Can Hidden Sin Affect My Life?

by Roger Barrier

Dear Roger,
I’m very concerned about what I just read in Joshua chapter seven. A man named Achan knowingly disobeyed God. Then, God stoned him and his family to death as a consequence for his sin. I have sinned a lot in my life, even after I became a Christian. My personal concern is whether or not something like this can happen to my family and me?
Sincerely, Larry

Dear Larry,

When you read Achan’s story in Joshua 7, notice that it is all about hidden sin. I believe that much of what happened to him is a direct result of the fact that he knowingly sinned and then deliberately covered it up, trying to hide his actions from our all-knowing, all-seeing God.

Let’s dig into Joshua’s account together:

Joshua 6 describes Israel’s successful entry into the Promised Land.

“So, the Lord was with Joshua and his fame spread throughout the land” (Joshua 6:27).

They accomplished this long-awaited, hard-fought goal. But unfortunately, all was not well among the Israelites:

“The Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things. Achan took some of them. So, the Lord’s anger burned against Israel” (Joshua 7:1).

God made it clear to Joshua and the Israelites that all of the sacred things, those “devoted” to the worship of other gods, were to be destroyed (see Joshua 7:13).

However, Achan was covetous. He took the “devoted things,” as well as some gold and beautiful Babylonian garments. He hid them in the bottom of his tent, covering them up with his family’s help.

In one of their next battles, God instructed Joshua to destroy the tiny town of Ai. What should have been an easy battle was turned into a rout. The men of Ai chased away thousands of Israeli soldiers; some were slaughtered and left to rot on the battlefield. Ai was victorious (Joshua 7:3-8).

Why? What went wrong?

On the surface, it seems that we have a military problem. Israel marched out to conquer Ai, and they were slaughtered. But the Bible reveals that the problem was a spiritual issue, not a military one.

When Joshua came to God, praying for an explanation, God declared that the root cause of the defeat was one man who disobeyed Him.


Let me be very clear about the lesson God was teaching here. The consequences of sin are unpredictable, haphazard, and sometimes seemingly totally unrelated to the initial sin itself. There is no way to “contain” or control the consequences of sin.

God considered the entire nation of Israel to have sinned. Then, after Joshua confronted Achan, destroying the “devoted things” he had stolen, the people of Israel stoned and burned Achan and his family (Joshua 19-25).

Israel repented, and “The Lord turned from His fierce anger” (Joshua 7:26). Then God said, “Now attack Ai… for I have delivered [them] into your hands” (Joshua 8:1).

So, they did.

1. There is a relationship among various sins.

In other words, one sin usually leads to other sins. Achan saw the garment. He coveted the garment. He stole the garment, and soon he buried it in the back of his tent.

Notice that the fruit of the spirit comes in clusters! That’s why it’s not called the “fruits of the spirit.” Consider love, joy, peace, patience, etc. We can’t have one without the others, because they all come from a common source (see Galatians 5:22-24).

“Sins of the flesh” come in clusters, too. When we commit one sin, often others follow: sexual immorality, idolatry, hatred, discord, jealousy, etc. (see Galatians 5:19-21).

They all have a common root. Therefore, when we sin in one area, then there’s an outbreak in another area, and it seems that they are totally unrelated… but they aren’t!

2. The principles of “sowing” and “harvesting” are always in play when we sin.

Let’s look at three principles about sowing and harvesting, as they reveal the reality that our actions have consequences.

1. We always reap what we sow. If we plant something, one day we will harvest it.

2. We always reap more than we sow.

A teenager once said to me, “Pastor, I decided to checkout a porn site because I wanted to satisfy my curiosity.” Unfortunately, he’s now addicted to pornography, and he finds aroused within him all sorts of insatiable fierce desires that are tearing him apart. He didn’t plan on that, but we always reap more than we sow.

3. We always reap in a different season than we sow.

One of the reasons why sin is so desperately deceptive is that we think for a while that we’re getting away with it, because the crop doesn’t come up immediately!

A man shared with me that during his fraternity days in college, his every Saturday morning prayer was, “Dear Jesus, please don’t let her get pregnant.”

We steal from our employer, and six months later, we are finally caught.

We practice sin in our marriage, and we are confused and don’t immediately understand what’s happening as the divorce papers are served.

We never reap in the same season that we sow. We plant the seeds, and we harvest in a later season.

3. We can’t have victory in one area of our life if we tolerate sin in another area.

For example, a man owns a failing business. He commits fraud to keep it going.

