the Israelites were just a step away from victory, but they wandered for 40 years. You can be just a step away for 40 years. They wandered for 40 years in the wilderness in defeat, dismay and despair when just about a day’s journey away was all God had promised them. They could not enter in because of their unbelief.
Finally, they learned their lesson as sometimes we do! God began to lead them into the promised land, and they met one victory after another. Of course, the most notable victory was the victory at Jericho. I think it would be good for us to read in verses 17, 18, and 19 of Joshua, chapter 6, because it is very important to understand this in order to understand Joshua, chapter 7. They are getting ready to go into Jericho; the Lord is going to be their defender; he is going to bring about the victory. But God has a few things he wants to say to them.
Verses 17 and 18 say:
And the city shall be accursed, (That word accursed in the Hebrew means dedicated or devoted. Any thing that is devoted to the Lord is accursed to man if he touches it. Isn’t it funny how we translate this word accursed? It is a curse. The ark of the covenant was where the glory of the Lord dwelt, but if you touched it, you would be cursed. You would die.) under the ban, even it, and all that are therein, to the LORD: only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent. And ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed (dedicated) thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it.
The Lord was very redundant there. He kept repeating. He wanted the folks to understand exactly what he was saying.
But all the silver, and gold and vessels of brass and iron, are consecrated unto the LORD: they shall come into the treasury of the LORD.
You know the rest of the story, how they marched around the city of Jericho once a day for seven days. And on the seventh day they marched around seven times. At the end of the seven times, they blew their trumpets, and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. Victory! Magnificent, unbelievable victory! All they did was to obey the Lord and make a little noise. They didn’t lift a sword. They didn’t fire a shot. God did it. God was fulfilling everything that he had promised to do.
They are in the land of Canaan. That represents all the fullness of salvation. Canaan, my friends, does not represent heaven. You get that from the hymns, not from the Bible. Jordan does not represent dying; it represents dying to self. We are supposed to be in Canaan tonight, and in Canaan there is victory. But there can also be defeat.
Now let’s begin reading Joshua 7, verse 1: But, and immediately there is a contrast. Up to this point, every enemy had fallen before them. Like a floodtide they had swept everything before them—victory after victory after victory. But the first word of chapter 7 tells us there is going to be a difference.
1But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing: for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed thing: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against the children of Israel.
I want you to notice. God says the children of Israel committed a trespass against the Lord, but only one man sinned. Achan took of the accursed thing. He committed a breach of promise, a breach of trust. That is what the Hebrew committed a trespass means; it means he broke a promise. There was a breach of trust. Only one man sinned, and yet the whole nation paid for that sin.
This is a tremendous spiritual truth that you and I need to nail down in our lives. The Bible says that the church of Christ, of God, is a body. All of us are members of the same body. I don’t know about you, but when one part of my body is ill and diseased and in pain, I feel it all over. When I was a young boy in Oklahoma going barefooted if I would step on a nail, as I inevitably did during the summer, my whole body felt it. The Bible says we are members of one body. All of us are members of one body. The Bible teaches over and over again that when one member of that body sins, the whole body pays for it, feels it. Over and over in Chapter 7 you are going to see that even though it was just one man who sinned against the Lord, yet God charged the whole nation for it. Israel had committed a trespass.
Sometimes people wonder why we are so particular that every person, every member of the church be what they ought to be in the sight of God. I want you to know that one member of this church, one Sunday school teacher, can destroy the whole Sunday School in the sight of God. One deacon who is wrong with God can grieve the Spirit of God so that he cannot bless our church. One member in this place tonight can quench the power of God. We need to understand this. God does not look at us so much as isolated units, but as a whole, as a body. The weakest link in the body of Christ is that Christian like Achan who had sinned against God. You need to know that your sin, your indifference, your backslidden state affects this whole church and the blessings of God upon it. The people of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing, for Achan took of the accursed thing.
Now, I want us to stop for just a moment. You’ve heard sermons all of your life about Achan taking of the accursed thing—the sin of Achan. We are going to see later on how the sin of Achan, the sin of one man, brought absolute, total defeat to the nation of Israel. What was the sin of Achan? What trespass did Israel commit in the person of Achan? God had said when they went into the city of Jericho everything was accursed. That means it was devoted to him. You don’t touch any of it. You don’t use it for yourself. Every bit of it belongs to me. We’ll see that when Achan went in, he saw this Babylonian garment, a wedge of gold, the spoils of Jericho. He said he saw it, coveted it, took it and hid it. He committed the trespass in the sight of the Lord. If you don’t get anything else from what I say tonight, I want you to understand what the sin of Achan was.
It is the same sin that you and I commit so often—sometimes unconsciously, sometimes without conviction. But I want you to understand that the sin of Achan will bring defeat to any Christian’s life, and it will bring defeat to any church. Do you know what the sin of Achan was? The sin of Achan is taking that which belongs to God, which has been dedicated to God, and using it for ourselves. The sin of Achan is taking that which has been consecrated to God and using it for ourselves. In verse 11, God said they hid it among their own stuff. What a commentary that is in the lives of a great many Christians. They have taken what belongs to God, and they have put it among their own stuff—as though it was theirs, as though they could do with it as they please. Achan took that which belonged, which had been consecrated and dedicated to God and used it for himself.
