Caltrops on the Road to Glory

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Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”
—John 5:14

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
—John 8:10-11

A long while ago—at least in the history of this blog—I wrote a piece called “Whatever Happened to Sin?” CMM adherents will recognize the title as being from an old Steve Taylor song. Jesus adherents will simply ask the question again. See, they remember sin.

In an age where Osteen-ism rules the land, we don’t hear much about sin anymore. Church growth pundits suspected sin didn’t play in Peoria, so they found a way to dismiss it. This explains why Christians crash and burn more frequently today than I remember. Or else their faith doesn’t hold up when the time of testing comes.

An ancient weapon used in war, the caltrop is a nasty piece of work. Throw them on a path or road and they land with a vicious spike always pointing straight up. History says the Romans came up with caltrops to permanently remove chariots from the battlefield.Imagine this caltrop in your tire—or foot! Wouldn’t want to be the horses—or the pitched rider.

The kind shown at right does its work on tires. Hollow, it allows air to rapidly escape even from self-sealing tires. Run your Pirellis over a few of these and you can forget your Roman Holiday.

Sin is like caltrops. Every time we sin, it’s like tossing a bucket of caltrops behind us. But what’s behind us is behind us, right?

Funny thing about life is we sometimes must revisit the way we came to get to where we’re going. And those sins we left behind? Well, they’re sitting in the middle of the road, sharpened steel tips up, waiting to put a halt to our journey—or at least make it nastier.

Weirder yet, sin’s caltrops have a way of landing behind us, yet winding up ahead of us at the same time. They get you coming and going. The double-whammy. They seem to to multiply ahead, too. Sow a bucket of caltrops behind, reap a highway-full ahead.

So when one of us finds our plans and dreams going up in smoke, when adopting that Osteen positive attitude makes no difference in the face of despair, do we ever take a step back and wonder if our sin finally caught up with us? I don’t hear people saying that this setback or that can be attributed to personal sin. Do you?

Sure, it might be obvious in the promiscuous girl who gets pregnant and lands in a beat-up trailer with an abusive Cro-Magnon of a husband got on the end of Daddy’s shotgun. But is it so obvious in the lives of mature Christians who stuff it down in hopes that no one will ever find out?

I’ve got to believe that at least some of the grief in your life and mine comes from running over the caltrops of sin we scattered on the road to glory. But where’s the sermon on fleeing sin? On repentance? On restitution?

Too outré? Too pietistic?

Perhaps we need some good old pietism in the Church today. After all, Jesus Himself confronted two folks in His part of the world and told them outright, “Stop sinning.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t see any addenda from the Lord on that command. No “Only by God’s grace and power” or “You’re not the one in control, God is” or even a “You can’t do it in your own strength.” I just see the admonishment to stop sinning.

We used to revere men and women who wised up and stopped sinning. Now we try to find something wrong with their theology. Or we use that our own brand of theology to make excuses when one of us today tries the same approach only to fall back into sin. I’m beginning to wonder if folks two hundred years ago who turned and shunned their sin and never looked back AREN’T better people than we are today. They sure seemed to take God’s wrath a lot more seriously than we do.

After a promising start down the life’s highway, are we staring at four Bridgestones that look like deflated porcupines? Did we run over the consequences of our own sin, those nasty caltrops we sowed, the ones we thought would never catch up to us? They did, didn’t they?

Well, let’s not just sit there moping because past sins caught up with us. Clear the road! If we made the mess, we need to deal with it. And stop throwing the caltrops down, too! Yes, Jesus provides forgiveness. He forgave the man at the pool of Bethesda who tried to game the old familiar system. He told the hooker He didn’t accuse her. But He also told them both to stop sinning.

If life’s not treating you the way you want it to, stop sinning. And if not for you, then for your progeny. Because the sins of the fathers have a way of working themselves down through the generations. That promiscuous girl in the trailer with the abusive husband? Chances are that’s how her own mother got started. We can’t think our kids won’t inherit our little problems. (Note: Lying to oneself is a sin.)

So stop sinning. No excuses.

