While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation. They put him in custody, because it had not been made clear what should be done to him. And the Lord said to Moses, "The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp." And all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as the Lord commanded Moses. ESVI read something like this and there is this reaction in me that says, "Wow! He was just picking up sticks! It wasn't even something bad!" And . . . that reaction tells me more about my view of God than I like to admit.
As much as I can teach about God's holiness, and how He breathes out stars, and how amazing and worthy of our awe and worship He is, etc., a reaction like that reveals to me how much of that knowledge of God is in my head and hasn't captivated my heart.
Why not, instead, would I have had the reaction, "Oh, man! This man has such a wicked heart to rebel against God! To do things His way and not God's!" A failure to react that way gives me insight into the heart of why I can, at times, be so casual with the "little" sins. I am seeing it as an issue of degrees and about the action, and not about the rebellion—not about the incredible pride and arrogance of thinking I can do what I want when God—the holy Creator of all—has said something different about it. In reality, I think I can judge what is truly OK and what isn't. I may not say that is my reality, but my actions reveal it is.
It is similar to Adam and Eve—"so you're telling me that they and all mankind to follow got a death sentence and cut off from God for eating fruit!?" No. That isn't the reason. It is for the pride and rebellion of the heart that thinks it can do things its own way and that it is OK to do so. It is for the heart that thinks it, better then God, can define what is OK and what isn't. It is about a trust—a faith!—that is greater in myself then it is in Him.
We must never forget, God loves our faith and without it Hebrews tells us it is impossible to please Him. When the Israelites came to the promised land it was GOD that told them to send in the spies! He didn't sucker them into the land and then have them realize what they were surrounded by so they had no choice to rely on Him. He had them spy it out and see exactly what they were up against so then they could choose—sight (what they saw in front of them), or faith in God who had promised them both the land and His presence. They didn't trust Him and He says of them (in different places throughout the Bible) that they were in unbelief, not following Him, disobedient, stiff-necked, hardened hearts, not mindful of the works He had performed among them, faithless. And, though they would have been the first to say they believed in God's existence, HE said of them that they didn't believe in Him.
God is looking for so much more than simply our acknowledgement that He exists (even the demons believe, and tremble the Bible says). He is looking for us to believe in Him in the way that commits our life to Him, to trust in Him, to follow Him.
Eve's sin is similar. Before she ever saw the tree as good for food, pleasing to the eye, or desirable to make one wise she first had doubt about God and His love and His Word and His trustworthiness. Then, after entertaining those doubts about God, she came to the place where she believed she could better take care of her needs, pleasure, and wisdom apart from God and His ways then doing it God's way. She walked out of trust of God, and trusted more in herself. She walked out of faith in God.
When we assess sin by the action ("he was just picking up sticks!), instead of realize it is a heart of rebellion and disobedience to God, we can tend to water down what sin really is and lose the reverence of the the holiness of God. I am reminded of when David was bringing the ark back to Jerusalem. It is found in 2 Sam 6:5–7
And David and all the house of Israel were making merry before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. ESVDid Uzzah die because he steadied himself or the ark when the oxen stumbled. Is that really worthy of a death sentence? No. Uzzah died because, first and foremost, David decided to do something his way and blew off a holy God's commands about how the ark would be handled (even "religious" things can be sin). Then Uzzah died because a holy God said the ark would not be touched and he touched it. As long as we say he died simply for touching the ark we have missed the point. He died for the rebellion and haughtiness that said, "Even though God said one thing I can do it my way" (sorry Frank Sinatra).
It is an important lesson for us to learn (and relearn, and relearn . . .). Whenever we assess sin by the action instead of seeing it as rebellion we have lost our grip on God's holiness and who He is. We do things "our way" because we are looking left and right, instead of up. Left and right we can always find some reason, or someone else's life, that will justify us. Looking up into His holiness, and across the gap to the blood-stained cross, will remind us of what sin really is. It is not an action, it is a heart.
May I never lose sight of the fact that my sin, my "casual choices," are rebellion against God no matter how insignificant they seem. May I fear my heart, and may I embrace faith—a complete trusting of my life to Him and His ways because I have complete trust of Him and His Word and His love and His faithfulness.