You say you don’t see what that has to do with us. You listen to what God has to say in 1 Corinthians 3: whoever defiles the temple of God, him will God destroy because God’s temple is holy (that word holy means consecrated, devoted, dedicated) and you are that temple. You are that temple. The sin of Achan is my taking this body which belongs to God, which has been dedicated to God, and using it for myself, as I see fit, as pleases me. That is a breach of trust.
In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 that we quote so often says, you are not your own. You are bought with a price; therefore, use your body to glorify God. You have no right to use that body of yours for any other reason except to glorify God. The sin of Achan which is still with us is my taking this body, or anything else that belongs to God, that has been dedicated and consecrated to God, and using it for myself in a way that will not bring glory to him. You have no right to take that which has been consecrated and dedicated to God by the blood of Jesus and use it for yourselves, storing it among your own stuff just like it is your own property.
Probably one of the greatest things the Lord has ever taught me is that my body is not my property. I have no right, no business, no say-so in what God does with my body. A lot of us don’t realize this, but if you are saved, friend, that is the predicament you are in. I am sorry someone didn’t explain that to you when you got saved, but I am explaining to you now. It’s too bad you are already in this fix. I want you to know that if God has saved you, that body is his.
I will never forget when I read the testimony of Dr. Walter Wilson. I recommend everybody read it. He said he gave his body to the Holy Spirit. I presented my body. Romans says to yield your bodies unto God, and I did that. That body became the body of the Lord. I said, Lord this is your body; do with it as you please. If you want to send it to Africa as a missionary, you can do it. If you want to lay it on a bed with cancer, you can do it. If you want to send this body to Tibet with the message of Christ, you can do it. If you want to blind the eyes in this body, you can do it. I have no say-so. This is your body; take it and do with it as you please.
Friends, that’s what it means to be saved. This body is his; it’s not mine. I have no right to complain about what the Lord does with this body. It’s not my body. It is his; he bought it with his blood. I have been dedicated to him. The Bible says I am God’s holy temple and him will God destroy who defiles this body. When you defile the body that Christ bought with his blood by the way that you live, God is going to judge you—just like he judged Israel, just like he judged Achan. The sin of Achan is taking that which belongs to God, which has been consecrated to him by the blood of Jesus, and using it anyway you see fit.
Let’s read on:
And the anger of the Lord was kindled against the children of Israel, and Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Bethaven, on the east of Bethel, and spake unto them, saying, Go up and view the country. And the men went up and viewed Ai.
Here’s where they made the mistake. They should have turned around and viewed Israel, and looked in Israel’s tent to find sin there. If they had looked in their own country, instead of Ai, they would have gotten the thing settled before they ever went out to defeat.
Boy, the Lord taught me this. I used to worry more about my sermons and the service than anything else. One day God said, you don’t worry about the sermon. I’ll take care of that. You don’t worry about the service. I’ll take care of that. You don’t fret about this. I’ll take care of it. You just look in your own tent. They went out to view Ai. What they should have done was stick around and view their lives. They should have searched every tent, and they would have found out the accursed thing.
3And they returned to Joshua, and said unto him, Let not all the people go up; but let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai; and make not all the people to labour thither; for they are but few.
You always get a little self confident when you stop examining your own life.
4So there went up thither of the people about three thousand men: (Notice the next expression.) and they fled before the men of Ai. 5And the men of Ai smote of them about thirty and six men: for they chased them from before the gate even unto Shebarim, and smote them in the going down: wherefore the hearts of the people melted, and became as water.
The first time I read that, I made a little notation in my Bible: “When the power of God is removed, you even fail in the smallest and easiest of tasks.” They had conquered Jericho; they had not lost a single man in conquering Jericho. A magnificent defeat! And here is a little one-horse town by the name of Ai that probably didn’t even have a post office it was so small. They said no use sending everybody up. Let’s just send two or three thousand men. That will be sufficient, no use making everybody work. So they went up. Before they even got to the city, when they got to the gate before they even went in, they fled before the people of Ai. Their hearts melted and became as water.
When there is unconfessed sin in your life, when you have taken that which belongs to God and you have desecrated it by the way you live, you will fail in the smallest of tasks. Have you ever found that to be true? Some of you for the life of you can’t teach a Sunday School class. You used to have no trouble teaching that class. It used to be the easiest thing for you to teach that Sunday School class. You have gotten so self confident now that you hardly even prepare because it is a whiz. You are a Bible scholar and teacher. You find that you are even failing in that smallest of tasks.
And Joshua rent his clothes. Let’s give credit to Joshua. Joshua had enough sense that when he was facing defeat, it meant there was something wrong. And, Christian, when you are facing defeat in your daily Christian life, there is something wrong. God never intended for you to be defeated. If you are not victorious in your daily Christian life, there is something wrong. Joshua recognized this.
6And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the LORD until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads. 7And Joshua said, Alas, O LORD God, wherefore hast thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us?
Now, notice verse 10:
10And the LORD said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? 11Israel hath sinned.
That was one prayer meeting that was a waste of time. Joshua said we have suffered defeat and the thing to do is have an all-night prayer meeting. He prayed all day, even until dark. He said I’ll just pray the power down. We have suffered defeat. I’ll just pray and pray and pray until God gives the blessing. God says, what in the world are you doing, Joshua. Israel has sinned.
