I begin with an analogy which, I hope, will make a spiritual point, producing helpful conviction. In the 1970s New York City (NYC) had a deserved reputation for being a center of violent crimes. I recall a book which became a film, The Cross & the Switchblade. This was made into a comic book when I was very young. Its drawings and then the movie truly terrified me. To that youngster, NYC was a den of violence, and I never imagined wanting to visit. NYC was full of illegal drugs, gangs, pornographic theaters, and general anarchy. In the 1960s and 1970s, NYC was the living incarnation of Sodom.
But something has changed! Those of you who are blessed to travel know that NYC today is regarded as a wonderful vacation spot ~ not just Broadway and Times Square. Each borough has its unique personality and appeal. Above all, NYC is safe ~ even if busy, noisy, & bustling. So, what happened? A mayor and a police chief collaborated to ‘change the culture.’ The NYC Police Department began writing tickets for what most people would call ‘minor’ violations, well short of what most folks consider to be real crimes (especially as compared to murders, rapes, and violent robberies). Hefty fines were being levied for breaking windows and spraying graffiti! In fact, even if the violator could not be identified, the building owner had to fix the broken windows and paint over the graffiti quickly.
The message? ‘We are now a law-and-order town, & that goes for all the laws on the books.’ This was actually called the “Broken Windows Policy.” Early critics were certain this was crazy: ‘I mean, in a world of real limitations ~ with murder as the kind of crime which truly impacts dozens of lives ~ you are going to have officers chasing down graffiti artists?!’ NYC’s answer: “Yes!” And it worked … meaning, not only did the city end up with fewer broken windows and less graffiti, but the law-and-order message bubbled up into the more violent crimes, such that criminals moved out, or shifted their energies into behavior less likely to be apprehended.
I give an important caveat here: “The heart of man is desperately wicked.” We cannot really change a spiritual heart through the writing and enforcing of external laws. There are likely as many wicked people in NYC now as in the past. But something happened to shift NYC from being a murder capital to being a fairly safe city (for its vast size), & we Covenanters do thank the Lord whenever civil governments take seriously their God-given duties to enforce order.
My big and little point here (I do have one!): Think of yourself, like a city. You surely are aware of what you would call the big, problematic, long-term, hard-to-get-rid-of, serious sins in your life. Perhaps you have read books about this or that sin or addiction, that form of spiritual bondage. You may have enlisted a good friend as an accountability partner, confessing this or that episode. Sometimes you have enjoyed a stretch of good behavior (Yeah … victory in Jesus)! But then, it comes roaring back, perhaps worse than before … the seven skinny years eating up the seven fat ones. ‘Woe is me, a weak and carnal Christian, at least concerning this dominant sin. I suppose that I simply will have to bear this cross and wait for Heaven to finally enjoy real peace and purity.’ Wrong!
By our NYC analogy, consider if the big, public, and violent sin (like murder) reads the news and figures that, in your city, little problems like broken windows and some spray paint on the brick walls are okay. Now there are written laws against those violations, but with all the big stuff you must worry about, there really are no energy or cops or resources to devote to those. Thus, the world, the flesh, and the devil know that you are not a law-and-order town. May it never be! May you care about all of God’s law, whether you imagine that your transgressions are big or little, major or minor. My specific targets here are what the author Jerry Bridges calls “respectable sins” (like coveting, gossip, worry, envy, anger, and thanklessness). But who can care about these little, minor, inner sins of the super-spiritual people (which should bother Christian giants like Bridges), when I am worried about the really bad crimes?!
I urge those of you who are struggling against long term sins, who at times gain some victory, but then they come roaring back … to consider other sins, the inner ones, those small exceptions you have been allowing, though they are against the clear law of God. May God give you victory over the big and the little, the external and the internal. And may those of you who are not struggling against particular sins … get busy! We are not in Heaven yet, so there is sanctification still to pursue.
All of this matters for the glory of Christ. This progress is according to the promise of Christ. And this is empowered by God’s grace in Christ.