Terry is based at Church of Christ the King, Brighton, UK, and leads the Newfrontiers team. A well-known Bible teacher, Terry speaks at conferences around the world. He has written several books, including No Well-Worn Paths, Does the Future Have a Church?, God’s Lavish Grace, and his latest, The Tide is Turning.
See also Andrew Fountain’s notes from this talk, The Folly of Achan.
There are a few traditions within the family of Newfrontiers. One of them is that the father of the movement, Terry Virgo, always closes the conference. I always look forward to these messages. He manages to blend an amazing expositional gift with a strong prophetic edge. Last year’s message on leadership was simply outstanding, and I hope that if you haven’t already listened to that message you will do so. Terry is much loved by our family, and if you haven’t yet made his acquaintance, Terry Virgo’s blog and website, as well as my interview with him, are great places to find out more about him.
Terry seemed quite emotional on the video summary of the conference, which they showed us before he came to speak. He said this had been one of the most glorious weeks we had ever had together, and he was not wrong. I feel personally that this week has touched me at least as much as any previous conference I have attended. I always get excited to think of the amazing impact that a conference like this can have around the world.
The reason Terry was drawn to the book of Joshua was because of a sense he had that God was moving us into a new era. Joshua 7 is an astonishing chapter, and in many ways parallels the book of Acts. Acts and Joshua are in many ways similar books with the people going forward into a new break-out of a community.
The army is not a faceless army of robots — rather, it is people who have strengths, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. We don’t want any of us to be missing as we press forward together. The story of Achan might seem a strange place to take a conference like this during the final session. But Terry explained that he had felt the strong leading of the Spirit to do so.
The previous chapter ended with elation and excitement. Joshua was now famous as an invincible leader with an invincible army. Joshua takes on board the perceptions of those who he had sent rather than wisely seeking God. Then there is a crushing defeat. God had said no one will be able to stand against them. Now suddenly, Joshua is vulnerable and swings like a pendulum to, “We are finished!” He felt there was no future for him. We can feel that. Fear grips us sometimes.
Joshua then begins to cry to God. He doesn’t ask the generals how did you fight? He doesn’t just look to the immediate. What is the big picture? Two different perspectives.
The invasion of the land was the fulfilment of the promises to Abraham, which in turn are a reflection of the plan of God for Adam. It is like a great recovery. Similar to Eden, there is a “don’t touch.”
At the same time he is blessing Israel, God is also coming in to judge the land. God had said to Abraham that the evil of Canaan was not yet enough. At this time the sins had got to such a state that God was judging gross evil that had affected every aspect of life.
The story turns on the actions of one man. A double-minded man caused the whole problem. An independent assessment results in a secret agenda. One of the soldiers is not persuaded. He isn’t single-purposed. He is finding what God finds unattractive to attract him. He saw. Be careful what you look at. You might say, “I couldn’t help seeing.” The forbidden thing can seem delightful. Be careful of the lust of the eyes. We have a vulnerable spot. We can’t help seeing, but there is a power that can come. Jesus said some brutal words — gouge out your eye. There is a danger in seeing.
David was a man after God’s own heart. Everything about him was magnificent. But one day when he didn’t go to battle he saw something. He is ruined. The path is to shame, disaster, and death. Achan wished he had never ever seen. If I hadn’t gone there, I wouldn’t have seen it. Why then do some of us choose to look? Why do some of us go to the place where you know you will see it? Why are some of us so stupid as to not just catch a glimpse, but we go back to look again? We live in an age where we can hardly help seeing, but don’t go back there.
After he saw, he coveted. He allowed his imagination to captivate him. Obviously we tend to think of sexual sin in this area. But the Bible here is talking about riches. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation . . . which plunges men into destruction. (1 Timothy 6:9) It’s not just having wealth, but the prestige, power, and independence that goes with it. Wealth means that you can tell the rest of the world to get lost. Lust conceives and gives birth to sin which gives birth to death.
So he saw, he coveted, then finally he took. He defied God’s clear command. Like David, he took what he knew he should never have touched. Then, he finally hid. He wasn’t fulfilled. Because it was forbidden, you can have it, but no one else is allowed to know. There is no abandonment and fulfilment of joy like we experienced last night during worship. Instead, they had to hide from the Lord.
Secret sin leads to relational problems. It ruins. Imagine what David must have felt looking in the eye of his general who he’d told to arrange the death of Uriah.
