September 17, 2014

The Weight May Not Be A Sin: A Thought On Hebrews 12:1

trunkHebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

The central insight I’m going to be bringing in my Sunday morning sermon tomorrow at the local Baptist church is an optional reading of Hebrews 12:1. Specifically, I want to suggest this: the “weight” that holds us back in the “race” is not always a “sin” as specifically defined by scripture.

Someone could legitimately say that “weight” and “sin” are a parallelism, and I would agree, but the parallelism may be because of the effect of hindering our ongoing life as a follower of Jesus.

There is no doubt that we are called to lay aside, i.e. repent of, sin. I would contend that we are admonished, with just as much authority, to lay aside whatever may hinder us that is not a matter of repenting of sin, but of giving up what is not necessary, what distracts us and what makes it difficult to carry out the calling and mission of the church.

It is interesting that we will give our preachers permission to preach against sin, but do they have permission to preach about the “weight” we insist on carrying?

The traditions? The methodologies? The cultural assumptions? The expected and accepted calendar? The attitudes toward personal evangelism? The attitudes towards money, comfort and personal investment?

The role of family? The expectations of significant others? The pattern of denominational methodology? The role of the church itself? The role of its leaders?

It strikes me as incredibly relevant to the current situation that we not just ask, if the mission hindered by gossip, but that we ask if the mission is hindered by exactly what we are doing and why we are doing it.

This occurred to me at Advance ’09 when a speaker who shall remain nameless, but who likes to eat chicken wings, suggested that some churches needed to cancel Sunday School. The air temporarily vanished from the room. The speaker looked impishly provocative and I immediately got the point: he wasn’t suggesting you abandon Bible study or small groups, but what if the fact that your entire small group program is a dress up affair in a church building on Sunday morning is ONE of the reasons you aren’t doing the basics of your church’s mission?

What if your WAY of doing church is a weight. Not a sin.

What if your way of living the Christian life is too comfortable, too predictable, too safe and too “in the niche” of a tradition that answers all your questions?

What if your schedule is so full of things that aren’t sinful that you can’t do anything new this week for the Kingdom? What if your life at church is so full you already know everything you are ever going to do for Jesus? What if your life is so full of your current friends you could never make a new one?

What if you are investing so much in what is good that you can’t sacrifice or joyfully give away money for the Kingdom?

What if your good life, good morals, good witness are the reason you don’t have a life of discipleship filled with risk, impact and Kingdom adventures?

What if your problem isn’t the sin that clings so closely, but the weights you are so easily and comfortably carrying around in order to be a “good Christian?”

Comments

  1. Reminds me of the church light bulb jokes.

    “How many Assemblies of God people does it take to change a light bulb?

    What, change?”

    Fortunately this no longer applies in all quarters.

    (I used the A/G because that’s my tribe, so I can get away with it without stepping on others’ toes.)

    Looking back at my high school and college years, I see how I was so controlled by “come out and be separate” and a check-off-list version of holiness that I failed to establish friendships with unbelievers that would have allowed me to represent Jesus to them. I’m afraid the version of Christianity I presented to them was moralistic rather than demonstrating the love of God in Christ.

  2. Profound and penetrating questions.

    I will say, though, these weights sound completely awful not to be sins.

    And too, the context demands a discussion involving the subject of endurance. The weights must be gotten rid of because they’ll cause the runner not to be able to finish the race.

  3. There’s plenty of sins in there, but let’s be specific.

    It’s not a sin to want to be a Christian encouragement to your friends. But what is going on if you are never open to making a new friend? It’s the good thing that becomes a weight. Not so much transgressions as what holds us back from following.

  4. sue kephart says:

    OK, So I come from a different tradition that is not all focused on sin and lists of sins and preachers don’t preach on sin. So sermons on the ‘weight’ are much more likely.

    Sin is separation from God. We are concieved in sin and can not free ourselves. Jesus frees us from our sins by what He does on the cross. We are freed from sin by God’s Grace. We are made just.

    Now that we are justified we are called to be a follower of the One who did the justifing. That is called discipleship or sanctification or whatever fancy name your tradition uses. This takes our cooperation.

    So Yes, imonk to your list of distractions from following in Christ’s footsteps. Maybe even our ideas on the mission of the Church.

    Be still and know that I am God.

  5. For quite a few years I’ve felt like I was too busy being a good Christian to be a good Christian.

    I am truly thankful that you put it this way.

