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Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. Psalm 19:13 (NIV)

Tucked away in the book of Daniel is a little phrase that to this day haunts me. Daniel is interpreting the handwriting on the wall to King Beltashazzar (Daniel 5). He reminds the King of the lessons his father, Nebuchadnezzar, learned about acknowledging God as being the one true God. He reminded him of the lesson his father learned about worshipping the God of Heaven and not the god of silver and gold. Then comes the statement in Daniel 5:22 (my paraphrase): “But you knew better.”

The lesson? Nebuchadnezzar worshipped false gods because of ignorance. Beltashazzar worshipped false gods because he wanted to. He chose what to worship in full knowledge of the lessons his father learned.

The passage would imply that God’s judgment is harsher on those who sin willfully than it is on those who go astray on their own volition. Nebuchadnezzar was removed temporarily from this throne for his ignorance. Beltashazzar was killed for his rebellion.

Choosing to sin when we know better is nothing new of course. Eve knew better, as did Abraham, Moses, David and, well, those of us who call ourselves Christ followers. We all can identify with the Apostle Paul in Romans 7. The good things we long to do, we fail to do. The bad things we hate doing, we keep doing over and over again. There is small relief for us when the writer that says (1 Corinthians 10:13) there is no temptation that attacks us that we can’t overcome is the same person who writes of his struggle to overcome temptation. But the question is, why? What is it within our human nature that keeps us from doing right?

Willful sin attacks us for several reasons. I list a few here. You may be able to think of others. We sin willfully:

  • Because it is fun! We may not want to admit that on the surface, but the reality is we choose intentionally to do things we know we shouldn’t because we’d rather trade momentary pleasure for eternal peace.
  • For self-preservation. When our identity is attacked or we perceive it is, we react to protect it. Why do we react to being cut off on the interstate or when someone attacks us verbally or gives us bad service at the coffee shop? Because their actions tell us we aren’t important and we react accordingly.
  • Pride: Pride could actually be the summary of all these reasons, but the pride I’m talking about here is the pride that tells us, “I deserve this little ‘vice’ because I work hard; I’m a good parent; I do so many good things for God; etc, etc. So we visit the websites we know we shouldn’t; we tell our friends one little piece of gossip; we allow ourselves the indulgences we know hurt our relationship with Christ because all of us deserve an occasional lapse in judgment.
  • Ignorance: When we follow Christ, we acknowledge that he died on the cross for the penalty of my sin; that he rose from the dead to conquer death and that he went back to heaven to intercede for us, prepare a place for us and so he could send his Holy Spirit to guide us. However, on occasion we choose our own way because we forget or fail to realize the pain Christ suffered for us and how our rebellion, small as it may seem, hurts the relationship with Christ.
  • Apathy: This one is a tough one, but if we think back to those times we’ve chosen to go our way, we’ve done so because we really just didn’t care. We know we’ll be forgiven. We know we’ll go to heaven. We don’t take time to think of consequences.

 

The Psalmist isn’t as concerned about the sins he commits in ignorance as he is the sins he commits out of choice. May each of us who bear the name of Jesus echo his prayer.

PRAYER: Father God, I echo the prayer of Psalm 19:13. Much as I love you I confess that many times I choose to go against you out of willful desire. Forgive me for those sins that easily beset me, the sins I know are wrong but I do them anyway. Thank you for Jesus. May I live worthy of the calling that is within me. Thank you for your grace. Amen.

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