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The Idolatry of Spiritual Laziness

by Jared Wilson from Gospel Wakefulness

Let’s talk about laziness.

Laziness is idolatry. It is closely related to its opposite—workaholism. Both the sins of laziness and workaholism are sins of self-worship. The behavior looks different, but the root idolatry is the same. And the problem we face is that the law cannot do for either of these sins what grace does. There is no saving power in law. Further—and this is the crucial point in this particular discussion—there is no sustainable keeping of the law apart from the compulsion of grace. We can (and should) command repentance from sin, but it is grace that enables repentance and belief that accompanies it. Repentance problems are always belief problems. When we are set free from the law’s curse, we are set free to the law’s blessings. The difference-maker is the gospel and the joyful worship it creates. Any other attempt at law-abiding is just behavior management.

So we cannot cure spiritual laziness by pouring law on it. God turns dry bones into living, breathing, worshiping, working bodies by pouring gospel proclamation into them. When we truly behold the gospel, we can’t help but grow in Christ and with the fruit of the Spirit. Paul captures the essence of this truth in 2 Corinthians 3:15–18:

Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

The law cannot lift the veil. It cannot supply what it demands. But when by the power of the Spirit we turn to behold the Lord—not just see him, but behold him—the veil is lifted and we are transformed bit by bit, so long as we are beholding. This is not self-generated. It comes, Paul says, “from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Vicky Beeching’s song “Captivated” captures this truth well with these lyrics:

Beholding is becoming, so as You fill my view
Transform me into the likeness of You.

According to 2 Corinthians 3:15–18, beholding is becoming. See how Psalm 119:18 relates “beholding as becoming” to obedience:

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” What must happen for a lazy person to be able to become diligent? He must behold the wondrous things in God’s law.

Does he just decide to do that? No. Okay, well, yes, sort of. But he must be moved to decide to be diligent from a force outside of himself. His eyes must be opened by the Spirit. And in this opening, the law and his keeping of it become wondrous, not tedious. This is really what we’re aiming for with gospel centrality, and it’s what gospel wakefulness (super)naturally produces: obedience to God as worshipful response, not meritorious leverage. We are fixing our eyes on the finished work of Christ so that we may be free, and therefore free to delight in the law, not buckle under it.

Religious people can’t delight in the law like the psalmists do. They have to be set free—and feel free—from its curse first. This is where accusing gospel centrality of facilitating antinomianism becomes nonsensical. Generally speaking, people aren’t lazy because they think they’re forgiven for trespassing the law; they’re lazy because they think the law doesn’t apply to them. The truth is that we worship our way into sin, and we have to worship our way out. When people are lazy (or restless), they do have a sin problem, but the sin problem is just a symptom of the deeper worship problem. Their affections are set somewhere else. And wherever our affections are set is where our behavior will go.

So gospel wakefulness does not mean or produce laziness. But what gospel wakefulness does to the work of obedience is something we cannot muster up of our own power. It is the difference between driving our car and pushing it. Or, better, it is the difference between seeing the Christian life as a rowboat and seeing it as a sailboat.

Jared C. Wilson is the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont. He is an award-winning author whose articles and short stories have appeared in a number of periodicals, and has written the popular books Your Jesus Is Too Safe and Gospel Wakefulness, as well as the curriculum Abide. Wilson lives in Vermont with his wife and two daughters, and blogs daily at GospelDrivenChurch.com.

December 21, 2011 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Life / Doctrine,Sanctification,The Christian Life | Author: Angie Cheatham @ 8:00 am | (6) Comments »


  1. Greetings Pastor Jared C. Wilson. This morning I discovered crossway.org/blog and came across your post: The Idolatry of Spiritual Laziness and I most say that I this post. I also like your biblical reference to explain your points. My belief is that it is only through Grace are we saved and therefore able to delight in the law of the Lord. (Ephesians 2:8,9). Your analogy of pushing the car vs. driving the car is perfect. We are not able to be obedient to the law on our own strength but only through divine assurance and guidance. 1 John 2:3,4 states: And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,
    (1 John 2:4 ESV)
    The question that came to my mind after reading the 4th to 7th but specifically the 6th paragraph in this post (“Generally speaking, people aren’t lazy because they think they’re forgiven for trespassing the law; they’re lazy because they think the law doesn’t apply to them”) is:
    As children of the Lord do we apply all of the 10 Commandments (exodus 20) to our lives? Should we honor the 4th commandment or just 9 of the 10? And of what significance is it to delight in the law of the Lord?
    The reason why I brought up the 4th commandment is because as a new Christian I’m troubled by the idea that ministers and pastor devote their life to Christ, and obviously love him and know his words but then they do things contrary to it, and teach others to do so too. Is because there is something I haven’t learned yet?

    Best regards,

    Comment by Marlon — December 27, 2011 @ 11:52 am

  2. Marlon, Many of the early Christians deliberately substituted the first day of the week for the seventh on the ground that it was on the first day that our Lord rose from the dead.Thereafter, the Christian church made no formal, but a gradual and almost unconscious transference of the one day to the other.
    The change of the Sabbath from the last day of the week to the first was by Christ’s own appointment. He is Lord of the Sabbath.’ Mark 2:28. And who shall appoint a day but he who is Lord of it? He made this day. This is the day which the Lord has made.’ Psalm 118:24. Arnobius and most expositors understand it of the Christian Sabbath, which is called the Lord’s-day.’ Revelation 1:10. As it is called the Lord’s Supper,’ because of the Lord’s instituting the bread and wine and setting it apart from a common to a special and sacred use; so it is called the Lord’s-day, because of the Lord’s instituting it, and setting it apart from common days, to his special worship and service. Christ rose on the first day of the week, out of the grave, and appeared twice on that day to his disciples, John 20:19, 26, which was to intimate to them, as Augustine and Athanasius say, that he transferred the Jewish Sabbath to the Lord’s day.