I know some Christians are all the time praying about something, but God is not going to give them victory until they get rid of the sin that is in their lives. Some prayer meetings are a waste of time. I remember one Saturday afternoon in my office. I took the afternoon to pray. I was determined to prevail in prayer. I wanted to make certain that God’s power was upon us in that Sunday morning service. The minute I got on my knees and started praying, God brought something up to my remembrance that needed to be taken care of. I just brushed it aside and began to pray the harder. Everything I would pray, God would pass that thing in front of me—something that needed to be taken care of. I would ignore it and push it aside and pray even harder that God would send his power upon our service, praying that God would give me the right kind of message, praying all sorts of things—that God would bless us, that he would be glorified, the whole bit. All the time I was praying God kept passing that thing in front of my eyes. Do you know what God was saying? He was saying to me what he said to Joshua: Ron, what are you doing praying on your face. Get up. There’s sin in your life. You have to get it taken care of. There’s no use to pray. Finally, after awhile I realized I wasn’t going to be able to bargain God out of this. I got up off my knees, took care of that thing and got it settled. Then I was able to come back and pray.
If there is sin in your life, if there is known, unconfessed sin in your life, there is no use in the world in your spending time praying about the blessings of God on your life. The first thing God wants you to do is to confess sin and bring it to judgment. Notice that God knows right where the sin is. In verse 11 he says:
Israel hath sinned and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff.
God knows right where it is.
I’ve tried again and again to envision Achan stealing these things. You know he must have had a guilty conscience because the Lord had made it clear and plain that nobody was to touch anything that belonged to the Lord. I can see Achan as he sneaked into that tent while nobody is looking, and he takes that Babylonian garment and wedge of gold, that thing dedicated to the Lord, and he sneaks it back to his own tent. Even his wife and children don’t know about it. Nobody sees him. He goes in and digs a hole in the ground and buries it. Nobody sees him—except God. God comes to Joshua and says Israel has sinned. They have taken of something that belongs to me and they have hidden it among their own stuff. That’s where you will find it. God knew right where it was. You will see later on that he singles Achan out right on the dot. God knows all about us. He knows right where that sin is in your heart.
In verse 12:
12Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they were accursed: neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you.
There is God’s ultimatum to every Christian. What is the accursed thing? The accursed thing is that thing which belongs to God which you are using for yourself. That accursed thing in your life is that which belongs to God, and you are using it for yourself. God is never going to bless you, and God is never going to give you victory and the joy of full salvation until you destroy that accursed thing from among you. He will never do it.
13Up, sanctify the people, and say, Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow: for thus saith the LORD God of Israel, There is an accursed thing in the midst of thee, O Israel: thou canst not stand before thine enemies, (Here it is again, the ultimatum.) until ye take away the accursed thing from among you.
I wonder what Joshua is going to say to this? I wonder what you are going to say to it. Let’s just suppose tonight that God were to come to you. You have been wondering why there is defeat in your life, why everything is going wrong. If you are a Christian, and you are not right with God, nothing is going right. If you are a lost man, you don’t have to be right with God. You can make a lot of money, and everything can go just great—everything just rosy, terrific. But I want you to know tonight that if you are a child of God, you belong to him. He has bought you with his blood. Yet you are wrongly related to him and that is going to throw the kink into everything you do. You are like a wheel that is off-center. It never will run smoothly. What if God were to come to you tonight and say: I know your life is a mess, and I know you have a lot of defeat, a lot of problems. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. You see, your problem is you’ve been taking that which belongs to me, and you have been using it for yourself. If you will repent of that, if you will confess that, if you will let the things that belong to me alone, if you’ll use your body, time, and money to glorify me, if you’ll repent of this sin, I’ll be with you. I’ll give you victory. What would say to him? The truth of the matter is that is exactly the proposition God is making to you. What are you going to say to him?
There’s one more thing. I rarely ever preach like this, taking a passage of Scripture and making comments about it. This is unusual to me. But as I read it, the Lord just began to speak to me and show me that’s it, that’s the problem right there. The sin of Achan is taking that which belongs to God, our bodies, and using it for ourselves.
Then I came to the last and saw something I had never seen before. I’ve heard this story, read it, preached on it. God said I want you to take the guilty offender, and they found him. They brought all the tribes out, and God singled him out. Joshua guessed, and he guessed right the first time. It was Achan. God put a spotlight on Achan. He will do that if you will let him. They took Achan out into the valley. They took the sin, the accursed thing, and laid it out before the Lord. They made open confession of that sin. They laid it out before the Lord, and said here it is. Here is our sin. They took Achan and all the people of Israel stoned him. And they buried him.
God has only one way of dealing with sin. That is by death. God’s only method of dealing with sin in the life of his people is by death—not reformation, not doing better, but by death. When I read that, I turned over in my Bible to Colossians 3 where it says: Put to death, therefore, everything in your life that is earthly; whether it be fornication, lasciviousness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence and covetousness, which is idolatry: and stop lying one to another. Let no filthy communication proceed out of your mouth. Put away all anger and wrath and malice and evil speaking. Put to death everything in your life that is earthly, carnal.
God has one method of dealing with sin, and that is the death method, to put it to death. Let that thing die. If Joshua had not been willing to take that member of the body of God which was carnal, earthy and sinful, and put it to death, they would have suffered defeat after defeat after defeat in the land of Canaan. If you are not willing to take that part of your life, that life which belongs to God, and put it to death, die to that thing, give it up, let it go, you’ll never know victory in your Christian life.
Are you willing to meet God’s ultimatum? He never changes. God never lowers his standard. His method of dealing with the sin in your life is by death.