30 thoughts on “Caltrops on the Road to Glory

  1. Dan,
    It would be progress for contemporary Christians even to admit there were things they ought not do. Everything is callously allowable today. I’m not talking about petty rules and regulations, which handcuffed my tradition and many others in the past, I’m talking about sound judgement. We seem to need our entertainments more than godliness, to fit in seamlessly with the world rather than being separate, to baptize anything that makes our personal life more enjoyable rather than laying down our life for our brother. Bad attitudes that lead to bad judgment! The worst part, we excuse it all in the name of evangelism or blessing.
    And you are right about the caltrops, they don’t just remain behind, they bounce all over the road, not only front and back, but in the other lanes travelling around us. We not only disable our own journey, we also cause blowouts in the journey of others when we continue in sin.

  2. There are so many misconceptions about sin in Christian society. Remember PBPGINFWMY? We’ve become so enamoured of grace that we forget consequences. We are forgiven, sure, but we still have to live with the aftermath. By neglecting sin, we blithely skip over the caltrops, and then wonder at our bleeding feet. As Jesus pointed out in Matthew 5, ideas have consequences. We do not live sin free lives, rather lives no longer bound by sin.

    Grace does not excuse us from the here and now consequence of that sin, but it does free us from the eternal consequence. Something that should cause us to pause, though, is that the caltrops we spread by sinning also wound those around us. I’m not sure I can fall in with the idea of “private” sin. Ultimately, all sin my is between me and God, but Bathsheba could tell you that she suffered as much from David’s sin as he did, and the ripples of his sin caused the collapse of his kingdom, the death of many, and the destbilization of all Israel.

    We are not all kings, but when we zip past someone in traffic (sinning against God by not being obedient to earthly authority, i.e. traffic laws) and our IXOYE pronounces us as a Christian to the person we just cut off, are we not causing someone to stumble over our caltrops? Would it not be better if a millstone was placed on our neck and we be thrown into the sea? Hmmm?

    • David,

      I agree with PBPGINFWMY—to a point. I mean, I wrote “Recognizing the Spiritual Child” this week, right?

      And I agree, there is no private sin. I used to argue strongly against the “What I do in the privacy of my own home doesn’t affect anyone else” nonsense, especially when we lived in California, where that ideology reigns. Even today, I’m paying for what my grandfathers did.

      As you know, I’ve written extensively on the issue of fish stickers and callousness.

  3. Laughing Boy

    …when we zip past[sic] someone in traffic (sinning against God by not being obedient to earthly authority, i.e. traffic laws) and our IXOYE pronounces us as a Christian to the person we just cut off, are we not causing someone to stumble over our caltrops?

    That’s why I don’t have a fishy-thing on my car.

    • Laughing Boy,

      When someone cuts me off and they’re sporting Jesus bumper stickers on their cars, I just let it pass because only I’ve been violated. However, when they dump all their fast food trash out their windows or toss cigarettes on the ground, that’s when I get truly steamed. That violates me, you, the Creation, and the Lord.

      Still, it amazes me that folks say they use those emblems on their cars as “a witness,” then they don’t give two hoots about doing something lame-brained and callous while flashing their affiliation with the Lord.

  4. Pilgrim

    I would just like to quickly add a couple of comments.

    But first, I affirm, yes we as followers of Christ must focus on obeying Gods moral standards. Sin hurts us, our families, our relationships and our witness. As Paul tells us, should we therefore continue in sin so grace may abound? BY NO MEANS!

    But on the other hand. Paul also tells us that we do the things we ought not to do and we don’t do the things we ought to do. Who will deliver us from our sinful natures… only the righteousness of Jesus will.

    We can not help but fall to temptation, we are effected by the fall. We are justified and we are being regenerated or sanctified, but we are still sinners. We need to try to put away sin as best as we can, but in the end we are still going to miss the mark, we are not perfect.

    I only say this to say that, there is a big focus in the Church today, to make believers think that if they only try hard enough, they can be perfect.

    I don’t agree with this either.

