The Antidote for Apathy
No Christian hopes to one day find themselves drifting from God. We don’t set goals to love other things most, to serve false gods, or to give in to temptation. But many of us, surprisingly, have found ourselves years into following Christ with an alarming companion: apathy.
Unfortunately, the Christian life doesn't offer any checkpoints. There is no moment when we gain immunity to certain kinds of sin. Once-fresh passion for Jesus can dry up to allow worldly desires to sprout in its place. Keeping up with the Joneses can usurp the desire to keep in step with the Spirit.
This shouldn’t surprise us. The Bible showcases the failures of our heros alongside their victories: devoted David in bed with Bathsheba, noble Noah in drunkenness, sage Solomon in promiscuity, proud Peter in his denial. Each of us is but a few compromises away from forsaking the love we had at first and embracing godless pursuits.
How does this happen? It happens when the saving grace of God is no longer the treasure in the field but a penny in the parking lot. When the mention of the gospel elicits "yeah, I know" not "how can it be?!" The moment our salvation becomes ordinary, we open the door for something else to captivate our hearts. Apathy toward God is a perilous position.
An Issue of Sin-Awareness
Is there an antidote for apathy? Jesus was surrounded by apathetic Jews. The self-confident religious leaders had no need for a savior. (Who needs saving when you're good at rule-following?) So their contempt stood in stark contrast to the needy sinners who saw in Jesus unbelievable hope.
In such a moment of contrast, Jesus tells this story:
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?" Simon answered, "The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt." And he said to him, "You have judged rightly."
Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:41–47).
Jesus diagnoses the gap between apathy and worship as an issue of sin-awareness (for no one is truly forgiven only a little). Greater awareness of sins forgiven leads to greater love for the Forgiver. The antidote for apathy is an acute apprehension of how greatly we’ve been pardoned. We are not the child who needs a swat on the hand but the criminal who deserves the gallows.
I’m not recommending we number our sins but rather strive to see the vile nature of our sin accurately. If we look at our sinful hearts and shrug, the forgiveness God offers won’t seem that impressive. If our sin is merely annoying, knowing God becomes a consolation prize, not the jackpot. Apathy can continue so long as sin is belittled.
We Need a Wake-Up Call
But belittling sin is what our world does best. With self-centeredness as the default in every human heart, we are easily convinced that a little selfishness is normal. We need a wake-up call. But, ironically, understanding sin’s vileness doesn’t happen by focusing on it more. God’s presence alone is strong enough to wake our spirits from the trance of sin’s justifying script. Without a clear view of Him, sin never really seems that bad.
Isaiah experiences this moment of clarity when he sees the Lord sitting upon His throne, high and lifted up (Isa. 6). Seeing God in His unbridled glory evokes immediate grief: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips" (v. 5).
Isaiah isn't the only one who responded to God this way. Two other such men are Daniel and Josiah. Both the good guys in the story, they weren't willingly sinning or avoiding the good they ought to do. In fact, they were some of the only people in their day actively seeking God. Yet in both cases, as God is revealed to them, we see them repenting, not of others' sin but of their own. We find these godly men weeping with deep brokenness over the evil they saw in their own hearts.
A clear view of God reveals the true horror of what we daily justify: We love ourselves most of all.
A Happy Hopelessness
The exposure of our wretchedness is always painful. It confirms our inability to defeat the foe of indwelling self-love. But this hopelessness is a happy one, for through it we see the truth: We have been forgiven much.
In each new realization of sin’s depravity, Jesus’ words are that much sweeter: Blessed are you who are poor in spirit. Blessed are you who mourn your sin. Blessed are you who are sin-starved and desperately hungry and thirsty for righteousness. You will be comforted; you will be satisfied; you will see Me and My kingdom is for you! (see Matt 5:2–11).
Apathy cannot exist where sin is grieved. Friends, our pardoned sins are truly heinous; we have been forgiven much. But we have been given the undeserved privilege of knowing the living God! Yes, knowing Him will expose our appalling sinful nature, but knowing Him will showcase His astounding grace. Come, let us press on to know the Lord. We have been forgiven much; may we love Him much.