1. The belief that all sin is the same
“I sin in thought, word, and deed every day” you have heard many say. You have also heard your people say “I think every sin is the same, who am I to judge?” Then the proof texts come out: “If you look at a woman you have committed adultery in your heart.” Nobody really thinks this is true. We don’t expel pastors from pulpits from looking the wrong way at a woman. We might rebuke them, but we don’t expel them. We do discipline them for adultery. That means we know there is a difference. We know it so deeply that our entire justice system is built upon this same belief. Intent to harm is judged over accidental harm, and so forth.
Not all sin is the same. Willful sin is the sin you can be free from. Unintentional sin is part of the human condition for life. Purposeful violations of God’s laws can be avoided. Flaws of character and flaws of performance are part of our ongoing battle to be more like Christ. They remain at some level until death. Not all sin is the same.
2. Personal setbacks
Many have pursued holiness only to continue stumbling into one vice or another. They struggle, they pray, they ask God for deliverance. Then they fail again. As human beings are known for doing, we look for justification. We find a proof text for this as well, “Paul was left with his thorn” they say. Paul never said it was a sin, it was a messenger. Yet we grasp that verse out of the many and let ourselves off the hook. It may take more time for us to surrender our attachments than it does for others. It may take more crises of conviction before our pet addictions are finally named. It may take more growth in grace, support from community, or understanding of God’s character before we finally are ready to give ourselves fully up to God. God may choose to delay his work in our hearts for his own reasons that we cannot discern. Our setbacks do not disprove God’s power to save, and to save from sin.
3. High profile failures
My first two academic advisors in ministerial studies had moral failings. Removed from their ministry posts and their academic posts their failures stung many of us in that generation of Wesleyan preachers. You have your own heroes and heroines who have fallen. For many, when someone was an exemplar of godliness to them, and that someone falls, cynicism sets in. “If that person couldn’t be holy, then no one can” we think.
The failure of one does not rule out the possibility for others. Think of it this way: does the doping charges of several high level baseball players rule out even the possibility of integrity for all baseball players?Isn’t it possible that one or two players never doped? How would that logic work if you applied it to a minority group? One or two key figures from that group act immorally so you rule out the possibility of morality for all members of that group. That’s called prejudice. It’s a form of weakened thinking. We have all fallen into it, but it does not rule out holiness.
4. Pride in the proponents
Holiness evangelists used to walk down the campground aisle with dark overcoats during the last of the song set. Sitting up front in a full suit, well above the crowd, they would glare (not singing) out over the crowd. They were setting their sites on their victims. A preaching friend of mine told me the story of giving an altar call in a holiness camp to which there was little response. The old evangelist by his side leaned over and said “Let me show you how this is done, son.” He stood up, manipulated the moment, and brought many to the altar.
Pride. We don’t like it. When the proponents of a position are prideful we like to discard the position. We throw out the baby with the bathwater. Have you ever read the phrase “Don’t rule out the use because of the abuse?” It’s a time worn rule of good thinking. Most Philosophy or Logic classes teach it. When we are tempted to discard holiness because of prideful proponents we need to remember they are not God or the scriptures. When we reject holiness, if holiness is true, it is not the flawed representatives we reject, but the scriptures testimony.
Are these the obstacles you have wrestled with? Do you have others? Share your