I read something recently from the writings of John Newton, the pastor who wrote the beloved song “Amazing Grace.” This is what he said that so gripped me:
“I often saw the necessity of religion, as a means of escaping hell; but I loved sin, and was unwilling to forsake it. I was so strangely blind and stupid, that, sometimes when I have been determined upon things which I knew were sinful, I could not go on quietly till I had first dispatched my ordinary task of prayer, in which I have grudged every moment of time: when this was finished, my conscience was in some measure pacified, and I could rush into folly with little remorse.”
There are three statements he made that got me to thinking about how sin and “false” spirituality conspire against me to bring me down.
First of all, am I reluctant to admit that I love sin and sometimes am unwilling to forsake it? Some sins are enjoyable for a time [covetousness, sharing juicy gossip, gluttony, etc]. We can become comfortable with some of our sins and cultivate a love to practice them. It is like committing adultery against God though, isn’t it? Was that not what the prophet Jeremiah warned his people Israel about in Jeremiah 3 where Jeremiah accused them of playing fast and loose with their “husband” God? Are there any sins you love? Do you reconcile that love for sin with the thinking that you are still serving and loving God? Of course Jesus said in Matt. 6:24 that no man can serve two masters. John Newton found that out.
Secondly, do I use prayer to salve my conscience when I am thinking about sinning? Newton said he would do something spiritual like praying and then he would feel better about sinning, like it sort of balanced the scales. Did you ever fervently read your Bible and pray with the thought of acting on something you knew was sinful and yet that very action was softened by your “false” spiritual practice? It could even be the “innocent” sin of worry or anxiety. Well, you might think this: God knows I am human and weak anyway. I can’t be perfect. What about the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit that grants to us strength and wisdom to weather all the storms of trial and temptation that come our way? How easily we are bidden to forget where He is and what He is there to do!
Finally, do I sin with the thought in the back of my mind that I will just ask for forgiveness and be clean again? The old saying is NOT true: “It is easier to do it and ask for forgiveness than ask permission and run the risk of not being able to do it at all.” The Psalmist prayed that God would keep him from presumptuous sins [Ps. 19:13]. Dare we presume on God’s grace and mercy like that? There are always consequences even when we are forgiven of our sins.
So…Is sin and your brand of spirituality conniving to enslave you as it did John Newton? Think it thru