Chapter 8 opens up with God leading them back to Ai in victory. There is victory at the scene of your former defeat. I want you to know tonight that if you will come and do business with God, and if you are willing to deal the death blow to those things in your life that are carnal and earthly and worldly, God will send you back to those same areas where you were defeated, and you’ll know victory. How sweet it is to come back to the scene of your former defeat and be victorious! God has only one way of dealing with sin. You’ve got to die to it. You’ve got to let the Lord take it away from you, absolutely and completely. Let’s bow together.
© Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2009
Text: Joshua 17:12-18
Billy Sunday used to say, “If we Christians were as weak physically as we are spiritually, we would all need crutches.” The colorful baseball-player-turned-evangelist was saying that if you’re not growing spiritually, you ought to be worried. Growth is the normal and natural result of life; and if there isn’t growth, that life is in jeopardy. We’re not surprised when we grow physically; we expect it. If, by chance, growth doesn’t occur, we immediately know something is wrong and attempt to uncover the problem.
And yet we often look upon Christians who have grown and are growing as extraordinary specimens of Christianity. As a pastor I was always excitedly surprised to find members who were really spiritual. They became the major sites of interest I pointed out to visiting ministers, who never failed to share my excitement and coveted the same phenomenon for their own church. But if I had driven him around town pointing out this fellow who had grown an inch in the last year, and that one who had gained five pounds, he would have thought me crazy.
I believe as Christians we have no right to call ourselves normal until spiritual growth becomes as natural as physical growth. The apostle John prayed that his friend Gaius would prosper and be in good health, “just as your soul prospers” (3 John 2). Would you want someone to pray the same thing for you? Frankly, if our physical and financial prosperity were determined by our spiritual prosperity, we would probably be crippled and bankrupt.
If growth is the normal consequence of life, then where’s the problem? Just as there are enemies to physical growth, there are also enemies to spiritual growth. Our spiritual development is never unopposed. We do not simply drift into maturity. To grow we must swim upstream against the stubborn currents that try to hold us back. In the last chapter we discussed the follow-through of the Christian life. We saw that every authentic experience is a lasting one with continuing results.
OK, you accept that and desire it, but it isn’t happening. You know your experience was real, and there has been some progress, but it is pitifully small, almost microscopic. What’s the problem? Joshua 17 contains an instructive story. The people have entered the land and, according to God’s instructions, Joshua is dividing it among the people. In verse 14 we hear a complaint from some of the tribes:
Then the sons of Joseph spoke to Joshua, saying, “Why have you given me only one lot and one portion for an inheritance, since I am a numerous people whom the Lord has thus far blessed?”
Note the significant phrase “thus far.” They are saying that in the past God had been good to them; up to this point the Lord has blessed them. The phrase implies some doubt about God’s blessing from here on. Sounds like some of us, doesn’t it? “The Lord used to bless me, but something’s happened. For a while everything was going just great, but now….”
This passage from Joshua 17:12-18 throws some light on why we fail to grow.
WE FAIL TO GROW WHEN WE EXERCISE PARTIAL CONQUEST.
There’s a telling statement in verses twelve and thirteen:
But the sons of Manasseh could not take possession of these cities, because the Canaanites persisted in living in that land. And it came about when the sons of Israel became strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but they did not drive them out completely (Preacher’s emphasis).
Now don’t miss this point: although Israel had conquered the land, many of the Canaanites–the enemy, if you please–still lived there. In Joshua 16:10, we read, “But they (Manasseh and Ephraim) did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites live in the midst of Ephrairn to this day, and they became forced laborers.” And over in Judges chapter 1 we discover an important clue concerning their problem.
But Manasseh did not take possession of Bethsean.. .so the Canaanites persisted in living in that land. And it came about when Israel became strong, that they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but they did not drive them out completely. Neither did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants Asher did not drive out the inhabitants. Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants (1 Judges 1:27-31, 33)
Before Israel entered the land, God specified in no uncertain terms that all the inhabitants of the land were to be driven out completely–not a single Canaanite was to be left. But again and again, with monotonous significance, we read that they did not drive them out. Now the land teemed with both natives and newcomer. No wonder they complained of crowded conditions!
Suppose you meet me on the street and ask how I am
“Not so well,” I answer. “We need a larger house. There are only four of us, but we’re crowded.”
“I can help you,” you say. “There’s a twelve-room house for sale real cheap. A family of seven has lived there but they’re wanting to move.
“Thanks, I’ll look into it. Off I go and buy the house and move my wife and two children into the twelve rooms.
A few days later you meet me again on the street and ask how I am.
“Not so well,” I answer. “We need a larger house.”
“A larger house?” But there are only four of you in that twelve-room castle! How could you be crowded?”
“Well, the former owners–seven of them, you know–are still living there, and it’s pretty crowded.”
It wouldn’t require a genius to solve my problem. Move out the former owners’ What right do I have to complain about crowded conditions when I am not using the room I have?
And that was exactly the case with the complaining tribes. They had plenty of room–but it was occupied by the enemy. You see, it’s foolish to ask God to give you more blessings when you haven’t lived out the blessings you already have. No use asking God for additional truth when you haven’t obeyed what you already know. My friend Manley Beasley was speaking to a ministers’ meeting when he suddenly stopped and closed his bible with this exclamation:
“That’s enough preaching. You know more now than you’re living up to!” Painfully true.
