Open Doors

But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them.

…So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai…

…Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. And Joshua said, “Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? 

…The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face?Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies

Joshua 7:1, 4, 6-7, 10-12

This is a truth that still applies today but so few understand. Sin in our lives is an open door for the enemy to attack us. If we choose to live in sin, we choose to be a piñata for Satan as he steals, kills and destroys (John 10:10).

One person in Israel’s army kept treasures for themselves. Then Israel went up against an enemy that should have been no match for them, and yet they lost. The Lord was not with them. The sin had separated the people from God.

In response to their defeat, they cried out to the Lord as if to say, “Why did this happen to us? How could you let this happen to us God?” Sound familiar?

God immediately corrects their assumption. The people were grieving and mourning as if they were victims. God tells Joshua, “Stand up!” They were not victims. They invited this defeat because of their own sin. God did not do this to them. Their enemy did this to them because they hadn’t yet dealt with the sin in their camp. While they were on their face grieving as victims they should have been on their face repenting of their own sin.

This applies to our lives in so many ways. We often think that if there is sin in one part of our lives, it will only affect that part of our life. Wrong. Sin in one part of our life gives the enemy access to other parts of our life, and He may bring destruction in other parts of our life that have little to do with our sin (just as the men in Israel’s army who died had little to do with Achan’s sin).

We also tend to blame God when bad things happen instead of recognizing that it was the enemy at work. God did not defeat Israel’s army, their enemy did. And the distance created between Israel and God was not something God created. It was the sin of Israel that separated the people from God’s presence.

So often we grieve as victims when we should be on our face in repentance. Self-pity has become a national past-time in America, but self-pity is demonic. It turns the focus and the blame on others and on God instead of allowing the light of conviction to shine on our own hearts.

Once we repent of our sin, the door to the enemy is shut. But so long as we pridefully refuse to admit our sin, that door is wide open. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to shine the spotlight of conviction on our hearts. And when sin is exposed, we need to be ruthless about eliminating it from our life. We need to ask for forgiveness, from God and others, and we need to eradicate that sin in all its forms.

Jesus is the one who recommended a ruthless approach to sin in our life. He said:

If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Matthew 5:29-30

The apostle Paul said, “do not give the devil a foothold“(Ephesians 4:27).

To be sure, not every hardship we face in life is a result of sin. But we’ll never know the open doors to the enemy in our own life unless we allow the Holy Spirit to show us. Too many Christians walk around looking like Swiss cheese in the spirit rather than a fortress. Too many followers of Jesus are play toys of the enemy because their chronic unrepented sin leaves them open to all manner of attack.

Pray this simple prayer below from Psalm 139 and ask the Holy Spirit to show you where you might be unnecessarily vulnerable to the enemy’s attack. And if He shows you something, repent, ask for forgiveness and eradicated it from your life.

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

Cut It Out

Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

Matthew 18:7-9

If something in your life causes you to sin, cut it out of your life. Even if something doesn’t cause you to officially “sin” but just causes a sense of being slimed by the uncleanness of the world, remove that from your life as well. Jesus wanted all of His disciples, including us, to be serious about removing contaminations from our life.

When priests would enter the outer court of the Temple, they would sacrifice animals on the altar. The blood of the animals would temporarily cleanse them from sin. But then they went over to the bronze wash basin where they would wash with water. This action wasn’t about cleansing intentional sin but about removing “uncleanness.” This was about removing the unintentional contamination that inevitably gets on us just by living in a fallen world.

What we hear will become what we speak. What are you listening to? If what you hear from music, podcasts, talk radio, or gossipy co-workers negatively impacts your heart, stop listening to it! Cut it out of your life.

What we see will become what we think about. What are you looking at? If what you are watching on Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime, YouTube, your computer screen, or your phone negatively impacts your spiritual health, stop watching it! Cut it out of your life. It doesn’t have to officially be labeled “sin” to fill your heart and mind with things that are not good for you. If it is junk food for your soul, then it will still have a negative impact on your life with Christ.

Jesus used severe language to tell us to remove the contamination from our life as a way to let us know how important this is. Jesus intentionally used violent and graphic imagery as a way to get our attention. Stop messing around with sin. Sin is not something to be toyed with. Treat sin as the radioactive element that it really is.

In the Kingdom of God, strength and weakness are defined differently. It’s not a sign of strength to watch something we shouldn’t be watching and then claim that it won’t affect us. That’s weakness. Real strength is when we admit that watching that or listening to that will cause our mind to go places it shouldn’t go. Watching that will cause my mind to be saturated in lust (over-sexualized shows), or fear (horror movies), or anger (news programs), or despair (sad movies), so I’d rather cut it out of my life than have to battle against those things later in my thoughts. That is real strength in the Kingdom.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9

What is God telling you that you need to cut out of your life?

