The ‘S’ word: the one where I get caught speeding

This is the first post in a SERIES ON SIN – that little ‘s’ word no one really likes to talk about, particularly this momma. This is a series in which I point fingers at no one but myself.

I’m a rule follower by nature. I can’t help it. No matter how hard I try to be cool, counter-cultural, or otherwise ‘with-it’, I end up holding the very same conclusion in my hand. I am not cool. I am not counter-cultural. I am not ‘with-it.’

I like stability. I like schedules (especially when pronounced with a British accent). And I really like the satisfaction that can come from following rules and procedures.

But on a recent trip to Georgia to see my parents, there was one rule of the road I neglected.  Because when I returned home, I found this friendly little note in my mailbox. And actually, the large red print at the top of the page wasn’t very friendly at all.

It read “NOTICE OF VIOLATION” in all caps. I had been issued a speeding ticket! Under the violation notice, it listed my exact violation and punishment which, of course, should be mailed in a timely fashion to the appropriate address.

My first thought? This has to be wrong. I don’t speed. (Rules, remember?)

But sure enough, in plain text, I was recorded traveling 56 mph in a 45 mph speed zone. Officer Hubbard, the proprietor of my lovely letter, was kind enough to enclose a photo of the rear of my vehicle as I sped blissfully unaware down the highway. I could not dispute it; I had broken the law.

My second thought? This was a road trip. I wasn’t familiar with the roads and probably wasn’t even aware of a change in the speed limit.

I was certain I did not intend to speed. But with the law of speed limits comes the expectation that I will be held accountable to the law even if I am unaware of every speed limit from Pittsburgh to Atlanta.

My third thought? (Gulp. This is where is gets ugly). This is ridiculous! I hope they gave tickets to everyone else who was speeding that day!

I was incensed that I had been given a ticket for speeding when I clearly remember dozens of other vehicles blaring past me on the same trip.  I convinced myself that I wasn’t the danger – but everyone else was. I convinced myself that my sin wasn’t as bad as everyone else’s. I convinced myself that my sin was being dealt with unfairly. It didn’t seem to be such a big deal.

Angry over the seemingly unfairness of the situation, I put the ugly citation on the kitchen counter with my other bills. It would be another two days before I realized my heart’s folly.

Sin can be hard to identify and overcome for people like me – rule followers. Mainly because rule-followers tend to view personal sin as ‘small’ or trivial matters. It’s not like we’ve committed one of the big sins – murder, theft, etc. Rather, rule followers tend to treat sin as if we’ve unexpectedly and unfairly been given a speeding ticket.  And If I’m being honest, I tend to view most of my sins under these three caveats.

  • But I had good intentions.

I really do try to be a good, safe driver most of the time. My formerly clean driving record should attest to my noble intentions. I haven’t had a ticket in over 15 years. That should count for something!

Scripture is clear that God’s law requires nothing short of perfection. God calls our good deeds (intentions included) “filthy rags” (check out Is. 64:6). God isn’t being rude, snobbish, or overbearing; he’s letting us know that because our hearts are “infected and impure with sin,” our motives and righteous acts are tainted as well.

Is. 64:6 tells us we can never be “good” enough to have a relationship with a perfectly “good” God. In the same way, I will never be a perfect driver no matter how hard I try. (Fill in the blank with the role you struggle to fulfill everyday). Yeah, I know. That stinks. Big time.

Sin in sin. A law existed governing the speed limit on that particular road, and I was proven in violation of that law.  It didn’t matter if I was traveling a measly five miles over the speed limit or if I was driving like I was on the Auto Bonn. And no matter how diligently I try to drive in the future, that seemingly-small infraction will appear on my driving record for a long time. It taints things.

  • But I sinned unintentionally.

But I wasn’t aware that I was breaking the law! I didn’t see the speed limit sign. If I had, I would have followed the rules!

But ignorance of the law did not absolve me from bearing the consequences of breaking the law. I have a hefty fine to prove it. Lev. 4 says: “When a leader sins and unintentionally does any one of all the things which the Lord his God has commanded not to be done, and he becomes guilty.” (See also Lev. 4:27, 5:15-18).

Sin is sin. When we break laws, unintentionally or intentionally, Scripture says we still bear the guilt of our actions. It didn’t matter if I broke the speed limit purposefully or not. And while Scripture does accord greater punishment for willful sins, it is also clear that ignorance is not bliss (Num. 35:6-34).[1]

  • But my sin isn’t as bad as someone else’s sin.

This ticket is so unfair! There were tons of other drivers out there driving faster and more dangerous than me! Doesn’t that police officer have anything better to do with his time than harass law-abiding citizens when there are REAL criminals out there? What a waste of tax dollars!

Any of that sound familiar?

Sin is sin. The law always applies to our lives regardless if it’s a first-time offense, if we are caught, or if we end up hurting someone. It didn’t matter if I broke the law to a lesser degree than others around me, I still sinned.

Deep down, this is the ugliest of all perspectives regarding sin, because at its heart lies a gross misapplication of the gospel – that the gospel is best applied to ‘big sins.’

Despite knowing that Scripture preaches a different reality regarding the scope of the gospel, my tendency to view my sin as ‘no big deal’ reveals the way I believe the gospel works – because my sins are ‘small’ (or ‘smaller’) than someone else’s, then I don’t need the gospel as much as they do.

The seductive allure of rules over a relationship lies  in the assumption that keeping God’s Law (however imperfectly) obligates God to overlook toward ‘small’ or unintentional infractions. 

But speeding tickets aside, Romans 3:23 says everyone bears guilt from breaking the law: For all have sinned; we all fall short of the glory of God.”

So, does anybody have a perfect driving record? Romans 3:10 says, There is no one righteous, not even one.”

Not even me – a card-carrying rule follower with a semi-perfect driving record.  But sometimes I need God to remind me of my greatest needs. Not only do I need help in applying the grace of his gospel when I fail to follow his rules perfectly, but most importantly, I need his grace to keep from elevating rules over the freedoms he has already given me through the cross.

Thankfully, the rules of the Law are no longer the standard by which we enjoy a relationship with him. Now, if I could just live my life in light of that reality!

Are you a rule follower too? What helps you elevate his gospel over rules?


[1] For a discussion on unintentional sin, see Denny Burk’s post “Is it sin if it’s unintentional” at http://www.dennyburk.com/is-it-sin-if-it%E2%80%99s-unintentional/.

 

About melissa deming

Melissa Deming is a freelance writer transplanted from Texas to Pennsylvania with her husband of ten years, Jonathan, and two-year-old identical twins, Zacharias and Jonah. The family serves at a Southern Baptist church plant in Pittsburgh - Living Faith Community Church. Melissa is a regular correspondent for The Southern Baptist TEXAN newspaper and Crossroads magazine of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. She is also the creator and author of HiveResources.com - a site designed to sweeten a woman's walk with Christ through devotional articles, book reviews, and giveaways. Melissa holds a Masters of Divinity in Women’s Studies from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, NC, and a B.A. in Journalism from Texas A&M University.