He may think that the problems are economic or managerial. Then, he has a small automobile accident. He may see them as totally unrelated. But it may be that God is behind-the-scenes, dealing with him in discipline so that he might repent and return back to Jesus. Hebrews 12:11 teaches,

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Again, God sometimes brings judgment in areas that seem totally unrelated to a specific sin.

God told Solomon not to marry foreign women. Solomon flaunted God by taking 700 wives and 300 concubines from many different nations and people groups. The Bible says that because Solomon ignored the command, God raised up adversaries against him.

Suddenly Solomon was involved in all types of political battles! Why? The problem was moral sin. But wait; they seem to be unrelated. No! There’s a relationship between sin and consequences.

4. Sometimes, when one person sins, everyone is charged with sin.

“The Israelites were unfaithful regarding the devoted things. … Achan took some. And so, the Lord ‘s anger burned against all Israel. (Joshua 7:2)

One man sins, and God says, “All Israel sins.”

I’m certain that many of the Israelites were thinking, “I had nothing to do with stealing that garment! Why’s God blaming me for what Achan did?”

As far as God is concerned, there is shared sin.

“You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 20:4-5)

Astounding! Children can be complicit in their parent’s sin.

Achan sinned, and as far as God was concerned, so did all of Israel. Remember that all of Israel had received His instructions about the devoted things. We’ve all received the totality of His Word.

Once, a lady came to me for counseling about her daughter’s sinful behavior. “I’ve got to speak to you about my daughter. She is into immorality and drugs and she’s ruining her life! What shall we do about it?”

“I have a more important question. Before we talk about her, tell me, how are you and your husband getting along?”

She blurted out, “It’s terrible. But what does that have to do with it?”

Do you see what God’s telling us! There is an inter-relationship among family members. The daughter was suffering consequences that probably began with her parents’ sin.

However, it is also true that In the Bible book of Ezekiel, God talks about the fact that children must bear responsibility for their own sins. We can’t blame others for our own sins, but there is a biblical concept of shared guilt.

5. Judgment can be shared among multiple groups—such as all the people who live in a particular country.

Do you realize that as a nation, we are all now sharing in the judgment of God?

I’ve always thought, “Someday, God’s going to judge America, and it’ll be with war or pestilence or famine or wasting disease or earthquakes or plagues.”

Do you recognize some of these today?

However, the most intense judgment of God is not famines and earthquakes and war. It is His allowance of the scattering of families and the breakup of homes.

I don’t know of one family where there is not a divorce or a family breakup somewhere in the immediate family relations.

God says, “I’m judging you by allowing your sin to scatter families and break up homes and destroy relationships. Your precious children will be reared in an atmosphere of insecurity as they are pushed around like pawns on a chess board, while Mom and Dad find someone else for them to live with.”

Many of these same children will grow up and commit those very same sins apart from the grace of God, and the divorce rate will continue to escalate. Families will continue to fall apart. Our society and culture will be—and is already being—decimated.

6. Shall I keep my sin hidden?

I believe that as a general rule, all sin needs to be confessed before God and othersLeviticus 5:5 lays it out; “When anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned.”

Many are the biblical passages that warn of the dangers of harboring unconfessed sin. James chapter 5 is a good example. We are instructed to confess our sins in order to be right with God.

But that does not mean we simply confess our sin to someone we’ve hurt, and we’re done!

I have met too many husbands and/or wives who have had affairs and have come to me for advice on what to do. “Shall I tell my spouse or not?”

I usually say, “Don’t do it yet.” You may feel immediately better after getting it off your chest, but your confession will decimate your marriage and your children.

In other words, you are not the only one involved in your family and your sin. There are others involved. The Bible also has many instructions about not hurting other people. You have a responsibility not to bring pain and heartache and destruction among your spouse and children.

Begin by handling your sin between you and God. There are consequences to your sin. One of them may be that it takes a while for you and God to settle the issues of your affair together. Work through the rift that has happened between you and God first. Study His Word. Pray. Take time to get right with Him.

Next, confession is meant to be the first step towards forgiveness and restoration. I love 1 John 1:9, where we read, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

God is faithful to forgive because of the sacrifice Jesus made, taking on all the punishment for our sins. But when we sin against others, they do not automatically forgive! It’s a process … it takes time, recognition of the hurt, repentance, and changed behavior. And only when true, honest forgiveness has been gained do we proceed to restoration.

Frankly, things may never be like they once were between you two. But you can grow closer to your spouse, and still give your children a solid foundation for life.

Well, I hope this helps.

Love, Roger


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