We were privileged to spend a gorgeous weekend outdoors at Windy Gap, NC. This is the home of a Young Life camp, complete with ziplines, farm-feel ampitheater, pool tables, huge pool slide, hot tub, snack bar, and giant swing. But it wasn’t any of those things that brought me the most joy, or that I will remember the most. It will be the love for Jesus that was so contagious there. I felt like my chest would burst with renewed hope for the younger generation (it took me a while to write that, the whole younger generation part.) I was so grateful to see people speak the name Jesus in the same sentence with cheeseburger. Not out of disrespect, but in an as-natural-as-breathing kind of way. It was so cool to see people praying over the staff, and to hear heart-felt prayers from people who didn’t want to stop talking to Him.
The greatest part of the weekend was getting to hear our friend Jonathan speak to the kids. He is genuine, and fun, and serious about sharing the Gospel. One of the things that I am still mulling over in my head is when he gave his definition for sin. He told a story about his little boy, David, and how he would hold out his hand as he tried to go down a flight of stairs. He was waiting for Jonathan to grab it and help him down. But one time this summer, Jonathan reached down first to take David’s hand, and he clasped his hands tightly together and said, “No, Daddy. I hold my own hands.”
Jonathan said that this was the definition of sin… trying to take life into our own hands. I had never considered this before, and wondered if this was an accurate definition of it. He astounded the young people by saying that if they expected to come to camp and hear him say that drugs and sex and alcohol are wrong, they wouldn’t hear it from him. Because sin was more than a specific. Sin was a matter of the heart. A matter of motives. Sin was rebellion. Sin was trying to do life on our own.
And you know what? This is a higher standard for sin than just to box everything in and say what is sin and what isn’t sin. Yes, the Bible is clear that there are some specific things that are always sin. You don’t have to look much farther than Exodus 20 to find a nice little list. But this matter of sin… it requires daily soul-searching. It requires constant communication with the Father, asking for an attitude change, asking for His help and confessing where we have gone off on our own. Now, I’m not advocating illegal drugs or premarital sex. The Bible has a firm stand on your body being saved for one person that you pledge your life to. (And the word illegal should speak for itself.) But what I AM advocating is that this Christian life we live, under the grace dispensation, requires so much more than the ten commandments. This new standard requires asking not if something is sin or not, or how close we can get to the line without crossing it. It requires asking if something will draw us closer to God. If it would please Him, in this moment, with this motive. Let me explain.
Would I shock you if I said that perhaps none of us are qualified to slap a label on some things as sin or not sin? Because God holds power that we don’t have… He sees the heart. He sees the motive behind the action. He declares that to be the crux of the matter. And because of that, His deliberations are not always the same.
In the Old Testament, He commanded the children of Israel not to take spoils from Jericho. He wanted them to see that this battle was His, and the spoils were His, and also to teach them the principle of first fruits. But the very next battle, Ai, He told them to take the spoils.
He condemned the Pharisees for praying, because He knew their motivation was to be seen by men, and not to be heard by God. He rewarded Rahab for lying to the government officials of Jericho about the spies she was hiding, because her motivation was to protect the men of the One True God. It’s not as clear-cut as we think.
The New Testament holds us to a higher standard of behavior… and no longer can we simply claim something black and white. If the action is laudable, but the motivation is for self, or personal benefit, then the good deed doesn’t count. If the action is questionable, but the motive is to further the Kingdom of God, then God sees it as holy.
The two commands that sum up them ALL? Love the Lord your God with ALL your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. So, if you were to question whether your motive for doing something was pure or not, you could line it up next to these two guideposts and do a simple check.
This is tough, because the first-born in me wants to draw lines in the sand. I want you to just tell me what to do and what NOT to do so that I don’t screw up. I want to cast the first stone at the lady caught in adultery. I don’t know why she was in bed with that man… she may have been blackmailed, forced, or possibly she coerced him. But whatever the case, Jesus saw in her heart something He wanted to pardon. And so, with gratefulness in my heart, I ask the Lord to make my motivations pure. I beg Him to direct my heart after His Kingdom. And then, I think I can wring my hands less about what is sin and what is not.
Because an undivided heart will seek more opportunities to hold God’s Hand than to hold its own hands.