James H. Zachary was Associate Secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association and the first editor of Elder’s Digest when this article was written.

Sermon Objective

To show how to avoid the steps that lead to eternal death.

Scripture: Joshua 7:20, 21.

I. Introduction

Begin by telling the story of the Israelite general lying face downward and mourning (Joshua 7:6-9).

A. His army had been victorious at the fortress of Jericho, only to suffer defeat at a small village called Ai. Why? God responded, "Israel has sinned. They cannot stand before their enemies" (see verses 11, 12). Then God commanded Joshua, "Up, sanctify the people" (verse 13).

Joshua called the nation together. They cast lots to see who had sinned. The tribe, the clan, and then the family were singled out, and finally the man, Achan, was revealed. Joshua faced the troublemaker with a command: "My son, give glory to God and make confession" (see verse 19).

1. The Bible does not mention that Achan gave glory to God.

2. But Achan had no choice but to confess.

B. Read the sermon text—Joshua 7:20, 21. As you read this text, ask the congregation to listen for the steps that led to Achan's death. Once the steps are identified ask, "At what point did Achan sin?"

II. The Four Steps:

"I Saw, I Coveted, I Took, I Hid."

A. The first step: "I saw."

1. Achan's background predisposed him to be tempted by material things. He had spent his life as a poor man camping in the desert,

a. But this was no excuse. 
b. Achan could have interrupted his journey to destruction at any time. God gives us a way out if we turn to Him.

2. His eyes fell on gold, silver, and a rich Babylonian robe,

a. We cannot always avoid seeing forbidden things. We are exposed to them every day.
b. Achan chose to dwell on these things,
c. Achan went into the experience lacking spiritual insight and faith in God. This lack of preparation too had been a choice.

Explanation: Achan was already in Canaan. The Lord had safely taken him and his family through the wilderness wanderings. God had removed the Jericho fortress. All of this land and its riches would soon be given to the Israelites. He had every reason to believe in God for he knew how God had led in the past. He knew about the deliverance of Israel through the plagues on Egypt, the opening of the Red Sea, the manna in the wilderness, the crossing of the Jordan.

B. The second step: "I coveted."

1. As he kept looking at the treasure, he saw a chance to become rich.

2. He began to think of what he could do with those riches.

Illustration: Tell the story of King David's experience. When David saw Bathsheba bathing, he did not look away. His lingering, lustful look led him to covet. Soon adultery and murder followed, and finally the loss of four of his sons.

a. Stress the need to control how we react to what we see, and how we must immediately turn away from what is evil or forbidden.
b. Sin starts in the mind and involves motives.
c. At the point Achan chose to covet, he sinned.
d. Refer to Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5:27, 28.

C. The third step: "I took."

1. Evil actions follow wrong thinking. Taking the riches was the natural result of Achan's coveting.

Illustration: As a fish swallowing the hook, together with the bait, is taken and killed; so the covetous with their gold get many sorrows which entangle them in death everlasting. (Cawdray).*

2. Stress why this sin was so wrong. God had won the battle at Jericho. The Israelites shouted praises to God while the walls fell. All the loot belonged to the One who had won the battle. Anyone who took loot for personal use became a thief,

a. Achan failed to give God the glory,
b. Failing to do so was part of his sin.

D. The fourth step: "I hid."

1. Like all thieves, Achan had to hide the stolen goods,

a. He could not wear the foreign garment,
b. He would not be able to explain sudden spending of wealth to the community, so he had to hide his booty.

2. The one who steals or breaks other commandments must also attempt to hide himself or what he has done.

III. Summary

"I saw, I coveted, I took, I hid." These steps ultimately lead to destruction if no repentance is made along the way. If Achan could speak from under the pile of stones that fell on him, he would add to the first four steps, "I died." Thus death is the result when one chooses to continue in sin.

IV. Personal Application

How can you avoid the steps that lead to destruction? You choose not to follow them.

A. The psalmist wrote, "I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes" (Ps. 101:3).

1. Remember that what we spend time watching, we come to value.

2. We become calloused to evil if we continue to watch it. We become participants.

a. If we cannot avoid seeing evil and it comes unexpectedly, that is the time to turn away,
b. The lingering look leads to coveting, sin, and destruction.

B. Look to Jesus. A well-known chorus tells us to "turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace."

1. How different Achan's story would have turned out if He had kept his eyes upon the Lord, His Saviour. God had promised to give him a full, happy life in the land of Canaan.

2. But Achan ran ahead of the Lord, took things into his own hands, disobeyed, and lost everything.

3. As we face decisions each day, we must keep our eyes upon the Lord Jesus and our minds on what He has and is doing for us.

a. Instead of destruction, He gives us life,
b. His power enables us to cope with daily challenges.
c. He will not withhold any good thing from His obedient ones.

V. Closing Appeal

Colossians 3:2 urges the Christian to set his or her mind on the things above. We find joy and peace in filling our minds with heavenly things. The pull of worldly things lessens through the power of God. We know assurance by thinking on the life and death of Christ for us. We know peace by communing with God. How many here want that peace and assurance?

* Taken from 6000 Sermon Illustrations, Elon Foster, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, 1992, p. 148.