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The Idolatry of Spiritual Laziness

Posted On April 12, 2020

Let’s talk about laziness. Laziness is idolatry. It is closely related to its opposite—workaholism. Both the sins of laziness and workaholism are sins of self-worship. The behavior looks different, but the root idolatry is the same. And the problem we face is that the law cannot do for either of these sins what grace does. There is no saving power in law. Further—and this is the crucial point in this particular discussion—there is no sustainable keeping of the law apart from the compulsion of grace. We can (and should) command repentance from sin, but it is grace that enables repentance and belief that accompanies it. Repentance problems are always belief problems. When we are set free from the law’s curse, we are set free to the law’s blessings. The difference-maker is the gospel and the joyful worship it creates. Any other attempt at law-abiding is just behavior management.

So we cannot cure spiritual laziness by pouring law on it. God turns dry bones into living, breathing, worshiping, working bodies by pouring gospel proclamation into them. When we truly behold the gospel, we can’t help but grow in Christ and with the fruit of the Spirit. Paul captures the essence of this truth in 2nd Corinthians 3:15-18:

Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

The law cannot lift the veil. It cannot supply what it demands. But when, by the power of the Spirit, we turn to behold the Lord—not just see Him, but behold Him—the veil is lifted and we are transformed bit by bit, so long as we are beholding. This is not self-generated. It comes, Paul says, “from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Vicky Beeching’s song “Captivated” captures this truth well with these lyrics:

Beholding is becoming, so as You fill my view
Transform me into the likeness of You.

According to 2nd Corinthians 3:15-18, beholding is becoming. See how Psalm 119:18 relates “beholding as becoming” to obedience: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”

What must happen for a lazy person to be able to become diligent? He must behold the wondrous things in God’s law. Does he just decide to do that? No. Okay, well, yes…sort of. But he must be moved to decide to be diligent from a force outside of himself. His eyes must be opened by the Spirit. And in this opening, the law and his keeping of it become wondrous, not tedious. This is really what we’re aiming for with gospel centrality, and it’s what gospel wakefulness [super]naturally produces: obedience to God as worshipful response, not meritorious leverage. We are fixing our eyes on the finished work of Christ, so that we may be free, and therefore free to delight in the law, not buckle under it.

Religious people can’t delight in the law like the psalmists do. They have to be set free—and feel free—from its curse first. This is where accusing gospel centrality of facilitating antinomianism becomes nonsensical. Generally speaking, people aren’t lazy because they think they’re forgiven for trespassing the law; they’re lazy because they think the law doesn’t apply to them. The truth is that we worship our way into sin, and we have to worship our way out. When people are lazy (or restless), they do have a sin problem, but the sin problem is just a symptom of the deeper worship problem. Their affections are set somewhere else. And wherever our affections are set is where our behavior will go.

So gospel wakefulness does not mean or produce laziness. But what gospel wakefulness does to the work of obedience is something we cannot muster up of our own power. It is the difference between driving our car and pushing it. Or, better, it is the difference between seeing the Christian life as a rowboat and seeing it as a sailboat.

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