Let me put it to you in the phrase Alan Redpath used to describe this incident. “Are you living up to your capacity?” Look around; have you allowed some Canaanites to remain in your life? God told you to drive out every one but there were two or three you were especially fond of and so you’ve allowed them to hang around. Of course, you’ve given them strict orders to behave themselves–and for the most part they’ve done so. Let me tell you, there can he no continuing growth as long as you tolerate the presence of a single Canaanite.
It’s interesting to note some of the reasons we keep Canaanites around:
(1) A spirit of compromise. God said that every inhabitant had to go~ We reason that surely one or two won’t make any difference. That’s the way it begins. We know a thing is wrong–but just a little bit. And after all, no one is perfect; we know of worse things in some of the Christians and they seem to get along OK. But no matter how we say it, we are compromising the Word of God, and that is plain, unadulterated disobedience.
(2) A spirit of complacency. Did you notice that when the tribes allowed the Canaanites to stay, they put them to forced labor? That means they made slaves of them. Sure, they had been the enemy; but now they were slaves and under control.
Who says the Bible isn’t up-to-date? I can’t count the number of people I’ve heard reason the same way. “Yeah, I know it’s not altogether right–but I can handle it. It’s a problem, but I have learned to control it.” Have you ever heard someone say about his drinking, “Oh, I can take it or leave it”? What’s so great about that? That’s all anyone can do–take it or leave it. There is no third alternative. But I have observed that those who say that usually choose to “take it,”
The truth is, the Israelites couldn’t handle it. The Canaanites refused to be slaves. And if the Israelites couldn’t do it, neither can we.
(3) A spirit of cowardice. If it weren’t so tragic, this would be funny. Look at chapter 17, verse 16. Joshua had told the people that if they wanted more room, they should go up to the forest and clear the land. Here’s their reply: “And the sons of Joseph said, “The hill country is not enough for us, and all the Canaanites who live in the valley have chariots of iron…”’ There’s the real reason. First they said that the hill country wasn’t big enough but actually they were afraid of the armed Canaanites. But I thought the Canaanites had been put to forced labor. I thought they were slaves and under control, If so, then those are the strangest slaves I’ve ever heard of!
Years ago I heard this story. I don’t know whether it’s true, but it’s good. It seems that during a heavy battle, a captain commanded his lieutenant to pull back to a certain position. The lieutenant replied, “I can’t sir.”
“Why not?” the captain asked.
“I’ve taken a prisoner, sir.”
“Bring him with you.”
“He won’t come, sir.”
“Well, leave him and come yourself”
“He won’t let me sir.
One of the big reasons we don’t try to drive out the Canaanites (these pet sins and hidden habits) is that we’re afraid we can’t. We avoid a direct confrontation, It’s much more comfortable living with the illusions that we can drive them out any time we please. You say you can quit that habit any time you want to–why don’t you, then? Is it possible that you’re the real slave?
(4) A spirit of covetousness. “They put the Canaanites to forced labor.” Why drive them all out? They make good workers–and cheap labor. It could be very advantageous to keep a few of them around.
How does this apply to us? Here’s a businessman who realizes that it is the Lord who gives him the power to gain wealth, that it is actually His business; so he decides to operate on Christian principles, but in case God doesn’t come through, he keeps a Canaanite of worldly business tactics in the back room.
Or perhaps a teenager commits himself to Christ and wants Him to occupy first place in every area of his life, but it may be that being a Christian won’t bring him everything he wants in popularity and pleasure, and so on occasions he resorts to a Canaanite of doubtful behavior.
Maybe a pastor has decided that the gimmicks and gadgets he has been using to attract people to his church aren’t Christ-honoring. From now on his ministry will be conducted solely on the principles the Holy Spirit approves. But the immediate visible results he had hoped for don’t come. He was afraid that might happen and cleverly kept one or two of the old Canaanite gimmicks around. They will build up that attendance in no time at all.
WE FAIL TO GROW WHEN WE EXPECT PREFERENTIAL CONSIDERATION.
Manasseh was the firstborn of Joseph; the Ephraimites were relatives of Joshua, the head man. Surely they deserved special treatment. You couldn’t expect someone as great as they were to live by the same rules as everyone else. It was the VIP treatment for them.
I’m amazed at how many believers actually feel this way. They know the laws governing growth and spirituality–faithful Bible study and prayer, up-to-date confession of sin, diligent obedience to the Word of God, God’s glory desired in all things. And yet they expect God’s blessings without them. As far as they’re concerned, they have been lifted above the disciplines of discipleship. I’ve counseled with Christians who had lost the joy of their salvation and wanted to recover it but refused to submit themselves to those disciplines. They were searching for an “experience” that would catapult them effortlessly back into a right relationship- with God.
Our passage reveals two factors that contribute to this attitude.
(1) Arrogance. The sons of Joseph boasted that they were a great people and had been singularly blessed by the Lord. this, they thought, should qualify them for preferential treatment. Pride is an insidious termite that eats away the foundation of Christian growth. It can attack a denomination, a church, or an individual with equal deadliness. A denomination may assume it’s great because it’s a church because it’s wealthy; a person because he’s talented. Blessings can easily become curses. A respected position in the church, widely acclaimed talent, past blessings, high honors–any one of these can inflate us with the hot air of arrogance.