    (2) The keeping of the first day was the practice of the apostles. Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them.’ Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2. Here was both preaching and breaking of bread on this day. Augustine and Innocentius, and Isidore, make the keeping of our gospel Sabbath to be of apostolic sanction, and affirm, that by virtue of the apostles’ practice, this day is to be set apart for divine worship. What the apostles did, they did by divine authority; for they were inspired by the Holy Ghost.

    (3) The primitive church had the Lord’s-day, which we now celebrate, in high estimation. It was a great badge of their religion to observe this day. Ignatius, the most ancient father, who lived in the time of John the apostle, has these words, Let every one that loveth Christ keep holy the first day of the week, the Lord’s-day.’ This day has been observed by the church of Christ above sixteen hundred years, as the learned Bucer notes. Thus you see how the seventh-day Sabbath came to be changed to the first-day Sabbath.

    The grand reason for changing the Jewish Sabbath to the Lord’s-day is that it puts us in mind of the Mystery of our redemption by Christ.’ The reason why God instituted the old Sabbath was to be a memorial of the creation; but he has now brought the first day of the week in its room in memory of a more glorious work than creation, which is redemption. Great was the work of creation, but greater was the work of redemption. As it was said, The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former.’ Hope this helps, MARLON.

    Comment by PABLOREMOS — January 1, 2012 @ 11:55 am

  3. Hi Pabloremos Happy New Year 2012 to you! Thank you for your input as this is an important topic for me and should also be for any believer of Christ Jesus.

    After reading your comment I’m not convinced that the day was changed by God who established it (Genesis 2:1-4) back at Creation. This is why:

    The Lord command a day for us to worship in the Ten Commandments. Which is very important to God; so important that HE wrote it with his own finger TWICE, on solid rock to symbolize its permanence (Exodus 31:18). Out of all the books of the Bible written by man via the Holy Spirit these commandments are the only words actually physically written by God himself. So important that Jesus stated: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-19).
    The heaven and the earth are still here and man kind are still living in sin so the law still stands. Standing to show us our sin (1 John 3:4 and Romans 7:7). It is this knowledge of our sin that drives us to a savior/redeemer. Understand that the law cannot save us. Jesus is the only one that can save us from the consequences of breaking the law–which is death (Roman 6:23). Now that he has saved you from death, do you continue to sin? No! You love him because he first loves you enough to die for you. (1 John 4:19 and John 3:16). If you truly love him you will keep his commandments (John 14:15). Now that you are in Christ you can do all things through him (Philippians 4:13). Understand that if you love God– you will automatically adhere to 1-4 (Exodus 20:3-11) of his commandments and if you love your fellow men and women– you adhere to 5-10(Exodus 20:12-17). Jesus said if you love me you will keep my commandments (John 14:15). It’s impossible to do it without Christ Jesus.

    I don’t think man has the authority to change something as important has the Lord’s commandments. And thus the Lord’s Day of worship was never changed in the sight of God. Man might think to change it but the day still stands as the day to worship. In fact Daniel prophesied about this that man will attempt to change the laws (Daniel 7:25).

    The idea that Christ the creator (John 1:3) and the redeemer (John 1:29) would change the day of worship as mandated by the Ten Commandments is not biblical. In fact, the bible is very clear that our Lord does not change. Not in the past, not presently, or not in the future to come (Malachi 3:6 and Hebrews 13:8). If God was going to change something so important to him don’t you think that he would make this very obvious? Perhaps as obvious has to writing it with his hand or saying so from his lips. In the contrary to changing it, he reinforced it (Matthew 22:34-40, Matthew 15:3, Matthew 5:17-19, John 15: 10,Matthew 19:17, Luke 4:16).

    In response to your last paragraph I would advise you not to throw out or undermined God’s Glorious work of Creation in an attempt to accept His Gracious work of redemption. You can accept them both because HE is both creator and redeemer (John Chapter 1 and the Entire Bible). There is no biblical evidence to show a change of God’s Holy Day. It is the same day the Lord blessed and sanctified at creation, it is the same day currently and it will be the same day in the future (Isaiah 66:22, 23). It has been said that the day was changed because he was raised on the first day. But I can say to you that he rested from his work of redemption on the Sabbath day and went back to work on the first day (Mark 16:19, Romans 8:34), just like he did after creation.
    In Exodus 31:13,17 the lord stated to Moses: “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.” And today who ever is of Christ’s are Abraham’s offspring (Gal.3:29). The law is still the standard for God’s people today! The Sabbath day was blessed and set apart as holy (sanctified) at creation even before the Nation of Israel (Genesis 2:1-4).

    My question still stands for Pastor Jared C. Wilson (in respond to post “the idolatry of Spiritual Laziness by Jared Wilson from Gospel Wakefulness) and others who study the bible and are teachers of the Gospel and obviously love the Lord. Do we no long worship on the Sabbath according to the forth commandment?

    At some point by God’s Grace I wish to read “Gospel Wakefulness by Jared C. Wilson”.

    Comment by Marlon — January 3, 2012 @ 3:52 pm

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  6. Dear pastor.
    Your article on spiritual laziness speaks clear to me. For once i thought spiritual laziness is my own problem and i can get it away by laws, but as you mentioned that will be just a behavior management. I now understand by laws we cannot do it away, but by grace. Thanks for this post.

    Comment by jo — March 28, 2014 @ 9:26 pm

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