Why one sin utterly condemns

Read this great post from Ray Ortlund Jr., a former professor of mine and now a pastor, blogging at Christ is deeper stillbenedict-arnold

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. James 2:10

“One failure, one breach, one bad moment, and guilt for the whole law crashes down on me? Kind of an overreaction, isn’t it? Seems nit-picky at least, even oppressive. So that’s what God is really like, huh? Figures.”

Let’s admit it. We all think that way. But the failing is not in God. It’s in us.

Every American knows the name Benedict Arnold. He was a traitor. He betrayed the American cause in the Revolutionary War. The memory of Benedict Arnold conjures up one thought: treason.

What we may not know is that Arnold had served energetically and effectively on the American side. As a general in our Continental Army, he bravely fought and won at Fort Ticonderoga. But he was passed over for promotion, he ran up some personal debts, he came under criticism by political competitors, so he switched sides. He became sneaky. He got himself assigned to the command of West Point, in order to hand it over to the British. But his plot was discovered.

I wonder what he was thinking. He probably weighed all the good he had done for the Americans against the bad he was receiving from the Americans, and he justified himself, he told himself it was okay. But that isn’t how the moral calculus works. Doing good does not offset doing evil. Doing evil offsets doing good. That is why the good record of Benedict Arnold will forever be overshadowed in the American consciousness by his final act of betrayal. His betrayal revealed the true state of his heart. He had not been serving America sincerely but for ulterior motives. And when his Self was not served to his own satisfaction, he turned. If his Self had been served to his satisfaction, he doubtless would have stayed true. But even then, his loyalty would have been deeply false. Undiscovered, but false.

Our obedience to God doesn’t prove a thing. It might not be obedience at all. It might be coincidence. It might be that what the Bible says and what we were going to do anyway just happen to line up. What reveals our hearts is our disobedience. This is why one violation of the law not only does condemn us but deserves to condemn us. Our sin exposes the fraudulence of our righteousness, not the other way around.

Let’s face it. We are all Benedict Arnolds. But God loves Benedict Arnolds. Christ died for his betrayers. Now he offers us his royal amnesty on terms of grace, received with the empty hands of faith, which we are finally able to hold out before him when we know and admit and repent of what we really are.

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