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Mable was standing down front at her church meeting. She was participating with the congregation in a rousing rendition of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” She felt as though her heart would explode as she reflected upon the glories of Calvary juxtaposed to God’s merciful regeneration (John 3:16) of her, a wretched sinner (1 Timothy 1:15).
She could not sing any louder or with more passion, though she felt as though her gratitude was incomplete. How could she fully express her appreciation for the Savior of the world? Regardless, even imperfectly, it was a joy to express thanksgiving to the Lord for the unmerited gift (Ephesians 2:8-9).
And then, out of nowhere, right on the heels of her worship came insecurity. With arms extended, she felt as though every eye in the room was watching her. Her body temperature started to rise as she fell under the spell of “What do others think of me? How am I coming across right now?”
Isn’t that the way it is for fallen worshipers? Even in our most spiritual moments, sin is crouching at the door. You get up from your prayer time feeling refreshed and refocused. Within moments, you’re angry at a family member.
In this corner is Jesus, and in the other is Adam. It’s a “loser leaves town match,” and you’re the mat upon which they are grappling. We live our lives under the dim lights that are neither white-hot or entirely black. It’s in this context that we must come to terms with walking with Jesus while in a body of death.
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin (Romans 7:24-25).
Mable’s theology is inadequate on a practical level. It’s always at the moment of your temptation that you can take an objective measure of your practical theology. Though she understands both sin and bondage and faith and freedom, she compartmentalizes them.
What Mable does not practically understand is the interplay between sin and faith. She has not figured out why she would inexplicably choose sin more than trusting, especially in one of the most spiritually sensitive and exalting times during her week. Mable did mention that she does a similar thing during her prayer time. She said,
I can be praying, and things would be so sweet. Then, without warning, I have weird, and sometimes awful thoughts that go through my head. I don’t get it. How can you be worshipping God at the Sunday meeting or during prayer and start sinning at the same time?
Though Mable is in Christ, she is also in Adam; she is a saint who still sins occasionally. She is not entirely sanctified. Ironically, Mable knows this because she acknowledges how sin tempts her (James 1:14-15), and sometimes she will yield to it. But what she does not understand is why her sin trips her up during high, spiritual moments, to the point that it ruins those times.
Lucia and I used to be this way too. For example, we would get into an argument on the way to our church meeting. Though we would reciprocally forgive each other, we were unable to enter into worship during the singing time, at least not until we felt like we had repented enough (whatever “enough” means). Instead of asking God and each other for forgiveness and living in the freedom of that transaction, we felt as though we needed to pay a penance to be free from our sin. This worldview is what I call functional legalism.
Though we knew it was wrong, we felt the need to grovel, look sad, and manifest enough perceived guilt so the other one would see that we were serious about our repentance. Rather than asking and freely receiving forgiveness and immediately enjoying the fruit of a restored relationship with God and each other, we felt compelled to add our works to the repentance process.
If we truly lived out biblical thinking, we would repent to each other, and be able to worship spontaneously at the first note of the first song. Because of our functional legalism, we acted as though we needed to climb a few steps, bloody our knees, and kiss Peter’s ring before we would be free enough to enjoy God and each other. In truth, we were mocking the gospel.
Though we knew that Christ’s death was enough to cover all our sins, we still felt as though groveling was in order so we could feel better about ourselves. This kind of thinking is at the heart of legalism. Mable needs to understand this problem with gospel clarity. She should not trip herself up when yielding to the sin in the middle of a worship service. She needs to realize that “Adam is ever-present,” and because of this truth, it is possible to experience temptation (or yield to it) at any moment during her day, even times of high praise or intense prayer.
These are not moments to feel sad about, but moments to embrace the power of the gospel. In a way, kids are like this. They can be so angry at each other and then be playing together within seconds like nothing ever happened. You want to be this way too, which you can because the power of the gospel has thoroughly cleansed you, which releases you to engage God and others freely.
I told Mable that there is hardly a time when I lift my hands in a worship service that I don’t think about what others might be thinking about me, no matter how fleeting those thoughts are. But, rather than those moments “throwing me for a loop,” God has graciously helped me to understand His gospel practically. It takes work to get to this place.
How can I worship God, think sinfully, quickly reclaim my position in Christ through repentance, and return to praising again? Similarly, How can Lucia and I sin against each other, receive forgiveness, and promptly re-engage as though nothing happened? The answer is the gospel.
Only the power of the gospel can not only cleanse you from past sins, but it will cleanse you immediately from present sins, especially in those moments where you need to get back to the business of worshipping God or enjoying others.
If you struggle this way, I want you to read the articles linked to this one. Also, work through the call to action section. Be sure to talk to a competent friend who is willing to come alongside you through this process. Finally, please get my book, Change Me, and began a six-month study, answering all the questions at the end of each chapter and sharing with your friend what you’re learning.