  6. Gale Ebie says:

    Most Christians are so weighed down doing Christian things they cannot do anything for Christ. This reminds me of the intro to the book “Holy Sweat” by Tim Hansel:

    Missing the Adventure

    Christ calls us to live our lives as adventure, not just sit in pews on Sunday morning as our Christian life. We are live our our life 24-7 as followers of Christ.

    -Do you spend most of your Christian life sitting stiffly and quietly in a thing called a p-e-e-e-w?
    -Have you ever pushed any area of your life to its limits, only to realize that there was probably more to life than you previously thought?
    -Can you recall the last time you felt unique, fully alive, reaching for all your potential?
    -Do you sometimes think of Christianity as a nice but, at times, unrealistic religion?
    -Have you ever felt like you’re missing something?

    An Adventure Like No Other
    What is this adventure?
    -Have you ever been somewhat bored by it all?
    -Have you ever felt you’re just going through the motions?
    -Have you ever asked yourself whether or not all your Christian activity is really the same as experiencing the fullness of Christ?
    -Do you ever find yourself being more concerned about your Christian reputation than the needs of the world?
    -Have you ever done something so radical for Christ’s sake that it got you into trouble?
    -Have you ever risked it all and lost- and still thought it worth it because it brought you into a deeper relationship with the living God?
    -Do you really feel like you can “do all things through Christ who strengthens” you? Or are those just nice words to memorize?
    -Is you faith a dull habit or an acute fever?

  7. FollowerOfHim says:

    Lifting weights is good exercise, but it’s hard to run the race with a barbell in each hand.

  8. …..what on earth could beset or hinder me in my conversion yet might not be called sin?…well…let me “break it down” for you as they say….too much T.V./too much internet/too much church/too much religion/too much reading/too much talking/too much praying/too much leisure/too much work/many meds/too many rules/too much”trying”…too much Jesus not enough God Our Father…..

  9. I agree completely.
    Focusing on the war against sin often lets the good things replace sin as idols. And all we have to show for our war is outward holiness instead of a heart that is running free after God Himself.

  10. While I completely recognize the merit in your point (and I really do!), this kind of thinking was so prevalent in my church growing up that, as a young person truly struggling with OCD, I almost went crazy. I was haunted: What if everything I try to do for Christ is a good thing that is never actually the thing I should be doing? What if I’m being a good, encouraging, Christlike friend to this person, but not to that person, and that’s wrong? What if Christ takes no pleasure in anything I do? It took a lot of time and healing to recover from the emotional damage that was done in my formative years.

    I’m not knocking this post, at all…I just think this sort of thing has to be tempered with a recognition of human limitations, and some concern for those who struggle with “scruples,” or whatever people deem them. And with a recognition that even the little things (I believe)–warming the pews…with an open heart to learn more about Christ and how to be like Him; being a good friend…to the 5 people who don’t know what they would do without you; giving Godly counsel…to your spouse or children; living “a quiet life” and “work[ing] with [our] own hands” (per 1 Thess. 4:11); living “at peace with everyone” (per Rom. 12:18)–if done to the glory of God, are very worthwhile to our Savior.

  11. When it comes to shedding weights and distractions, there’s no substitute for the lost art of actually hearing or perceiving the voice and direction of the Holy Spirit. Without that, we’re just making intellectual approximations about what we think God wants us to do — in which cases, we may be right or we may be wrong, or we may be so busy being right about a few things that we miss the vast majority of what God tries to communicate to us on a daily basis.
    For example, you can constrain yourself to a religious vow that you are going to stop and help every single motorist you see broken down on the side of the road, without exception. Sure, you’ll help a lot of motorists in your lifetime, but, then again, you’re not going to have much time for anything else (like having a family or holding down a job), and you’re certainly never going to get anywhere on time. But if you limit your roadside assistance to those instances in which you perceive the Spirit urging you to stop, then you can both have a life and please God even more by offering your obedience rather than a religious sacrifice.
    Look at Jesus’s ministry in the Gospels. He didn’t set out on a pre-planned program of good deeds and miracles — rather He limited what He said and did according to what he perceived the Father saying and doing on a moment-by-moment basis.
    I think the trick is figuring out where we lost the ears to hear and the eyes to see — and then rediscovering how to tune our spiritual eyes and ears to the Spirit’s wavelength.

  12. Andi: Let’s be clear that OCD will make anything a miserable experience, and one cannot cure OCD by altering the content of Christianity. I have many OCD friends and family. The answer is medication, not a general agreement to never discuss imperfection.

    I hope your situation is better now.

