Was Achan a believer?

This past Sunday, I preached a sermon on Joshua 7 (notes and link to video in previous post). The theme sentence for the sermon was this: “The secret sins of one can derail the whole of God’s people from accomplishing the great vision that lay before them.” That is, Achan was the only one in all of Israel who broke the command not to take plunder from Jericho. Yet, because of his sin, Israel lost the battle against AI.

After he was found out, Achan did confess his sin. “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: when I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath” (Joshua 7:20-21).

When confronted with his sin, Achan did confess, telling the truth. That led to this question that I received over on Facebook. “Was Achan a believer?” For the sake of fully answering this question, I thought it helpful to bring it over to the blog where I could have some more space to answer the question. Let me present two main considerations in answering the question, following by an important implication for the church today.

  1. This question presupposes repentance on Achan’s behalf. In fact, the original question on Facebook continued, “Is this what Paul would later call a “sin unto death” type of thing because he did repent and didn’t hold back on acknowledging his sin?” I would suggest that this was not true repentance. Walvoord and Zuck, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, have this to say, “Achan’s response was straightforward and complete. He confessed his sin and gave no excuses. But neither did he express sorrow for disobeying God’s order, betraying his nation for booty, and causing the defeat of Israel’s troops and the death of 36 men. Any remorse he may have felt was probably only because he got caught” (p. 345). That is to say, he probably felt guilty about getting caught, not about the action itself.
  2. Repentance is marked by action. The process of sorting through the whole nation from tribe to clan to family to individual must have taken some time. If he was really repentant, he should have come forward, not waiting to be singled out through that whole process. Walvoord and Zuck continue, “Since the method took time it would also give the guilty person an opportunity to repent and confess his sin. If Achan had responded in this way and thrown himself on the mercy of God no doubt he would have been pardoned as was the guilty David centuries later” (p. 345).

So, to summarize: No, I do not believe that was true biblical repentance and no, I do not think that Achan was a believer.

Maybe the most intriguing implication of this question is whether or not an unbeliever can be part of the covenant community.  We often speak about the visible church and the invisible church or, as Dr. Betters from Glasgow Church often calls it, the “true” church and the “show” church. That is, there are people who are members of the visible church – a local, visible expression of God’s people – who are outside of the covenant people of God. They are not part of the true, invisible church.

Here is Achan, an Israelite living in light of the blessings and protection of YHWH himself. Yet by his actions, he proved himself not to be among the elect. Though dwelling among God’s people, he himself was not one. Interestingly, in the couple chapters prior, there is a non-Israelite, and a prostitute at that, who proved herself to be elect by her faith. The lesson is this: there are non-elect pretending to be God’s people while those we least expect will show their election by their faith and be adopted into the covenant community.

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