Trifling against sin or Striving against sin? (Hebrews 12:4)

“You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin.” Hebrews 12:4

There is “trifling against sin” and there is “striving against sin.” It may be apparent, but these two expressions are vastly different from one another. “Trifling against sin” suggests a friendly tussle between equals. Either contestant may win, but it makes no real difference who eventually comes out on top. Win or lose, it’s just not worth a lot of excitement and energy. The world trifles against sin (of course, not using this expression) when some famous someone is exposed as having a particularly distasteful habit. “He is struggling (trifling) against his (fill in the blank).” For example, imagine that a famous athlete is “trifling against his ‘sexual addiction’.” He knows that it is not “good” for a famous athlete to have this unsavory habit of being found in bedrooms of women other than his wife, so he checks himself into a clinic where he can wrestle with this problem and develop some coping strategies so that the filthy habit is not so prevalent or obvious. This is his attempt to placate his fans and work on his “addiction,” but he is merely “trifling.” He does not want to get rid of the behavior; he just wants to manage and disguise the behavior. After all, if he never stops the distasteful habit, what real difference will it make? It doesn’t really matter who wins this contest.

Sadly, many professing Christians have also adopted this same worldly way of thinking. Many believers today have an attitude of “trifling against sin.” For example, when the Holy Spirit or a brave and faithful brother or sister points out sin in their life, they know that it is time to begin “struggling” against that sin. So, they will do something drastic, like check themselves into a support group that deals with these types of issues. Maybe it is Alcoholics Anonymous or maybe it is Celebrate Recovery or some other group where, together with the other members of the group, they can “struggle against their sin.” The reality is that many of these efforts amount to trifling against their sin. They know that it is not “good” for a professing Christian to have this blemish of sin on their record, so they go to a support group to learn some coping strategies and learn to manage and minimize the behavior. After all, the point is for others to see that you are fighting against this filthy sin. If he never stops the distasteful habit, what real difference will it make? It doesn’t really matter who wins this contest. Or does it?

            A number of years ago, I was sitting at the bar in a restaurant watching the TV screen behind the bar. On the screen was a nature broadcast about some large white birds similar to egrets who lived in South America. These birds made their nests directly above the river as a means of protecting their young from predators. No predator was willing to risk the dangers of the river to get to the birds’ nest above the river. The broadcast showed two of the young, gangly birds perched on the thin branches of the nest and the surrounding area. They seemed to be balanced carefully until one of the fledgling birds slipped off the branch. What ensued was a desperate struggle as the bird fought ferociously to regain its perch. Because the bird was awkward and gangly, the struggle appeared almost comical as the bird flapped and pulled and clawed to make its way back onto the branch. It seemed like “much ado about nothing.” “Relax, guy! You don’t have to try so hard!” Finally, after several minutes of all out war, the young bird was back on the branch sitting peacefully beside its sibling, and all was well.

            The next scene was a few days later, and once again, the two young birds were perched on their branch. Suddenly, one of the two birds slipped off the branch and did not catch itself but splashed into the water of the river. Within seconds, the first piranha arrived, and that fish was followed by dozens of others. The doomed bird tried to flap and jump, but the piranha attacked mercilessly until, in less than two minutes, all that remained of the young bird was a few feathers floating on the water.

            Then I realized that the first scene had been far from comical. The first scene showing the young bird trying to regain its perch was a life and death struggle where failure was not an option. If that bird did not get back on that perch by the nest, it was going to be food for the river’s piranhas. The bird’s life depended on getting back on that branch. The goal was clear, and the outcome mattered.

            One of the great dangers for disciples of the Lord Jesus is somehow to assume that our striving against sin is, like the first scene with the young bird, comical and largely unnecessary, and that the outcome of a “slip from the branch” doesn’t matter. If we make that assumption, we will always trifle with sin. We will assume that we do not need to vanquish the sin, but just put on a sincere show of “struggling.” We will try to manage and minimize our sin, but we will not put it to death. We will think that our trifling with sin is good enough and that, even if we “fall off the branch,” no harm will be done. But, what if instead we feared sin the way those young birds feared the piranha? What if we viewed holiness as a life and death struggle where failure was not an option? What if we realized that trifling with sin can lead to shipwreck (1 Timothy 1:19-20)? What if we strove against sin because we feared that “an evil, unbelieving heart” could really lead us to fall away from the living God (Hebrews 3:12)? What if we heeded the warning of the author of Hebrews who tells us that neglect of diligence in our faith and a failure to come all the way to true repentance can lead to falling away, a place from which it is impossible to be renewed again the repentance (Hebrews 6:6)?

            Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of faith, endured the cross to purify for Himself a people for His own possession (Titus 2:14), who are zealous for good deeds. Like our Lord, we are to strive against sin and “be holy, just as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16).”

SDG                 rmb                 8/25/2020

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