(2) Indolence. I’m convinced the main reason Christians are not more spiritual, more mature, more dedicated, is that they are too lazy! That’s right. The major problem with most Christians is laziness. It was so with the crowd in Joshua 17. Joshua told them if they wanted more land they could have it if they were willing to work for it. Cut down the trees and drive out the Canaanites, were the only stipulations. But that’s exactly what they weren’t willing to do. They didn’t want to build or battle; they just wanted to beg. And we’re often the same way. At this precise moment we are as spiritual as we really want to be. Oh, I know we moan and groan, wishing we were more spiritual; but wishing won’t get it. It’s useless to beg God for more growth if we’re not willing to build and battle for it
One day a father took his son to Spurgeon’s College to study for the ministry under that prince of preachers. When Mr. Spurgeon told the father the course of instruction would require several years, the father said, “My son is an unusually bright young man! I’m certain you could arrange for him to finish much sooner.”
Mr. Spurgeon replied, “Sir, God takes twenty years to grow an oak tree and only six months to grow a squash. Which do you want your son to be?”
There are no shortcuts to maturity. To reach it demands discipline and determination.
WE FAIL TO GROW WHEN WE EVADE PRIORITY COMMITMENTS.
Here was Joshua’s solution to their problem:
And Joshua spoke to the house of Joseph, to Ephraim and Manasseh, saying, “You are a numerous people and have great power; you shall not have one lot only, but the hill country shall be yours. For though it is a forest, you shall clear it, and to its farthest borders it shall be yours; for you shall drive out the Canaanites, even though they have chariots of iron and though they are strong” (Joshua 17:17, 18)
Clear out the forest and drive out the Canaanites. That was the simple solution to their growth problem. But as we’ve already seen in the first chapter of Judges, they refused to accept his answer. Priority number one according to Joshua, was to accomplish these two thing. Until then, no expansion could be expected. The land was theirs–but before they could possess it, these things had to b e done. So it is with us
Although they evaded this priority commitment, I trust we will not; so let’s examine more closely the two tasks Joshua assigned to them. I call them priority commitment’s’ for growth, as necessary to our growth as they were to theirs.
(1) We must clear out the harmless things that clutter our lives. The first step was the clearing of the forest. Now there’s nothing wrong with trees; they are a beautiful and useful part of God’s creation. But if they occupy the ground you want to build your home upon, they have to go. Building your home is a priority commitment, and in order to fulfill it, you must clear the land.
The trees symbolize the many harmless things, even good things, that fill the agenda of our daily lives. I’m certain that when we’ve talked about the necessity of a daily time of prayer and Bible study someone has said, “Oh, that would be great, but I’m just too busy. I don’t have room for another thing in my day.” The truth is, we all have the same amount of time, twenty-four hours to the day and seven days to the week. I find that people usually manage to make time for what they think is really important. And if you don’t have time to do everything God intends you to do, it simply means that you are misusing some of your time. There is time to do everything you are supposed to do. The trouble is that most Of us are so busy being good, we don’t have time to be godly.
In Matthew 13, Jesus described this situation in the parable of the sower. It is really a parable of the soil, for the soil is the main subject of the story; The part that concerns us tells about the seed that fell into thorny ground: “And others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out” (Matthew 13:7). Jesus explains the meaning in verse twenty-two:
And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
The ground of his life was so cluttered with the cares of this world, the Word of God was strangled before it had a chance to grow. What a description of so many! No wonder the Word of God never produces anything fruitful and lasting in their lives–it can’t compete with the thorns.
You will never find time for God; you will have to make time. This means some trees will have to be cut down. Perhaps late-night television will have to be eliminated so you can rise earlier in order to have time to pray and read the Word. That’s only an example of what I mean. If you really want to know, God will show you the trees you need to clear away.
(2) We must clean out the harmful things that corrupt our lives. After the trees come the Canaanites. Let me point out something interesting. It would seem more reasonable to drive out the Canaanites first. After all do you think they’re going to lounge around watching us chop down those trees? Why, all the Canaanites in the world will come swooping down upon us. It will be another Little Big Horn! But no, Joshua had the order correct. Cut down the trees; then you will be able to drive out the enemy.
You will never have the power to drive out the habits and hangover sins in your life until you give priority to a daily time of fellowship- and communion with God. Once you have accomplished this, the divine strength you receive will enable you to drive out the enemy. Remember, we saw that although Israel entered the land ready to fight, the first thing God had the nation do was worship. That’s the divine order: worship before warfare.
The principle of growth lives within every believer; hut as with our physical development, we must cooperate with the laws of spiritual health if that growth is to be realized.
think none of us who met God in that place will ever be the same. Praise the Lord for all who were here interceding for that retreat. What a ministry Intercession is!
©Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2002
I love to play tennis but I have a big problem with my follow-through. When I hit the ball, instead of bringing the racket on through to complete the swing, I stop–and the ball sails out of bounds. I just can’t remember to follow through, That’s why I gave up golf. In every sport, following through seems to be necessary. A few days ago I was watching a Little League baseball game. The pitcher, who looked to be about seven or eight years old, was having a tough time getting the ball across. After a bad pitch, his mother yelled from the bleachers, “Follow through, Greg! Follow through!” I keep hoping I’ll find a sport that doesn’t require follow-through.
