Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Proper Post-Sin Posture

Using sin's shock to power a spiritual comeback

As mornings come and nights pass by, some people use the words “daily grind” to describe the routines that make up the time in between.
In my world, I’d have to say that “weekly suck” more aptly describes the doldrums of working life.

I don’t say this because my weeks “suck” in the figurative sense of the word, the way that vocab-strapped teenagers describe an uninteresting or inconvenient phenomenon. My life is actually quite enjoyable. I say it because of the way the pages in the calendar so quickly become obsolete, as the vacuum of time rips them from the binding and slurps once-anticipated days and milestones into the oblivion and forgetfulness of past.

My spiritual life often seems to suffer the same fate. A prayer pops up here, a confession there, but each is an isolated event, a seed scattered on the path and pecked away before it can take root as a consistent pattern. Sin becomes less recognizable, as does the grace that acknowledges that sin and glories in its defeat. Soon, what was a brisk walk with God gradually slows to a zombie’s stagger.

When such malaise occurs in my life, our loving God uses one of a few methods to resuscitate me, and they usually come in the form of extremes. He gives me a spiritual plateau—a heartfelt prayer, a piercing sermon, a moment of obedience—which often results in a crash back to mediocrity and routine. Or he lets me feed my sinful nature, opening my eyes to the miserable reality of evil and the necessity relying on him.

Strange as it may sound, I find the latter to be drastically more effective in waking me from a life-induced stupor. The spiritual effects of sin have an ouch factor, like sitting on a tack or touching a hot stove burner. Once you feel the jolt, it’s easy to remember why you gave up the behavior that caused it. The failure shows the need for the savior.

The idea of sin as spiritual CPR seems a bit strange at first glance, but this is a perfect example of the brilliant manner in which grace and justice work together. God’s gets to be right, we get our punishment, and then restoration highlights his mercy and revives our gratitude.

But the key in turning your own sin into a weapon is in striking a proper post-sin posture before God. This is an age-old balancing act for Christians, as we've always struggled to express the appropriate level of remorse without sliding into the hopelessness of condemnation.

For some, a quick turn to grace makes them feel shallow and insincere, like a widow who marries again as soon as her husband is buried. To these people, the wages of sin is death, and any wrongdoing needs a solemn period of mourning. At the risk of sounding like I’m writing a Christian horoscope, these folks tend to emphasize the justice of God, and they’re more susceptible to feelings of condemnation.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who think that because Jesus has taken our punishment, there’s nothing to get all gloomy about. To these people, God is satisfied in Christ’s suffering, so no matter how we’ve damaged the relationship, we can jump right up into his lap. These folks tend to emphasize the grace of God, and they’re at risk of losing their reverence for God’s holiness.

Because of the strange dichotomy of grace and justice, the proper posture is somewhere in between, and it’s a delicate medium to find. Since this is a relationship, the best way to uncover the right response, I think, is to see how Jesus dealt with people in scripture.

As far as I know, he never reacts with happiness to those who are flippant about disobeying God’s word or encourage others to do so. He wants to see a contrite heart (see Psalm 51, a great help in these matters). But at the same time, Jesus attracted sinners, those who knew he disagreed with their lifestyle choices. Why? Because he affirmed wrongdoing without affixing it to their ultimate identity. See the principle at work in his reaction to the woman caught in adultery: Neither do I condemn you, now go and sin no more.

The woman missed the mark, but because she had met Jesus, a slip-up didn’t result in her demise. That same reality is at work in our own hearts. We lament a temporary lapse because in reverting to our old state, we cheapen our blood-bought salvation. But we rejoice in the coming restoration because in taking hold of forgiveness, we're reminded that we’re on the friendly side of the great chasm between our fallenness and his acceptance.

1 comment:

Joseph Davis said...

Great Post Trev!

Good decription of the age old dichotomy: grace vs. justice, legalism v. hypercalvinism, fixation on sin vs. cheap repentance.

I also connect with your decription of the "grind." I have always been a little judgemental with adults who do not seem to be "passionate" about their faith. I can more easily understood how that happens and will take more care to end up that I am not a complete spiritual zombie by 30.