  13. Our worship service starts at 10:45 on Sunday mornings because a pastor once thought that would allow for a “full hour” of real service after all the announcements, etc (or that we could get out by 11:45). Problem is that we sometimes have drop-in visitors that assume an 11am start time, and I have seen some turn around a leave seeing the service was already underway (my assumption).

    I brought up the idea that perhaps to make visitors more comfortable, we could go back to 11am. The suggestion was a non starter to say the least.

  14. Sorry; I really wasn’t trying to imply that imperfections shouldn’t be discussed: I tried to make that clear, and I apologize that I didn’t. I just wanted to put that thought out there, in case any readers have shared my experience. And my situation is much better, thanks!

  15. Andi
    I totally understand where you are coming from. I feel the same way. I try my best not to obsess on my behavior or my sin anymore. I’ve really learned to be content. Content in my everyday life because I know God is always there. Whether I’m brushing my teeth or counseling a student. If the most important thing in our life is God’s will, he will make sure we don’t make a waste of it.

  16. Thank you for this article!
    I’ve been really wrestling with this issue (and avoiding church attendance while i figure it out and my poor husband figures out his part).

    I’m not against what my church is doing – it just doesn’t work for us and i feel hounded and pestered to death to fit into their culture, when i feel it a/doesn’t work for us b/feel it takes away from where God is calling our family to be.
    and yet,
    c/ my husband feels this is where God wants us to be.

    We are trying to be very gracious and not complain about where the church is at, because it’s not about them, so much as it’s about us…

    But i do have a struggle with the whole idea of churches as self perpetuating institutions requiring a token full time Christian. If we tithe, like Dr. Dobson says, to the local church first, how able will we be to help other believers who are having trouble? We have decided to tithe to the church after we help those that God brings across our path that month. Which makes us bad people in the church circle.

    And we don’t want to be members – we’re not afraid of being joiners, but there’s too many empty lines on the contract, and too many tangential things that we wouldn’t sign on for. Although at the bottom, there are basic, most important things that we do have unity in.

    It is sad that Christian culture becomes something to recover from, to shoulder with a sign, to shake off all the peer pressure and discouragement from people who think you should instead do things their way, when all you want to do is listen to what God is saying. I don’t have time or energy to please everyone…

  17. “But if you limit your roadside assistance to those instances in which you perceive the Spirit urging you to stop, then you can both have a life and please God even more by offering your obedience rather than a religious sacrifice.”

    RonP, I can’t square that with this:

    “”He will answer them, ‘I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you failed to do for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you failed to do for me.’”

    Not to attack you personally, but the attitude you’re implying is pretty disgusting: God doesn’t send you ‘the Spirit’ to help a motorist every so often, he gives you the EXPLICIT COMMAND to HELP EVERYBODY as you would Him.

    There’s no equivocation in that. Its not legalism, its a command from the God of Love to show love for others if you have it.

    I can listen to a hundred people say “I don’t feel like helping you” and be fine with it, but this is the first time I’ve heard anyone defend their disinclinations to charity with “God didn’t tell me to!!!”

    Seriously – for any of you out there who sincerely think yourselves too busy with your walk with God to help me change a flat tire on the highway, you can go to Hell (Matthew 23:45).

  18. I think a Scripture relevant to this topic is 1 Corinthians 6:12 (which Paul repeats in ch. 10):

    “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.

    I also tend to agree with Patrick Lynch: there are many things we need to do whether specifically prompted by the Holy Spirit or not.

    In living with teenagers, there is nothing more discouraging than that phase they go through where they will not lift a finger in the house unless specifically told to every single time; how is this attitude (not to do anything unless specifically prompted by the Spirit) any different?

  19. Rob Lofland says:

    My anecdotal experience is this:

    “Church is almost a complete wast of time.”

    “The buildings and programs are almost a complete waste of resources.”

    “Small groups turn into mini wastes of time and resources.”

    So what are we to do?

    Live. Pray. Witness by our lives.

    Stop wasting time and resources.

  20. Hamartia (sin) is “missing the mark” which is more encompassing than someone’s pet list of moral infractions.

  21. Just for Quix says:

    Perhaps I find attitudes like Patrick Lynch’s ungracious because they are wont to write scripture, e.g., Matthew 23:45, that doesn’t even exist. Okay that’s a bit tongue in cheek. *smile*

    I appreciate the weight of Jesus reminding us (Matt 25:45-46) that opportunities for service to Him flood over us in the minutia and details of service to all who surround us. But we must also remember that this is a sheep and goats audience to whom Jesus was speaking. The goats obviously do not have a heart for God and service to His creation.