The Grace of God

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Titus 2:11-14

Paul writes to his co-minister in the gospel, Titus, who is acting as the apostolic leader over the island of Crete. Notice how Paul describes grace and the gospel. Here are some things this passage of scripture teaches us:

  1. Salvation is offered to all people. This lines up with 1 Timothy 2:3-4 which says that God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
  2. If God wants everyone saved and offers salvation to all people and yet not all people are saved, then this means that what God wants to happen in this world doesn’t always happen. There are forces of sin and evil that push against God’s will being done.
  3. Notice that grace here doesn’t just save us. It doesn’t only justify us, putting us in right standing with God. Grace also teaches us–empowers us–to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions. Grace doesn’t just forgive. Grace enables. Grace empowers us to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives even in the midst of this present evil age. So if someone is making excuses for their sin and then follows with something like, “But, I live by grace, not works-righteousness” then they don’t understand grace. If we truly live by grace, we are empowered and enabled to say “No” to sin. Grace enables.
  4. Notice also the reason why Jesus sacrificed Himself. Paul gives us two reasons: a) to redeem us from all wickedness, and b) to purify for himself a people who are eager to do good. Jesus’ death and resurrection wasn’t just about getting us saved. It was also about having us purified. We are washed clean by the blood of of the Lamb, cleansed by the washing with water through the word, refined by the fire of the Holy Spirit, and illuminated by the light of Christ in whom there is no darkness. Jesus wanted a people who were His very own, who lived and acted just like Him.

Instruments for Special Purposes

 “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”

In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

2 Timothy 2:19-22

I grew up with cliches in the church that were based off of a skewed understanding of God’s grace. I remember hearing things and saying things like, “All sin is equal to God” and “God will use anyone regardless of our sin.” These cliches are half-truths mixed with error that circulate around the church as a way of trying to get away from works-based righteousness. The heart behind these sayings is good but the message can be easily taken in the wrong direction.

The missing piece here is that God’s grace doesn’t just forgive, it also empowers us to live holy lives. Grace doesn’t just wipe out our record of sin, but it also gives us the ability to flee evil desires and live clean.

Paul was clear to Timothy that part of following Jesus was turning away from wickedness and leaning into holiness. Paul was clear that when we cleanse sin out of our lives, we become able to be used by God in greater measure in the Kingdom of God. Like surgical instruments, if we are rusty or contaminated, we spread that contamination any time God tries to use us. So the more purified we are in our lives, the better surgical instrument we become in the hands of God. And, yes, sometimes our sin or immaturity will prevent God from using us. This is both for our good and for the good of those to whom we would have ministered.

Is all sin equal in the eyes of God?

It is true that what Jesus did on the cross paid for any and all sin. God can forgive any sin. It’s not harder for Him to forgive one over another. But different sins do have different consequences. The damage of sin varies greatly depending on the severity. So pretending that one sin is no more severe than another is harmful. There are different levels of sin in the sense of severity, and we have to admit this in order to bring healing to the devastation that sin causes. All sin is forgivable, but the mess that sin creates differs greatly depending on what it is.

Will God use anyone regardless of their sin?

Yes, but He won’t use everyone in the same way. Sometimes our sin prevents God from using us at all. It’s not that God doesn’t want to use us, but sin in our lives (and immaturity) creates cracks in the foundation of our life. If God were to put the heavy weight of responsibility that comes with being used by God in powerful ways on a foundation that has huge cracks in it, the foundation would crumble. It’s God’s love for us and grace toward us that keeps Him from using us when we are steeped in sin. He doesn’t want us to be crushed under the weight of it.

The other thing that happens when we are used by God in powerful ways is that the enemy often launches counter-attacks against us. If we have secured our life by allowing ourselves to be continually purified, we can withstand the attack. But if our life is Swiss cheese, full of holes created by impurity, sin, selfishness and rebellion, then the counter-attack is extremely damaging. We don’t have the spiritual fortifications to withstand it. God would rather not put us in that situation. He’s not punishing us for our sin by not using us; He is protecting us. This is what a loving Father does.

If we want to be used by God in the Kingdom, we don’t have to be perfect. But in order for us to be used by God in increasing measure, we must be purified in increasing measure. We must be willing to have the refining fire of the Holy Spirit expose our sin and partner with us to remove it from our lives. Justifying our sin is no longer an option.