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What the Bible says about Spiritual Drifting
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Proverbs 8:36

This is a sobering conclusion. We do not like to think of ourselves as loving death, but consider this in relation to Proverbs 21:16: "A man who wanders from the way of understanding will rest in the assembly of the dead." A person who wanders and makes no conscious effort to get back on the track—no effort to repent—is drifting with the current. Because he is not really taking advantage of the great gift he has been given in understanding the purpose of God, he loves death.

The Bible consistently shows that those who do not consciously and purposefully direct their lives toward obedience to God in reality love death rather than life. Christ came to give us life. He gave us a way that we are to follow. He expects that we will make the efforts to do so. If we neglect it, can we say that we are really following His way? If we just drift, can we honestly say that we really love His way? The conclusion, from God's point of view, is that those who are just drifting—neglecting—in fact, love death.

We should not feel comfortable with this at all. God intends that we take the admonition and begin to do something with our lives. When this happens, in reality, human nature has deceived the person about his purpose in life. His drifting is evidence of what the person really loves.

In light of this, it is interesting that the words most commonly used both in the Old and New Testaments to indicate sin are defined as "missing the mark." That does not sound as though someone has deliberately aimed in the wrong direction but that they have generally aimed in the right direction but missed the target.

Another word that is also translated as "sin" means "to slip, to fall, or to wander from the path." There is no indication of deliberateness at all, but that either out of weakness or ignorance, somehow or another, a person unconsciously turns aside. Nobody slips and falls on purpose, nor does anybody wander out of the way on purpose because he might become lost.

God understands human nature, that it has a tendency to want to hold itself steady, deceiving a person into thinking that things are okay the way they are.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Examples of Divine Justice

Proverbs 21:16

Notice the use of the word "wanders." God's children do not ordinarily deliberately plan to go astray, but whether they do or do not, regardless of the intention, the result is the same.

Hebrews 2:1-3 provides an illustration in which there is no deliberate intention to sin:

Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him.

The metaphor in "lest we drift away" is of a boat slipping its moorings and drifting away, caught in the currents it was tied against. Paul makes clear that the spiritual drifting is the result of neglecting the priorities set by our calling into the Kingdom of God, just as a boat will drift away if it is not tied securely. Other parts of the book of Hebrews show that neglect becomes a factor when one is not consciously living a purposely directed life. The epistle's recipients were neglectfully drifting through life.

Hebrews 5:11-14 shows us the result:

. . . of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

These people had become "dull of hearing" and apparently were rapidly regressing toward unconversion. Neglect is particularly spiritually dangerous. Through neglect, they were seriously drifting into a lack of faith deep enough to have to relearn the fundamentals of this way of life. When dullness of hearing is tied to Romans 10:17—"faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God"—we can understand that, if one does not hear correctly, motivation to live by faith greatly diminishes.

Hebrews was written to encourage a congregation of neglectful and drifting people to repent, to get back on track toward the Kingdom. Considering their dullness of hearing, the book of Proverbs provides what might be a shocking reality, one we hope we will not have to face if we will repent.

Now therefore, listen to me, my children, for blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not disdain it. Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoever finds me finds life, and obtains favor from the Lord; but he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; all those who hate me love death. (Proverbs 8:32-36)

Bluntly stated, Wisdom's sage and exhortative counsel is, "Listen carefully and apply what I tell you diligently. If you do not, but instead live a life of sin, then the conclusion of the matter is that, in reality, you love death rather than life." Since our calling, have we ever pictured ourselves as loving death? Those who do not consciously and purposefully direct their lives by faith toward obedience to God in reality love death!

John W. Ritenbaugh
Living by Faith and God's Justice

Revelation 3:16-18

The drifting of the Laodicean happens so subtly that he is unaware of the decline of his spiritual perception and vigor. What happens when a person begins drifting is that human nature deceives him to judge two things wrongly: 1) the quality of his own spirituality and therefore, 2) the use of his time.

Consider the process of the Laodicean's decline: Does he stop to consider himself as loving death? On the contrary, his nature is selling him on what it calls "enjoying life." However, the reality is that because he enjoys it so much, he thinks that he is fine the way he is. He, though, is guilty of a very serious sin: presumption. This is a sin in which ignorance frequently plays only a small part. When someone is presumptuous, knowledge of what is right is usually available, but he does not think his intent and conduct through to a right conclusion.

On the other hand, carelessness plays a large role in presumption. The Laodiceans should have known better than what their actions reveal. Their lackadaisical approach to spiritual matters, to their Savior who died for them, has earned His stinging rebuke.

Leviticus 4:2 zeroes in on this sin, revealing that it may be more serious than one might suppose. The word "unintentionally" includes more than simply lack of intention, as when a person sins and says, "I really didn't mean it." That is not wrong, but it misses some of the point because that conclusion is shallow and broad. In spite of the sinner's feelings about his intent as he actually committed the act, the term "sin" still appears in God's charge, and he continues to turn aside, wander, err, make a mistake, miss the mark, and go off the path. Though unintentional, the act is still a sin.

Consider the possible effects of such a sin. How many deaths have occurred where a person did something seriously wrong yet claims, "I didn't mean for that to happen"? What could happen if someone is cruising along, not concentrating on his driving, and drifts into oncoming traffic, smashing into another car and killing its occupants? How many people have been killed because a driver's attention was diverted by a cell phone? Just because a sin is unintentional does not mean it is not serious. Such a sin is often one of careless, impatient, lackadaisical neglect. It is the ignoring of a higher priority.

It is in reality often a sin of presumption, an ignoring of God and His law. It includes sins done with a degree of consciousness, a level of awareness of what one's responsibilities are. Even though not arrogantly and deliberately done, they are in reality done willingly.

These can be quite serious. Exodus 20:7, the third commandment, reads, "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain." Because we have been baptized and have received God's Spirit, we have taken on the name "Christian." We are children of God, followers of Christ, and as such, we bear the Family name, an honor not lightly bestowed. Recall again that to whom much is given, the more shall be required.

God warns that we must not bear that holy name carelessly, that is, to no good purpose. He will not hold us guiltless. That name must be borne responsibly in dignified honor to Him, to His Family, and to its operations and purposes. Can we afford to be presumptuously negligent in this privileged responsibility? It is right here that knowledge of God's justice should come to a Christian's mind. It does this because the Christian "sees" God—not literally, of course, but spiritually, in his mind's eye, because he knows Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Living by Faith and God's Justice


 




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