There’s an old TV show set in the Old West. Yes, there are a lot of early shows with this setting, but Wanted Dead or Alive hit the air in the late 50’s and captivated audiences for a mere three years. Featuring a quiet Bounty Hunter, this rough-and-tumble blondie came with a shortened rifle strapped to his leg and prerequisite for action. Josh Randall (Steve McQueen) was not a man to mess with. Fast, intuitive, and ready for anything, if he was on your trail you better know that you’re going to be brought in dead or alive.
Bounties aren’t really something we talk about today. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people are entirely unfamiliar with the historical weight these things had. A handy way to catch crooks, bounties created wide-spread awareness about a particular individual without the convenience of modern technology. Once posted, bounty hunters would then go out to rigorously search for and bring in whoever was the latest crook on the bulletin board.
Sometimes, I think we approach sin as more of a drinking buddy than a bounty we need to find and drag in to the Sheriff. Both were common elements of the Old West, but one condoned the actions of his mate while the other tracked down the man responsible for heinous crimes.
How does this translate to our spiritual lives? I’m so glad you asked!
The Bible is clear that sin separates us from God. God is holy. All over the Bible, we are reminded of this. From the Psalmists songs to the Revelation prophesies, God is revered as holy. Holiness cannot be in the presence of sin. Habakkuk 1:13a cries out saying,
“Your eyes are too good to look at evil; you cannot stand to see those who do wrong.”
The perfection of God and the depravity of man are unable to intimately coexist. This separation from God, stemming from the fall of mankind with Adam and Eve, was abolished by Christ for those who would believe on his name (Acts 16:31). We have been gifted life through Salvation. That gift compels us to turn from our evil ways and follow him. Nothing we have done or ever will do are beyond the saving grace of Christ and yet we find ourselves in a position that we have to choose.
There are so many “little sins” that we can easily sweep under the rug because they are a cultural norm. Gluttony, idolism, adultery, cheating, hate, or a variety of other stark terms may not be how you label these acceptable sins in your life. Instead, they may go by more ‘friendly’ terms: just another piece of cake or hamburger when you’re not really hungry, new clothes when the closet it full, a new TV when the old one is just fine, an “inspirational” romance novel with nearly as much
sexual intrigue romantic content as the secular ones, an obsession with a celebrity, thing or TV show, road rage, shortness with your spouse and/or kids, bad with money (God gave you money to use wisely), spending too much time by Victoria’s Secret gawking at their window advertisements (Think this one is innocent? Playboy now only publishes images of clothed women. Apparently nude women don’t sell anymore.), negative about other people, controlling, needy… need I continue? The list of ‘friendly’ sins could go for miles. There are so many things we accept as normal life that are contrary to the level of set-apart, holiness that God is calling us to.
Does this mean we whip out Leviticus and start practicing Levitical Law? I’ll be honest, I’ve been down that road. It doesn’t work to solve the problem and only sends you in a downward spiral of rules-based religion. Paul reminds us that
[the] law was without power, because the law was made weak by our sinful selves. But God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son to earth with the same human life that others use for sin. By sending his Son to be an offering for sin, God used a human life to destroy sin. He did this so that we could be the kind of people the law correctly wants us to be. Now we do not live following our sinful selves, but we live following the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4)
God created Torah so that his people would be set-apart from the nations surrounding them and do you know what happened? They developed their own set of offensive, swept-under-the-rug sins picked up from the influences of surrounding nations mixed with a dash of their own self-pity and an extra scoop of their own agendas. Socially acceptable sins are nothing new to God, but that doesn’t change the fact that he has called us to a life of holiness apart from these offensive things.
So, where does that leave us? We can’t simply stand by and let these “friendly sins” take their course hoping God gives us a pass when we arrive at the Judgment Seat. That’s not how it works. Even the secret sins in our lives must be dealt with if we want to become closer to the Father (Click here to read my post on secret sins). If we want to be friends of God, then we must take real initiative in eradicating our lives of anything less than holy. We must take an aggressive, serious approach to identifying, catching, destroying, and confessing the sins that we have accepted as ‘good’ in our lives. We must be willing to let the Lord uncover these things. On our own strength, we are unable to peel back the layers of our hearts to reveal the things we have allowed in. Christ must be the one to convict us through the Holy Spirit so that we might become more like him with every breath we take.
This is a lifelong process that will take a lifetime to complete, as Elisabeth Elliot once said. It’s not something you can complete in an hour or even a year. No degree or book will transform your life entirely. It must be God at the helm of the ship driving it to reveal his glory in you and through you. That’s not always easy and sometimes it’s very painful to separate ourselves from things we once thought were acceptable to do, say, or participate in. The question in those moments isn’t if we will survive the temporary pain of refinement, but if we are willing to continue fighting the day-in and day-out battle to be cleansed of all unrighteousness?
Being a ‘bounty hunter’ of sin is not for those operating on their own strength. Just as in the TV series Wanted Dead or Alive, it involves seasons of extreme cold, extreme heat, loneliness, danger, and determination to take just another step. It requires us to say, “no,” to things we want to do in order to accomplish the things we have to do. It forces us to get back up, confess our falls, and plant ourselves back on the path laid before us. Sometimes it even requires us to step away from things, people, dreams, ideas, opinions, goals, and our own selves. Just as our pastor recently shared in church, we must decrease in order for Christ to increase in our lives. If we truly desire to become more like him, we must take the call to ‘pick up our cross and follow’ him (Matthew 16:24) and offer our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1) seriously.
You may not know what sin you have accepted into your life, but the Lord does. Right now, you can go to him and ask him to begin this process of renewal. You can confide in him your fears of letting go and your pains in parting with whatever particular sin he has revealed to you as offensive in his sight. The journey may be long, but I can promise you the Lord will never leave you to fight the battle alone.
Father God, do a work in me. My heart is willing and I desire to be refined by you. Show me the areas of my life that are offensive to you. Dig deep into my heart. My desire is to serve you Lord.