No more trifling with sin
What I learned about myself when my father died
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“Whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do” (1 Peter 4:1-3).
Now that a year has gone, it is right to share what my father’s death did for me. Claims made too early after a sudden trauma are rightly suspect, but 14 months is a kind of track record.
This isn’t going to be pretty. I console myself vis-à-vis my readers with the hope that no one is totally useless; you can always be a bad example.
There was a sin area I let slide for many years. As far back as the ’70s, someone warned that I was only “trifling with Christ,” and must get rid of the old ways and walk in the new—“put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life … put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
I was not particularly alarmed. Sanctification is a process, I reassured myself. More than that, it is a process accomplished by God. I was willing to wait contentedly until such time as God was ready to rid me of sin by His sovereign initiation and sola gratia operation. Any striving against sin on my part was works righteousness (a distorted takeaway from seminary). I decided my well-meaning friend had a streak of Pelagianism.
That plan worked about as well as you can imagine. I soldiered on in a life of unconquered sin, ever awaiting divinely wrought transformation. To be sure, I adopted certain observable proofs of salvation, such as regular Bible reading, Bible teaching, church attendance, and hospitality of various kinds. On occasion I would run across the inconvenient verses that whoever sins at one point in the law is breaking the whole law, inasmuch as it is the same Lawgiver who commands all (James 2:10-11).
My father’s death was attended with an unexpected thwack of fear-of-the-Lord in which I stumbled around concussed for days. In an instant the enormity of my deadly trifling was revealed to me—the way I give myself to moodiness just because I can; the way I make certain people in my presence walk on eggshells, just because I’m saved so it doesn’t matter. The epiphany brought to mind the Golden Gate Bridge suicide survivor who, only in the moment his hands left the railing, saw with clarity the folly of his actions.
So I learned something about Satan when my father died—how he really is by turns the Deceiver and then the Accuser; how if you are too lazy to do the work of “resisting the devil” (James 4:7), then you will find in the end that you have been “taken captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:26). Once you have messed things up royally, he retreats, removing the great delusion you labored under, so as to mock your lucid view of your true estate.
I learned something about God too. I distinctly heard in my spirit that this is my last chance. It was my mene, mene, tekel, parsin moment (Daniel 5:25), with the exception of a slender thread of hope extended that if I—even now—start doing right, God may yet relent of forfeiting my life (Jeremiah 18:8).
I memorized all of Psalm 51. My husband became a happier man, the kind who doesn’t walk on eggshells: “The heart of her husband safely trusts in her” (Proverbs 31:11).
It was Christmastime when my father died, so we watched both the 1984 George C. Scott A Christmas Carol and the 1951 Alastair Sim Scrooge version. I snuggled on the sofa with my husband because he likes that.
I noticed in the movie that Ebenezer was a man advanced in years when he finally came around. That made me happy.