Pastor Daniel Bramlett
I wrestled with the question of sin and grace for a long time. I was in college before I really began to grasp Paul’s charge to the Romans “There is therefore now NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus!” Once I began to get that concept I was set free from the law I had subjected myself to. I was a law bound dude! I felt guilty every time I missed anything churchy! Prayer meeting missed: guilt. Potluck missed: guilt. Service missed: going to Hell. What’s more, I really struggled with the day to day activities. Somehow I put myself in the place of the spiritual sprinter, believing I was supposed to fast 30 days out of the month, pray 20 hours of the day, and study the Word the other 20. (I realize that adds up to 40. That’s the point…wait for it…)
Once I understood the law of grace, I was free to understand the law of sin. Once Christ set me free to explore the life He intends us to have I was free to explore the things He never intends us to have. I got a chance to see just how deep my sin roots were. Get me straight here, I’m not saying I went on a free-for-all. I’m saying I was able to see for the first time how serious my sin problem really was. I spent so much time focusing on the how-to’s, I forgot to take a look at the have-not’s. Understand?
Let me explain it this way. James tells us that sin is a snare. Like a baited fish, sin entices us with our own desires. Just like a big ole bass, we have the opportunity to say “no” to that enticing bit o’ desire, but most of the time we bite, don’t we. And when we bite, desire “gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
It’s hard to say a missed church service is sin. Can I just say that sometimes I get tired of the schedule? Man, church can really wear on us sometimes! That’s ok to say! There’s no condemnation, remember? Only grace! Step away from the desire that you have to do everything. I’ve found that is embedded deeply in a desire to please and/or to be in control of everything. You can’t do either. Stop trying. Find your niche and stay there.
What is much more problematic in our souls than a missed church service is the attitude that says “I’m ok. I don’t need any help. I can make it on my own. I don’t need anyone else. I’ll ask God for help when I need some!” I find this sinful attitude has given birth in just about every red blooded American Christian I meet. While most of these people think it is a sin to miss a church service, most of the church services they attend never penetrate this self-serving, independent attitude. What’s the deal? We’ve never made the leap from one category of sin to the other. We have grown comfortable soothing our guilt-free consciences with a tight religious schedule all the while forgetting that we are truly sinful people at heart. C’mon Christian!
Let’s allow James to speak to us a little more: “Every good and perfect gift is from above (we don’t create any good gifts here! Everything good comes from God.)…let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, [and] slow to anger (these get down to the brass tacks. He doesn’t say “Let every man keep a good, churchy schedule.” It’s the things outside the walls of the church that penetrate our souls.)…be doers of the Word and not hearers only…if anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (James chapter 1).
What is James trying to tell us? Simply that apart from Christ, we are just a bunch of lost causes. I don’t care what you call yourself—Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, I-get-really-exicited-ian—if you aren’t admitting your sin before a holy God, your religion is worthless. Labels don’t count for much. Schedules are valuable, but only in the sense that they motivate us to holiness. They are not holy in and of themselves. Real worth, real value comes in asking the Spirit to search our souls on a daily basis. Allowing Him the freedom to uncover the deep roots of sinful desire in our hearts and pluck these desires out.
The next time you are enticed by your desires to be prideful, controlling, or selfish turn to the Spirit of God and ask Him to make you bold in the face of evil. Ask Him to reveal the secret nature of that sin and show you if any of it already exists in your heart. We are lowly, brothers! May we act in humility and lift up the only One who is worthy of our attention and service!