The wrath of God was coming. God looks at our planet today and says, “Enough of this!” In all the joy and light and break-out of the Church, there is also a revelation of the judgment of God. Which side are we on? The whole battle turns on a double-hearted double-minded person. Are we in this together?
HOW COULD THE DISASTER HAVE BEEN AVOIDED?
- Joshua should have avoided self-sufficiency. We need to be fearfully aware of our total dependence on God. Before Jericho, he knew he needed God. Suddenly he thought, “I can do this now.” God wants us to be listening. Beware the lure of independence.
- Achan completely forgot his identity and his purpose. Christianity is an essentially corporate experience. He is in step. Suddenly he gets another idea, and becomes out-of-step. He was not ruthlessly committed to God’s perspective. God is angry against sin. “Who knows the power of his anger?” If we don’t feel anger, then we are not in step with God’s view of our society.
We are part of a body. God told us to make disciples. They did this by forming churches. The only way to become a mature disciple of Christ is to be part of a church. Church is not just for your social life, it’s for your salvation. It kills the desire to sin. It is not all about your personal fulfilment. It is not all about us. We die to self and get baptized into an army, a body, a people. God does love us and has a wonderful plan for our lives, but he wants us to be part of a community to work it out. God doesn’t want a faceless army.
A Christian is a member of Christ. Our fulfilment is found in him. Don’t float. Find a group that takes church seriously. “Elder” isn’t just a title. They are shepherds. They are here for us to be led. It is not that are characterized by the volunteering of self for the benefit of others is what God wants in his Church. We need to have a network of mutual care and support. Let’s abandon the “my rights” concept. The Gospel is totally contrary to that. We need to make space for people and die to ourselves. Let’s live for the people of God. We love the Church as Christ’s bride, his treasure, his workmanship.
We are light. We are meant to shine in the places where we are. We used to be darkness. We are to go to all the world bringing in the light. We died with Christ. We were raised with him. We are seated in the heavenlies. We didn’t get ourselves there. We are a new creation. We are righteous. Now let’s live like it! Christ’s wonderful life was credited to me. He has made us righteous as a gift. Now we must live it out. It’s not so much about “don’t touch, don’t taste, don’t handle.” Legalism doesn’t produce righteousness. Now God sees us as righteous — now live it. We are no longer what we were. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says we need to talk to ourselves. He said, “If you don’t preach to yourself, you are not a Christian.” We are light, what should we have to do with darkness?
The story ends with ruthless execution. It’s a shocking ending for our ears. He was put to death. God said, “I won’t have it.” We see the same thing happening in the midst of a NT revival. A couple lied to the Spirit, missed it, and were killed by God. There are people who have missed it, even in their middle years. Be ruthless. Seek the things above. Set your mind on things above. Put to death what belongs to your earthly body. We need a new body. In the meantime, we must take responsibility for our bodies. Put to death the things that lead to the wrath of God. Why do we play games with the things that mean the wrath of God is coming?
We must put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit. How do we do that?
- Engage with the Spirit. Get baptized with the spirit.
- Enjoy the Spirit. Don t just tick it off as something we have done. Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit. When you are enjoying him and his fellowship, it is much easier to resist temptation. Get full of Him.
- Have the energy of the Spirit. By his presence and power we share in the divine nature. Ephesians 5 is the Holy Spirit-filled life. Enjoy the life of God.
- Have the eschatology of the Spirit. He is the promise of the age to come. He is a foretaste of eternal glory. It’s a down-payment. It’s heaven coming down to where we are now. We are having a taste of the eternal glory. Darkness has nearly gone, the light is coming. Day is at hand. Don’t live in the dark. We are the light of the world. Walk as children of the light. Don’t play around with something less than that.
God poured out his wrath on Jesus so that he could pour out his love on us.
Be ruthless. Say I am not going there any more. I am blocking a channel. I am making myself accountable. Don’t be fulfilled by sin, be ruthless instead. They killed Achan.
The opening verse of the next chapter turns the page and says, “Don’t be frightened, remember who you are . . . now go and take Ai.” Let’s be ruthless, and move on to victory.
I spoke with Tope, who is the lead elder of Jubilee Church, about his impression of this sermon. He replied as follows:
“With forceful passion, engaging delivery of truth, incredible urgency and raised voice, and utter conviction, Terry Virgo preached until he himself was consumed in the sermon, leaving us with an unadulturated view of the Word of God that left us all challenged and transformed, meek and strong, and grateful and amazed.”