I spent a lot of time looking for a spiritual experience like that, too–you know, one that didn’t require any follow-through. I prefer to be borne along effortlessly in my Christian walk. But that’s not the way it works, and some great spiritual experiences faded into nothingness because I failed to follow through. For many, the Christian life is like a soap box derby. Someone gives you a big shove down a steep hill and you’re sailing. The wind whistles in your ears, the people sweep by, and everything’s great. Then suddenly you begin to slow down; you get slower and slower until finally you stop. You’re stalled until you find another hill and someone to give you another push.
A lot of folks are stalled in the wilderness, hoping God will come along and give them a big push that will propel them into a big, beautiful experience. The roadside is littered with countless Christians who used to be “really turned on” for the Lord. Most of them are there because they didn’t follow through.
The Bible has a lot to say about this. Paul, for instance, emphasized the walk of the Christian: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Colossians 2:6). Most of us in our public testimonies stress our “crisis experience” but Paul talks about the walk As the old preachers used to say. “It’s not how loud you shout or high you jump, but how you walk when you hit the ground.” Amen, brother.
The importance of follow-through is also seen in the fact that only four chapters in Joshua deal with the actual entering of the land. The other twenty relate what happened after the entrance. And a very strange thing happened first. Because they were crossing at one of the most strongly fortified areas of Canaan, about 40,000 of the Israelites entered the land dressed for battle–but fighting was not their first act. Though they were vulnerable at that location and ready to fight, God ordered them to stop in that exposed area and worship Him by erecting a memorial. Each tribe was directed to take a stone from the middle of the river, one for each of the twelve tribes, and set them up in their encampment. This place became known as Gilgal–the place of passage. The stones probably placed carefully in a circle, stood as a memorial to what God had done for His people that day.
The Israelites had had a great crisis experience, and the strange circle of stones was their follow-through–and the guarantee that the experience would last. Investigating the meaning of these stones will provide some profitable help for our own program of follow-through. “what mean these stones?” (Joshua 4:21b, KJV)
THE STONES WERE THE EVIDENCE OF A LASTING EXPERIENCE.
The monument of stones was there “so that you may fear the Lord your God forever” (Joshua 4:24). The miracle of Jordan was to have a permanent effect on Israel. There was no doubt that the mighty display of divine power produced instant reverence for the Lord; but that experience was to be so deep, so intense, that such reverence would last forever. And, I must add that reverence was to be independent of His miracles. In other words, if God had to keep performing miracles to sustain their reverence, the experience was defective
It is impossible to have a genuine encounter with God and remain the same. Look at Moses. Meeting God at the burning bush revolutionized and reversed his whole life. Jacob’s experience at Bethel wrought such a change in him, God gave him a new name. The Damascus road confrontation turned Saul of Tarsus into Paul the apostle–a change so extraordinary that the Christians could not believe it at first. Those twelve stones proclaimed the beginning of a new era for Israel. But it was only a beginning. That first stop had to lengthen into a walk.
This aspect of Christian experience is a major thrust of the New testament. Paul warned the Corinthians that any religious experience which didn’t result in holy living was receiving the grace of God in vain (2 Corinthians 6:1-4). The Galatians made a good start but were in danger of returning to their former religious rut. Staying free was as much part of their salvation as being set free (Galatians 3:1-3; 5:1)
One of the most sobering statements of the Bible occurs in Philippians 2:16. Having admonished the Philippians to go on to maturity. Paul says, ‘..so that in the day of Christ I may have cause to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.” What an astonishing thing to say. The fact that they had been converted wasn’t sufficient to cause Paul to glory when he stood before Christ. As far as he was concerned (and remember, he was writing under the inspiration of the Spirit) if they failed to follow through to maturity, his labor would be in vain. All his efforts would be meaningless. How could this be? Even if they didn’t grow and develop, at least they would go to heaven. Surely that meant something. Not much, Paul said. He felt that if his ministry to them achieved only their entrance into heaven, he might as well have stayed home. Of what use is a talent in the ground, a fig tree without fruit, a light under a basket?: We desperately need to rid ourselves of the false idea that Christ shed His blood simply to buy our way into heaven.
The gospel is frequently described as dynamite, because we get the word “gospel” from the Greek word dunam is, translated “power” in Romans 1:16. Unfortunately, some of our experiences are exactly like a stick of dynamite: a loud noise, a lot of dust stired up, over in a second and not a trace left! We get another word from dunamis which I think better described salvation. It is “dynamo.” a continual source of energy. When God saved us He placed within us a dynamo, the Holy Spirit, who provides an unceasing flow of divine energy, a permanent power supply that enables us to become all God saved us to be.
THE STONES WERE TO BECOME THE CENTER OF THEIR LIVES.
From the very spot in the river where the priests had stood with the ark from the heart of their experience, they took twelve stones and placed them I their camp. What God had done for them was to be an integral part of their daily lives. Gilgal, the site of the memorial, became the base of all their activities. From there they went out to fight, and whether victorious or defeated, they always returned to that sacred spot. It was the center of their life.
In the following-through we need a Gilgal, a p/ace of remembering. The stones, like our experience, reminded the people of the faithfulness of their covenant God. It’s frightening to realize how easily we forget spiritual matters. We can remember a sordid joke we heard years ago but can’t recall last Sunday’s sermon text.
That’s why the bible frequently warns us about the dangers of forgetfulness. Thumb through the pages of Deuteronomy, for instance, and see how many such warnings are there. Here are some from the eighth chapter:
And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you…. Beware lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments… lest, when you have eaten and are satisfied… you forget the Lord your God… But you shall remember the Lord your God… And it shall come about if you ever forget the Lord your God… .you shall surely perish (Deuteronomy 8:2, II, 12, 14, 18, l9.)
