A sign of a healthy church is it clearly rejects accepted and widespread cultural sin.
The story of the book of Joshua
The book of Joshua picks up right after Moses has died and Israel is ready to enter the Promised Land. Joshua is presented in the story as the “New Moses” who is leading the family into the Promised Land while attempting to persuade them to obey God’s commands.
The parallels between Moses and Joshua are many. For example, just like the sea parted for Moses during the exodus from Egpyt, the waters of the Jordan River part and the priests carry the arc of the covenant across as the whole family enters the land (Joshua 3).
Although the land has already been given to them, they have not yet taken possession of it. In order for this to happen, it must be cleared of humanity’s evil. God wants to use this family to do it, but they must obey Him in order to be the vehicle by which this will happen.
Once the family is in the land, they predictably meet hostility from the people around them. There are accounts of the battles with these Canaanites that offer contrasting images of God’s faithfulness and Israel’s failure.
In the battle of Jericho (Joshua 6), Israel takes a completely passive approach. They let God’s presence in the arc lead them around the city to music for 6 days. The people of Jericho don’t turn to God, so on the 7th day the priests blow the trumpets and the walls come falling down. God won the battle through Israel trusting, waiting and obeying.
In the battle at Ai (Joshua 8), we see the opposite. Israel fails to obey God and they are defeated. It’s only after humble repentance and dealing with sin that Israel gains victory.
The point is if Israel is going to inherit the land, they must trust God by being obedient to His commands. If they do, they will rid the land of God’s enemies.
After they are victorious, they inherit the land for the family. Joshua divides it up between the 12 tribes (Joshua 13). This was the fulfillment of God’s ancient promise to Abraham that his descendants would inherit the Promised Land.
The book closes with 2 speeches from Joshua (Joshua 23). He reminds them of what God has done for them. He’s brought them into the land and rescued them from the Cannanites. So he calls them to turn away from the Cannanite gods and be faithful to the covenant they made with God and follow His commands.
If they do, it will lead to life and blessing in the land. If they’re unfaithful, Israel will call down on itself the same divine judgment that the Canaanites experienced. They’ll be kicked off the land and go into exile.
The book ends with the open question “What is Israel going to do?”
Christ is our inheritance
“The Promised Land” in the Old Testament was a foreshadowing picture of Jesus Christ. Just like the land was given to Israel, Christ has been given to the Church. And just like all the riches of the land were theirs, so all the riches of Jesus Christ are the Church’s.
Here’s a snippet of how Paul expressed it in writing the book of Ephesians…
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our wrongdoings, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He set forth in Him, regarding His plan of the fullness of the times, to bring all things together in Christ, thing in the heavens and things on the earth.
In him we also have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things in accordance with the plan of His will…(Eph. 1:9-11)
Possessing the riches of Christ
But there’s a difference between being given an inheritance and actually possessing it. I can be told that I inherited a relative’s estate, but until I actually possess it, I don’t experience the riches of it. Possessing involves a transfer.
Before the people of Israel arrived, the land was possessed by people that chose to do evil. They were morally corrupt (Lev. 18) and even practiced child sacrifice (Deut. 12:29-31). For Israel to truly possess the land as they were promised, the evil would have to be removed.
God knew that if it wasn’t, Israel would be influenced by it and sucked into it. They would still be God’s people. They just wouldn’t experience the fullness of life and blessings that the land had to offer.
To truly show the world what it was like for God to be King of His people, they would have to reject the evil influences of the world around them.
Identifying God’s definitions of good and bad
This is how a healthy church also relates to the world around it. Every time period and culture has their favorite “flavors” of sin they adhere to. They can oscillate and/or morph from generation to generation and location to location. It doesn’t take long for what is defined as good and bad among a people group to easily shift to being the opposite.
When I think about the country I live in, it was perfectly “Christian” to own slaves 200 years ago and just about the worst sin people could imagine to practice homosexuality. In this day and age, slavery is considered deplorable and homosexuality is accepted in a growing number of people who claim to be Jesus followers.
A healthy church will not sway under pressure to accept widespread cultural sins in whatever the current “flavors” are as behavior appropriate for God’s people. It identifies God’s definitions of good and bad according to His purpose and intentions for humans. It then works to fully express His purpose and intentions for His people regardless of cultural sin preferences.
For example, a healthy church in America might identify together that gluttony or consumerism are widespread cultural sins in their time and place. They would then work together to build in rhythms and practices in their individual and corporate lives together to be countercultural in those areas.
They would work to honor God in their diets and with their wallets. They would fight these battles together. They would surely face hostility from the world around them because they would seem like a peculiar people. But as they drive these things out of their life together, they more fully express what it’s like for God to be King of His people.
God wants to use His people to expand His Kingdom and rid the earth of human evil. But they must trust in His ways through obedience to truly take possession of His riches.
It’s when churches get apathetic in identifying and battling the different influences of evil in the world around them that it affects their health. But when they turn away and are faithful to God’s ways, they experience the life and blessing of taking possession of the riches of Christ.