I want God to be with me. I want Him to bless me. I want Him to be with my church and bless it, too. But there have been times in my life when He has felt very distant. And truth be told, I couldn’t figure out why. Likewise, I have seen what look to be Bible-believing churches struggling to keep the doors open. The preaching is solid. Sunday school is on point. But the church is struggling. Why? It could be sin.
So the LORD said to Joshua, “Rise up! Why is it that you have fallen on your face? Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. And they have even taken some of the things under the ban and have both stolen and deceived. Moreover, they have also put them among their own things. Therefore the sons of Israel cannot stand before their enemies; they turn their backs before their enemies, for they have become accursed. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy the things under the ban from your midst. – Joshua 7:10-12, NASB
The situation before Joshua was a dire one. Israel went into battle against Ai and was beaten. If God was with Israel, how did this happen? Joshua learned the truth from God. In Joshua 6 God gave Jericho to the Israelites. However, He kept the city for Himself. Jericho was the first city in Canaan to be conquered. It was the firstfruits, the tithe, of what God would promise to be the land the Israelites were to have. However, at the beginning of Joshua 7 we learn that some did not honor the ban against taking anything from Jericho. This went unbeknown to Joshua. And thus Joshua led the Israelites into a battle they would ultimately lose.
This is the effect of sin and corruption within our lives and within our churches. If we feel God is distant, if we feel like we should be successful and we aren’t, or if we feel like God isn’t blessing us, the first place to look is at ourselves. We need to examine ourselves closely to see if there is sin in our lives. If there is, we need to confess it to the Lord and repent. Holding on to sin means we are aligning ourselves against God. That’s never a good position to be in. At the least, we are choosing the sin over whatever blessings God would want to shower us with. At the worst, we feel the full brunt of God’s discipline.
When it comes to churches, sin in the congregation can really hurt the body of Christ gathered there. Paul tried to deal with that situation with the church in Corinth and we see examples clearly stated in Revelation with respect to the 7 churches that indicate that Christ takes sin in the body seriously. Churches are hesitant to perform church discipline as prescribed in Scripture for a variety of reasons. However, by not doing so, the church only hurts itself. It could find itself in the situation where God wants to work in that church, but God refuses to because the church refuses to deal with the sin in its midst. And as a result, it will lose the spiritual battles it should win, much like the Israelites lost the physical battle they should have won.
This is especially true when it comes to revival in the Church as a whole. We’ve not seen a massive revival in over a century. The last big one was the Welsh Revival in 1904-1905. A lot has been written about revival, but the fact of the matter is that unless the Church is willing to deal with its sin, revival will tarry. Evan Roberts, the young man God used as the instrument to really kickstart the Welsh Revival, preached a very simple message based on 4 points. The first two points go to the heart of what Joshua and the Israelites faced at Ai. Those two points were:
- Confess all known sin
- Deal with and get rid of anything “doubtful” in our lives
It is up to us to do these things. If we don’t, we stand opposed to God. And in those cases, we should expect God to withhold any aid or sustenance He might have considered to give us. But if we confess our sins and look to get rid of those things which are doubtful in our lives, then we set up the possibility, the likelihood, that God will be with us, that He will bless us, and that He will protect us and fight for us. This is especially true in our individual churches and in the Church as a whole, especially if we desire revival in a large scale again.