Summary: Over time, our lives tend to fill up with the clutter and debris of sin. How to prevent that from happening, and how to conduct "spring cleaning" when it does.
All physical systems, over time, accumulate debris. It’s an unfortunate fact of life. They get cluttered, and clogged, and congested, and that hinders the operation of the system. Let me give you some random examples. As we age, plaque tends to build up in our veins and arteries, which gradually restricts the flow of blood. Sea-going vessels, everything from fishing trawlers to aircraft carriers, become encrusted with barnacles, which slow the ship’s progress through the water. In just one year, an oil tanker can accumulate five tons of barnacles. Many rivers have to be dredged periodically, so that the mud and silt won’t build up and make them impossible to navigate. And finally, closets in churches, over a period of several decades, will tend to fill up with all kinds of interesting items. Such as: financial records from 1933. Vacation Bible School materials dating back to the Carter administration. Keys to locks that no longer exist. A gallon jug filled with sand. A bucket of rocks. Fake vampire blood. Old hymnals. Antique vases. Cane bottom chairs. An adding machine. And enough plates, cups, and saucers to serve several hundred hungry Baptists. I was half expecting someone to open up a closet and find the engine to a ’57 Chevy.
But what I’m talking about is a universal problem. Any physical system, whether you’re talking about arteries, or ships, or rivers, or church closets, will eventually get filled with rubbish and sludge and bric-a-brac, and will need to be cleaned out. That may not be a pleasant process, especially if the debris has been accumulating for some length of time. It may be dirty, and smelly, and time-consuming, and just plain hard work, but it has to be done. Otherwise, the whole system breaks down. And if you’ve tried to find a place to store something in this building recently, you know what I mean. I’m just thankful that someone finally had the courage to stand up and say, "Brothers and sisters, we need a rummage sale!"
The same principle applies to other, non-physical, types of systems. Marriage relationships, for example, can become clogged with unresolved conflicts and unforgiven offenses. But this morning, what I’d like to focus on is how this principle applies to the spiritual life. Because over time, if we’re not careful, our lives can get cluttered up with the debris of sin. Our minds and hearts can become encrusted with the barnacles of ungodly beliefs and attitudes. And that hinders our relationship with God. It hinders our fellowship with one another. It hinders our ability to experience joy, and peace, and power in the Christian life. What I’m going to talk about today is how we can prevent that from happening, and how when it does happen, we can clean out the muck and the mire, so that our fellowship with God and one another will be free and unobstructed; so that we can enjoy the kind of abundant life that Christ intends.
The first point I’d like to make is that this process, of sin gradually infiltrating our lives and gumming up the works, is common to all of us. None of us is immune; none of us can afford to go merrily about our business, unconcerned with matters of sin and holiness. If that were the case, then the Scriptures wouldn’t be so full of appeals to be watchful and careful, and to guard our hearts.
"Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." – Proverbs 4:23
"Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil . . . " – Psalm 141:3-4
"So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!" – 1 Corinthians 10:12
"Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise" – Ephesians 5:15
What passages such as these are telling us is that we need to give attention to the quality of our spiritual lives; we need to consider carefully the consistency of our obedience and devotion to Christ. Otherwise, over time the world will conform us to its way of thinking; and to its way of speaking and acting. If we’re not careful, ungodly habits and attitudes will gradually creep in. And what’s really tragic – even a bit frightening – is that we probably won’t even realize that it’s happening.
What am I saying? That when someone falls away from walking with Christ; it’s usually a gradual process. Little by little, their taste for spiritual things diminishes. They lose their savor for holiness, their zest for knowing God; so that the kind of spiritual activities which used to give them pleasure now seem dull and uninteresting. What used to be a blessing now seems like a burden. One way of describing it is that, although they still know the words of Christianity, they lose their ability to hear the music. So the practice of private prayer and Bible reading, for example, becomes less frequent. Church attendance slips. They no longer care to spend time with their Christian friends. And as the world seduces them, their tolerance for impurity in their own heart, and mind, and conduct, gradually increases. To be concerned about avoiding sin no longer seems important or worthwhile.