    I think we must also remember that those who have the Spirit and trust in God have received new hearts and are in the process of maturing in that. I see RonP’s position as one of pragmatic sanctification: to learn to rely and trust in God to lead one to Kingdom service and a Kingdom heart, and not to rely on pressure applied from anywhere but the conviction of the Spirit.

    As our hearts turn to Him we hear God speaking to us constantly, not just through His word, but also in the voices of all those in need. When we recognize that God has given us ears to hear, we follow. Our new heart drives our action, not the waiting for the Spirit to convict us or speak to us for each individual action. Maybe this is all Lynch meant. Yet there is a God’s timeframe in _His work_ to sanctify His own. Speaking to and treating our fellow maturing Christians as goats is non-gracious. Only God gets to separate His sheep from the real goats.

    We are not asked to run fast by our own ability. We are asked to have hope in the Lord who gives us strength (Isaiah 40:31). God is our shelter and God is our strength (Psalms 91). As useful as they can be, it is not my own strength; Not the strength of church community traditions; Not even the strength of a good exegetical argument; Not the strength of peer pressure from fellow Christians.

    And His burden (Matt 11:30) — which is still a burden when measured against a life of low expectations — is ALL I’m asked to carry. I don’t see RonP as advocating we forsake that burden, but to grow and mature in His strength so that it becomes light. As for the attitude I see in Patrick’s reply, that is not a burden I need strength to carry.

    Peace and grace,
    BJ

  22. “But we must also remember that this is a sheep and goats audience to whom Jesus was speaking. The goats obviously do not have a heart for God and service to His creation.”

    You and I agree more than we disagree, but my point is that there simply is no score we can use to measure our obedience against other than the question, “am I taking Jesus at His word in this situation?”

    So, when you drive by somebody who needs your help, or you withhold yourself from others for your own purpose, at the VERY LEAST, to remain honest to yourself and God, you have to seek the diagnosis for it – in introspection, in prayer, and in not letting yourself off the hook prematurely.

    It’s no burden at all to think yourself a sheep and discover yourself a goat – there’s joy in that. You get to accept grace and see yourself with God’s eyes for a moment.

    Refusing to help people, refusing to turn away from yourself and towards the world of hurting folks who Jesus identified as Himself, is for a Christian a refusal of grace, and grace is what imbues human interactions with significance.

    Not being open to that is not okay for a Christian – not putting me before you is not being obedient.

    And I’m saying, I don’t expect a Christian to be helpful any more than I expect, as a Christian, to be more helpful than anybody else.

    But I’m not going to call myself a sheep, either.

  23. I’ve been playing with this verse for the past month, ever since the camp where I work made it the summer’s theme verse. (Though I haven’t focused much on the difference between sin and weight; I’m still trying to get my coworkers to recognize that “cloud of witnesses” does not refer to a heavenly cloudbank where dead saints look down upon us, but fellow runners kicking up dust on the track, along with Jesus, the starter and completer of the race of faith.)

    I didn’t catch the difference between sin and weight mainly because I tend to think of being distracted by “weight,” as you define it, as sin. When we major in the minors, and focus on our programs rather than Jesus and His admonition to love one another, our neighbors, and our enemies, we’re putting our priorities above Him and committing idolatry, so to speak.

    Ironically, those priorities could be twisted versions of the things we think are bringing us closer to Jesus. Ignoring our neighbor because we need our meditation time (instead of postponing the meditation); refusing to feed the needy Sunday morning because the service comes first; insisting on longer biblical instruction at the expense of longer prayer; regularly giving to a worthy charity rather than occasionally giving to the unworthy bum you regularly see. It’s easier to follow habits than the Holy Spirit’s case-by-case instructions; it’s easier to act on ritual than faith. But God, even though He institutes a lot of rituals, still prefers acts of faith.

  24. One of the Poster wrote that Church is a waste of time among many other things we do as Christians. Jesus says certain things are our reasonable service. We should gather together all the more as we see the day of His coming approaching. We need each other as brothers and sisters for encouragement. We also need accountability. It’s like a job that your boss expects you to be at. It’s just that this job has enternal benefits instead of a weekly salary. Although sometimes Church among other Christian duties may seem like a weight sometimes (when your flesh is tired) that’s not the weight the Bible speaks of. If your hand offend you (cut if off). If your eye offend you (pluck it out). In other words, if chewing bubble gum hinders you, get rid of it. It doesn’t have to be drunkeness or adultery to slow us down. It can be as simple as a hobby that takes too much time. A visit to Wal-mart everyday, (if shopping is your cup of tea) for example. Thanks for all the posts. It makes you think and reconsider things with an open mind.