122. Calloused or Mature? pt. 1

            Does sin bother you – your sin or the sin of our culture? Are you ever saddened, shocked, dismayed, or angered by the disobedience to God you see in yourself and in those around you? We’re told in Acts 17:16:  “16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.”   Paul looked on the spiritual fallenness of Athens and was deeply troubled by it and the spiritual destruction it wreaked on the people there.  

            Lately, I’ve been wrestling with this issue. We inhabit a very sinful world. The Bible makes it clear that sin is toxic to our spirits and to our relationship with God who hates sin and punishes it. Yet we’re engulfed by it, both in ourselves and in others. And that will continue as long as we live in this spiritual stage of life. 

On the other hand, obviously, we wouldn’t survive if we walked around in a constant state of shock or outrage. It would take too much energy, hinder us from reaching to our world, and make sin our focus rather than God and love. Jesus himself associated with sinners and, while hating sin more than we ever will, was able to have beneficial, loving relationships with them and interact constructively with his culture (he was a carpenter until he was thirty).

We have to come to terms with living in a fallen world. Yet, in recent days, I’ve been wondering if I’ve gotten a bit too comfortable with it, and I’m fairly cautious, even by Christian standards. For example, I avoid “R-rated” movies. Yet I also interact with sinful people and will read secular literature which can get a bit rough. In other words, I don’t try to avoid exposure to all sin. It’s impossible and impractical. How can I connect with my culture and its people if I avoid it?

            On the other hand, there is always a danger as you and I deal with sin in ourselves and in our world. It’s possible that we will become a little too used to it, to the point where we become spiritually indifferent to it or calloused about it. And what’s tricky about this is that this callousness can, at times, bear a superficial resemblance to spiritual maturity. Spiritually mature people encounter sin too, without being thrown off by it. They accept its presence without being overly uptight, while still disliking or even hating it and walking in holiness. The distinction between spiritual maturity and spiritual callousness can often be a fine one; hard to distinguish, even in ourselves. And it’s easy to become lulled into callousedness without intending to do so.

How can I tell if I’m becoming spiritually calloused?

1.    I’m becoming spiritually callused if my own conscience seldom pricks me

Let’s start with ourselves. While, on the one hand, I’m not suggesting that we become overly introspective, or walk around surrounded by a cloud of guilt (we’re still far from perfect. Amen?), is your conscience still sensitive enough to nudge or even prick you when you realize you’re sliding the wrong direction? Do you notice when lust, bitterness, pride, etc. are creeping in? Are you, with the Spirit’s help, making adjustments as you go through your day? Or do you seldom notice these things? I myself have a tendency toward bitterness – which I have to watch.

2.    I’m becoming spiritually calloused when I’m careless about entertainment

I consider entertainment the Devil’s Trojan horse in these matters.  While we often can’t avoid sin in our day to day interactions, entertainment is a matter of personal choice. Furthermore, in order to enjoy it, we tend to let down our guard. While we can’t avoid all the influence of sin in entertainment, how much are we willing to put up with before we say, “that’s enough”?  Is what we’re watching or listening to or reading building us up spiritually or is it making sin seem more palatable or less ugly, or even appealing and sweet (think of how much happy fornication takes place in entertainment)?  I can’t set your limits for you, but be cautious, it’s easy to get too used to the wrong stuff.

3.    I’m becoming spiritually calloused when I forget the seriousness of sin

Sin is nothing to joke about or to take too casually. It’s a spiritual cancer that, if untreated, ravages the soul and could eventually end up in permanent spiritual death. God hates sin and sent His own Son to die for it. Others may see us as uptight for viewing sin this way, or for even calling certain things “sin”, but it’s God’s perspective on sin that matters, not the world’s. In the end, He is the Judge and never just lets sin pass. It will be dealt with one way or another.

4.    I’m becoming spiritually calloused when I forget my own vulnerability to sin

      Any of us who live holy lives do so because of the enormous spiritual backing of the Holy Spirit. He guards us and holds us up even under serious pressure to sin.  When we forget that, and grow careless, it’s easy for sin to reach out and bite us. The Spirit will let this happen if we ignore His warnings. It usually doesn’t happen in a dramatic way, but through a series of small spiritual compromises. We say, “Well, I’ll do this, but I won’t go any further and do that. After a while, if unrepented, we take the next step into sin and, eventually more steps until we end up lower we’d ever dreamed we’d go. Any of us is capable of almost anything if we aren’t careful. In 1 Corinthians 10:12, Paul says: “12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” It’s healthy to have a little fear of sin.

5.    I’m becoming spiritually calloused to sin when I buy into society’s idea of “tolerance”

As I’ve mentioned in the past (article #72),  society’s definition of “tolerance” has shifted. It used to mean that we allowed others some civil lee-way when there were differences between us. Now it means that we dare not criticize another’s thinking/actions or tell them that they’re wrong and we’re right. This sounds noble, but, it flies in the face of Scripture. The Bible sets limits defining right and wrong. They’re God’s limits and they’re true, whether or not society agrees with them. If we buy into this modern idea of “tolerance”, we do ourselves and others a disservice by allowing them to believe lies when it comes to sin.

A mature Christian learns to deal cautiously with sin, as one might with a caged lion. While we must learn to live around sin, facing it, where necessary, with confidence and courage, the goal is never to become too comfortable with it or careless about it.  The Devil’s focus, if he can’t get us to directly sin, is to turn sin into something which seems trivial, cute, inevitable, harmless, and so on. In other words, to cause us to become calloused to it and thus more vulnerable to be snared by it. How to avoid that state will be the subject of our next article.