    I believe that we as Christians, need to approach sin seriously and fight temptation as hard as we can. But I also believe that we should also try just as hard as we can to be forgiving and loving to each other, because we know that we are not perfect and we all are weak.

    Well, just some thoughts anyway. 🙂

    In His grace,

    Pilgrim.

    • Pilgrim,

      Yes, works righteousness is bad. However, I don’t hear much of that message anymore—it’s gone the other direction completely.

      Like so many things, the truth is in the middle of Law and Grace.

  5. lol, unfortunately expect that anytime a call to stop sinning is made, many people will trot out the “judge not lest ye be judged” line to gloss over a life of rampant sin.

    I wonder why Christians go to extremes with this though. They’re either so legalistic that you can’t so much as sip a Starbucks coffee without them screaming that you’re on your way to hell, or so casual that you have hippie pastors giving sermons on love and tolerance while using lovely illustrations from Playboy and Boinky Doink magazines.

  6. Dan: great post! Do you think the reason no one preaches about sin anymore is because no one can define it any longer? Sin is the same thing today that it was when I was a child, yet they call it other things. And if our lawmakers have their way, preaching about it will get you put in jail. Bit by bit lawmakers are legislating morality…they are saying what is wrong is right or okay. Legitimizing sin is akin to whitewashing tombs, don’t you think?

    While I do not advocate red-faced yelling, stomping, running down aisles and pointing fingers at children (as was done to me in one church of my childhood), I do agree too little is said of it today in our pulpits. Do you think it is because too few pastors actually realize from Whom their authority has been granted to preach? selahV

    • SelahV,

      The main reason people don’t preach on sin any more is two-fold:

      1. Liberalism in the early 20th split the church into two halves: those that preach on sin and those who don’t. Those who don’t started seeing rises in their attendance—at the cost of those who preached on sin.

      2. In order to maintain a flock that now has a choice between hearing about sin or not, sin-preaching pastors would rather not lose too many people to other churches. The chilling effect was that the whole message on sin took a backseat, even in churches that used to preach on sin. You can’t have a church if no one attends.

      And that’s how I see 60 percent of the problem. The other 40 deals with psychology’s withering effect on the definition of sin. Pop psychology made us all into victims. No one is responsible for his own actions. Likewise, psychology told us that sin wasn’t really sin, but conflicted understandings of what was really true OR just simple hindrances to what we desire out of life. The modern Church in America has sucked that message up like a vacuum.

      One could argue that psychology fueled the liberalism that created the split in the Church in the first place. I won’t argue too strongly against that position, though I might add that other forces helped contribute, too.

      That’s my take.

    • Suzanne

      Amen! Recently, a woman in Bible class asked others’ opinion on her high school age daughter having a co-ed sleepover. The daughter is quite active in the local Youth for Christ, honor student, etc., and assured her mom that nothing would happen. I don’t know what bothered me more; that the daughter, with all her involvement in church activities and Bible study would even consider something like this, or that the mother felt the need to solicit our opinion. I think this shows how, as you said, over time we have redefined what we term as sinful. Yes, sin is sin,and we all fall short, but we are to be the “salt of the earth” and if we act no different than anyone else, why would anyone bother to listen to what we say?

      • 1 Thes 5:22 in the King James says “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” In the NIV it’s watered down to say “Avoid every kind of evil.” One of the issues the Church today is dealing with is relevance. The reason we are increasingly relevant is that there is no visible difference between the Body of Christ and the rest of the world. That we even have to think about whether hormone stuffed high-school kids should have a coed sleep-over is an indication of how out of sync Christians are with thier namesake. Do we not even understand the nature of sin? Do we not understand how we are being watched by non-believers for indications of life? We should praise God when we are singled out for mockery, because it at least shows that we are seen to be different!

        My answer to that mother would be to sit down first and read James 1:5 to herself, and then pray for wisdom and understanding. Then she should sit down with her daughter and go through James 1:13-16, and ponder the concept that ideas have consequences.

