We all have sins we must struggle against. Sometimes it is easier to keep up the fight if we know how the battle usually goes. Fortunately, we have a perfect example of how sin usually affects people in the story of Achan.
As the Israelites were embarking on their conquest of the Promised Land they took Jericho (and the walls came a-tumblin’ down). The Israelites were supposed to destroy everything in the city, and anything worth value was to be given to the Tabernacle/Temple for use there. Later the Lord would allow the Israelites to keep what they find, but this was a test of their faithfulness and obedience. Achan, from the tribe of Judah, failed this test. He kept some of the valuable things. When he was finally confronted by Joshua, this is his response:
Achan answered Joshua, “It’s true. I’ve sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: Among the booty I saw a single beautiful robe in the Babylonian style, two hundred shekels of silver, and a single gold bar weighing fifty shekels. I desired them and took them. Now they are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver on the bottom.”
This is how sin works. Achan saw somethings he liked that were not for him. After he saw them, he desired them. From desire, he takes them. Then he hid them in order to keep them. Temptation begins with simply noticing something. It can end there if we do not entertain the thought of pursuing something that is sinful, whatever that temptation may be. If we begin to linger on that temptation to our senses, we begin to desire to fulfill the temptation. At this point it has moved from our perception to our mind and we think about fulfilling the temptation. The process may still end here if we decide not to act on the temptation. If, however, we given in to that desire, we act on the temptation and openly sin. At this point, we may still repent and seek forgiveness. Finally, if we act on the sin and do not repent, we try to hide the sin and ensure we do not ever have to admit we committed it. This is a tough place from which to repent.
All along the process, from first temptation to hiding our sins from others, there are opportunities to stop the process and turn to God. If we stop right when we are first tempted through our senses, seeing or hearing or feeling something, then it is not even sin. It is still just temptation, and being tempted is not a sin. Even Jesus was tempted. This is the easiest point from which to stop. Each successive stage gets harder and harder to turn to God. If the temptation moves to desire, then we have committed the sin in our hearts, whether or not we ever get the chance to actually commit the sin physically. Yet there still can be repentance here at this stage. Even if we act out on that desire and actually commit the sin physically, we can still turn and repent.
If there are any sins for which you have not yet repented, but are trying to hide, confess them to God out loud and ask for forgiveness. Then, remember this process for sin and the next time you perceive a temptation, do not even entertain it with your thoughts so it cannot even become a desire. The Lord can give you the strength to do this. But be smart about it. If it is a sin with which you regularly struggle, do not put yourself in a situation where you will be tempted to sin. If it is a sin that you commit with certain people, do not associate with those people. If it is a sin you commit when you are alone, surround yourself with others.
Sin does not have to succeed. Through the power of God and his presence in our lives, we can overcome it and stop it.