Slipping Away

You never mean for accidents to happen. That's why we call them accidents. You never meant for your priceless, irreplaceable wedding ring to fall down the kitchen drain.

You never meant for the hammer to break the glass pane while nailing a picture frame shut.

You never meant for your coffee to spill over your recently cleaned car.

But it happened. It was an accident, but it happened. And adding insult to injury is the knowledge that some of the accident was avoidable or preventable if not for your carelessness. You knew you shouldn't have removed your ring so close to the sink, but you did... You knew you shouldn't have been hammering on the picture frame so hard, but you did... You knew you shouldn't have been driving with a cup of coffee lacking a secure lid, but you did...

Sometimes we treat sin the same way. In the aftermath of our transgression, dazed as if a bomb exploded around us, we lament, "I didn't mean for this to happen."

You never meant for an affair to take place.

You never meant to become pregnant outside of marriage.

You never meant for your anger to erupt all over another person.

But it happened. And it wasn't an accident. It happened because you ignored warnings and signs of disaster. You knew you were getting too emotionally attached to the other person. You knew your romantic relationship wasn't physically holy. You knew you weren't resolving your anger in a healthy way.

In the opening verses of Hebrews, the author writes, "Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?" (Heb 2:1-3).

Those words, "drift away" and "neglect" are sobering ones. They both represent a careless disregard for something, allowing something to slip away due to mindlessness or thoughtlessness. Dropping rings, breaking glass, and spilling coffee are accidents without any eternal consequences. But sin is different. One can easily sin through spiritual carelessness, and the Hebrews author says the consequences are dire. "How shall we escape?"

His reasoning goes back to the old law. The commandments given at Sinai carried strict punishment for those who broke them, everything from offering an animal sacrifice to the capital punishment of stoning. But since the old law was an inferior revelation and salvation to that which we have in Christ, Christians have less excuse when we sin.

As I've reflected on this, I'm starting to understand why legalism gains such a serious foothold in so many places. Legalism never starts as legalism; that's how it's able to get its foot in the door. No, legalism begins in the heart of one who passionately desires to obey God in every way possible and thereby errects barriers or guardrails to prevent them from getting too close to rebellion and disobedience.

I don't want to fall to an affair...so I'm never going to be alone with one of the opposite sex.

I don't want to have a child outside of marriage...so I'm strictly limiting my physical contact with my significant other.

I don't want my anger to erupt on someone...so I'm going to make sure I don't carry around unresolved bitterness for very long.

To be sure, legalism is an ugly thing. Legalism takes personal boundaries and imposes them on others. Legalism seeks salvation in conformity to a moral code, rather than in an appeal for the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

But there is a redemptive kernel of truth and practicality to legalism: the recognition that one does not come close to sin and rebellion if you never travel in that direction.

This reminds of a story I heard once about a man who was hiring a new limo driver. He held several auditions, asking each prospective chauffeur to park the limo as close to a cliff's edge as they could. One man got within 5 feet, another 3, another 1. The final contestant parked the limo on the opposite side of the road from the cliff's edge, getting as far away as he could.

He was hired on the spot.

The legalistic rules of your past? Perhaps they can be redeemed if you see them as ways to help you not neglect your salvation, to not allow something so precious to slip away.

Because if it does, how will you escape?

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