Sunday, July 12, 2009

Brokenness Over Sin, Acceptance of Grace, or Somewhere In Between

In a recent men’s Bible study, we talked about the sensitivity of our world to sin, and whether or not this view has changed in our lifetime. I know in my own life, I am much more sensitive to bad language or immorality in movies than I was when I was a teenager. I cannot watch some of the movies that I did when I was younger – and I cannot believe that some of the scenes I watched back then did not bother me more at the time – even though I was a Christian.

In my experience among Christians, I have found an entire spectrum of views toward both sin and grace. At one extreme, there is the person who struggles constantly under the weight of sin – one who never feels truly forgiven and is continually broken by their inability to live a perfect life.

At the other extreme is the person who, once they obtain the grace promised by God, never has a care for their actions because they know they are forgiven. The weight of sin is never on their mind, and they go through life happily and without regret, proclaiming that this never-ending feeling is exactly what Jesus wanted us to have.

But I wonder if either extreme is really what God has in mind.

There is certainly a movement in today’s modern church toward the second extreme. The grace movement abounds in this country because it is popular in a culture that strives to be constantly moving forward, and which is rarely reflective about what has gone on before. Let’s face it – we live in a country where the idea of preaching “hellfire and damnation” has passed (mostly). I grew up in the South in the 60’s and 70’s and there was absolutely no fear about preaching to people that they needed to, 1) accept Christ, and 2) change their lives, or else they would be in danger of experiencing hell for all eternity. Has anyone else noticed that the second part of this message – changing your life - is not emphasized as much in churches today? It’s now much more palatable to simply say “accept Christ” and leave out the rest. After all, America wants to get back to our normal lives – television, cars, and vacations – after church services are over. We don’t want to be too bothered about changing our lifestyle, or dwelling on our own lives to change them in some uncomfortable way. Hey, I’m guilty of these feelings as well.

So many questions come to mind. Are we called to live at one of these two extremes? Or are we supposed to be in the middle somewhere, loving grace while at the same time experiencing brokenness over our sin? Is life supposed to be a movement back and forth along this spectrum? Is the answer the same for everyone?

I could speculate all day on the right combination, but instead of relying on my own broken wisdom, I’ll turn to the Bible for answers. I see two approaches in play. In Psalm 6, David speaks of experiencing both extremes. Verse 6 says, “I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.” But then in verses 8 and 9, he concludes with, “…the Lord has heard my weeping. The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.” Clearly, David was moving along the spectrum, from being broken over trials he was experiencing to giving thanks that God was able to grant mercy to him.

Paul goes through the same progression in his treatise on sin in Romans 7. In verse 14, he says, “We know that the law is spiritual, but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.” But right after speaking of his constant struggles with sin, he says in Romans 8:1-2, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

I once had a church leader who chided me for saying “I am a sinner” in front of a group of leaders. He told me that since my sin was forgiven, I was no longer a sinner. That moment has stuck with me for years, and I now believe that he was only partially correct. I am a sinner, just as Paul claims that he was unspiritual. But through Christ’s blood, God does not recognize my sin as a condemning feature.

So how should we live? I believe that we may move along the entire spectrum in experiencing the weight of sin – sometimes feeling overwhelmed with our inability to overcome it, and sometimes feeling only thankfulness that we have been forgiven. This back-and-forth movement will keep us striving for good, while at the same time we will be reminded of the sacrifice that Christ made for us – and how we cannot achieve heaven and God’s grace alone.