There wasn’t any danger they would forget crossing the Jordan and entering Canaan; the danger was they would forget it had been accomplished by God’s power alone. When that happened, they would take God for granted. Witness the defeat at Ai! We all have a tendency to forget our helplessness and God’s omnipotence. That leads to living in the energy of our flesh, which in turn, leads to disaster.
Jesus established the Lord’s Supper as a remembrance of His death for us. That’s why we call it the memorial supper–like the stones, it is a place of remembering. When we eat the bread and drink the cup we do it remembering that it was for our sins that His body was broken an His blood shed. Remembering the cross is a powerful deterrent to backsliding. Peter tells us that our lack of certain spiritual virtues is evidence we have forgotten our “purification from…. former sins”. (2 Peter 1:91).
We also need a p/ace of readjustment. Every Christian, sooner or later, experiences spiritual vertigo and becomes disoriented. Like Joshua, we need a place where we can realign ourselves with the purpose and will of God. D.L. Moody, famous evangelist of the last century, retreated every summer to a private place where he could be alone with God and “retune the instrument.” Even in the midst of religious activity our hearts can grow cold, and though we may excuse ourselves because we’re “working for the Lord.” the heat of activity will not take the place of the warmth of communion.
How can we know we need readjusting? The standard by which we measure our present relationship with God is His previous work in us. We examine our present spiritual status in the light of that past experience. Why not check yourself right now? You remember how it was–the fresh awareness of His presence, the ever-present joy, the love that seemed to flow from your fingertips, the irresistible desire to talk about Him. Is it still that way? Is it more so? Or is it less? You used to be patient; now you’re touchy and irritable. Moodiness has replaced joyfulness. Worry and anxiety have replaced peace and contentment. Do you find yourself trying to live up to what you were? If so, you need to return to Gilgal, the place of readjustment, the place of confession and forgiveness. William Cowper may have been speaking for you when he wrote:
Where is the blessedness 1 knew
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view
Of Jesus and His Word?
What peaceful hours I then enjoyed!
How sweet their mem’ry still!
But they have left an aching void
The world can never /ill.
Return, 0 Ho/v Dove, return,
Sweet messenger of rest;
I hate the sins that made Thee mourn
And drove Thee from my breast.
One of my closest friends is a pilot. Some time ago he flew me to a bible conference in a private plane. I’m a sort of frustrated pilot, and after we took off and were settled on course, I asked if I could take the controls. I thought I was doing pretty’ well until he tapped me on the shoulder and pointed at the compass. Without realizing it, I had drifted far off course. In the same way, if we’re not careful, we will assume we’re right on the beam spiritually, when in fact we are drifting off course.
THE STONES WERE A WITNESS TO OTHERS.
It has been said that you can’t meet God and not know it. That’s true. And others will know it too. There’s an unusual song–you see it instead of hearing it. Neither the Psalmist nor Moses had to convince people they had met God. Moses didn’t need a glow-in-the-dark bumper sticker that said, “I’m living in the SONshine.” Badges, beads, and bumper stickers are fine, but if it takes those things to show I’m a Christian, then I’m not much of one.
We have an obligation to those around us and to those who come after us. Three times in Joshua 4, the people were commanded to explain the meaning of the stones when their children asked about them.
That tells me that there ought to be something in our lives that makes people ask questions. Usually, in our witnessing efforts, the most difficult problem is how to get started, how to bring the subject up without offending. Some Christians wear curious-looking pins, hoping someone will ask them what they mean and open the door to witnessing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it ought to be our Christ like life and not a pin that causes folks to ask questions. The apostle Peter told his readers:
Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to every one who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15).
If Jesus is Lord, be ready–for sooner or later someone is going to ask you about it.
While Peter was delivering his well-prepared sermon, the congregation interrupted him, crying, “What must we do?” What preacher wouldn’t like to have that kind of response! Do you know what made them do that? It was the transformed lives of the believers that attracted their attention so Peter could preach to them.
It was the same with the Philippian jailer. He had been so impressed with the way Paul and Silas reacted to their mistreatment and imprisonment that when God shook the foundations for them, he brought up the subject.
But here is the significant thing about the stones. They were the past reaching into the present, a present condition resulting from a past event. It’s all right to talk about the past if there is some evidence of that past in the present. Every once in a while someone says to me, “You should have seen this church fifteen years ago. God sent a great revival–it was really something!” When I hear that I feel like saying, “Well, I’m glad you told me; otherwise, I’d never have known it.” There’s nothing wrong with talking about the past–it’s good to remember and recite God’s past blessings., But here’s the point, there ought to be present evidence of those past blessings. That past work of God should have been the beginning of an experience that is still going on.
Before we leave this subject, notice that each tribe had a stone This says to me that every family ought to have a memorial of God’s blessings. As the head of each tribe was responsible for getting the stone the head of each family should be able to bring a stone representing his experience with the Lord as a witness to his family. There ought to be in his life something that makes his children ask about his experience with the Lord.
When the stones were properly placed, God said they would be a witness to all the world: “that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty.” (Joshua 4:24)
And as we learn to follow through with our experience and go on to maturity in Christ, we will become a memorial to the mighty, saving hand of our Lord.
©Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2002