God’s people had a covenant with God—an agreement that specified the conditions of their relationship. The terms laid out in the Book of Deuteronomy are reflected in Joshua 1:7—“Carefully observe the whole instruction My servant Moses commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right or the left, so that you will have success wherever you go.”
When Achan sinned, God turned away from the Israelites. So when they battled the men of Ai, they were defeated. Thirty-six Israelites died. Joshua and the Israelites stoned Achan and his family and buried them beneath a large pile of stones as God commanded. These memorial stones reminded the people what we read in Romans 6:23: “The wages of sin is death.”
In the Bible story “The Defeat of Ai” from Joshua 8, God gave the Israelites another chance. He helped them ambush and destroy Ai—except this time God allowed them to plunder the city, keeping goods and livestock for themselves.
After their victory, Joshua built an altar to the Lord. He made burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings. Joshua wrote the law on stones. He read the book of the law to the people and renewed their covenant with the Lord.
God’s presence with Israel was tied directly to their obedience to Him. Obedience led to blessing, and disobedience led to curses. (See Deut. 28.) Jesus came and fulfilled the old covenant. He initiated a new covenant, and the law is written now not on stones, but on our hearts and in our minds. (Jer. 31:33; Heb. 10:16)
As you teach kids this week, emphasize that when we repent and trust in Jesus, our right standing with God doesn’t come from our obedience. It is not fazed by our disobedience.
While we may believe this with our minds, it is a difficult truth to trust with our hearts because it is so contrary to the way the world works, the way religion works.
The gospel is, therefore, radically different from religion. Religion operates on the principle: “I obey, therefore I am accepted.” The gospel operates on the principle: “I am accepted through Christ, therefore I obey.”
Timothy J. Keller
Our salvation does not depend on our own works, but on Christ’s finished work. He took the punishment we deserve, and His obedience brings our righteousness. (Rom. 5:19) By faith in Jesus, we have victory over sin and death (1 Cor. 15:57) and fellowship with God forever.