  7. Dan: wow…those aren’t very good reasons are they? Do you think that Jesus is pleased with the fact that pastors do not preach on sin and admonish as a way of “teaching them to observe all things”? I recall many many sermons my husband preached on sin in his ministry. He never seemed to tire of it. I think he used me as his inspiration. Although most people in our congregation who shook hands with us at the door would inquire if he had cameras at their houses. So I have to give the credit to the Holy Spirit.

    I hadn’t thought about the psychology aspect of this before. I wondered if it were the seminaries and how the students are being taught. Thanks for taking time to comment. selahV

  8. Laughing Boy

    If preachers have stopped preaching about sin, why is it that the stock image most unbelievers seem have of a preacher is a hell-fire and brimstone carnival barker? If the church is afraid or unwilling to confront sin, why do we still hear unremitting strains of “don’t force your morality on me?” ringing through the culture?

    1st thought: Who is the proper audience for the anti-sin message?

    2nd thought: Who (or what) is primarily seen as broadcasting the anti-sin message these days?

    3rd thought: To what effect?

    • Laughing Boy,

      Folks still have th eimage of the brimstone preacher because of the culture wars, not because of preaching on sin. That sounds like a non sequitor but it’s not. I could go into detail, but think about it.

      The proper audience for the sin message the way it is preached today is the Church. This does not leave out sinners, just that the way we talk about sin today is so messed up that our message about it to sinners is equally fouled, both in content and, even more importantly, delivery.

      The culture wars drive our fouled-up sin message.

      The effect is that the Church is judging the culture rather than judging itself. That makes for alienating the culture and for slackness on sin within the household of Faith. Both arev recipes for disaster.

      • That is a truly interesting perspective! When the church speaks to the culture when it is in fact speaking to itself, I suppose, it is merely beating up a straw man. If there is never a call for self-examination that would tend toward smugness rather than righteousness. From your perspective, should the church even bother speaking to the culture when it is in fact speaking to itself? If judgment starts with household of faith, perhaps we should concentrate on getting our own house in order before throwing stones at the world.

  9. Though the link between preaching of sin and legalism is a huge one in the minds of many, it is because many legalists found ways to shortcut the truth about sin by focusing primarily on external behavior. It is a lot easier after a while to speak in shorthand about a list of don’ts than it is to have rended heart and contrite spirit.

    I didn’t hear a list of don’ts in your post, Dan. As one who has had to go back over a familiar road littered with my own discarded caltrops, you reminded me today about the consequences of my own sin – my inability to pave my life with anything but caltrops – and my need for a Savior.

    That’s what preaching on sin is supposed to be.

  10. Michelle,

    I’ve always thought of sin as being our natural state after the fall. For this reason, it’s not so much what you do, but the condition you’re in. That cuts off the one-size-fits-all externalities. When the early Church convened on the Gentile issue, they gave an extremely short list of sins for them to avoid. Wisdom lies in that response.

    Still, to hear Christ say, “Stop sinning,” means I have some responsibility to an external action on my part. I can choose to obey or not. And if I obey, it means I have to do something external. Christ has dealt with my internal state and still deals with it. However, I must have some external response.

    The difference is that my external response and your external response will be different because we are not dealing with the same sins. That’s why a one size fits all answer never works.

  11. Laughing Boy

    The proper audience for the sin message the way it is preached today is the Church.

    I agree, but is preaching about sin to those outside the Church a lost cause, since sin is no longer iniquitous or deleterious? Maybe if the Church were somehow distinguishable from the culture at large. I mean, other than the jesus fish.

    • Why tell someone who does not believe that they are sinning? They have no basis of comparison. Of course they are sinning! But to them, it is merely acting naturally. Paul told the church in Corinth not to judge outsiders (nonbelievers), because that was up to God. The job of the church is to love outsiders into belief. A part of that love is keeping fellow believers straight. “Are we not to judge one another?” asks Paul.

      It is that internal maintanence that keeps the body of Christ distinguishable from the culture at large. As it is, the church tends to chastise the world for acting naturally, that is, sinfully, but at the same time, overlooking sin inside the body, where it is not natural. The result is a world culture that sees the church as irrelevant, and rightly so.

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