Beyond the Letter


When it comes to sin, avoiding the act is priority number one. In light of this, few put emphasis toward the acts that lead to sinful choices, behaviors, and habits. With so much focus on human decision as it relates to sin avoidance, the more subtle places where sin begins are easily ignored.

When it comes to establishing boundaries, I often tell dating couples to create spatial boundaries (we won’t be at this place at this time) rather than physical boundaries (we won’t do more than this). The spatial boundaries make it so the physical boundaries are relatively unimportant.

It’s too easy to rely on yourself for following a specific boundary, without recognizing how weak you may be. Why rely on something weak? I think that’s a question that Job would have thrust into this conversation. In my reading of Job 31 I was struck by how strict he was in all areas of life, guarding his heart and his mind in every direction.

“I made a covenant with my eyes
    not to look lustfully at a young woman.
For what is our lot from God above,
    our heritage from the Almighty on high?
Is it not ruin for the wicked,
    disaster for those who do wrong?
Does he not see my ways
    and count my every step?” -Job 31:1-4

Job recognizes the power of God to bring disaster on those who choose to ignore His desires. He says there is a great heritage for those who are part of God’s family. Job, then, continues his specific warning about what disaster may come:

“If my steps have turned from the path,
    if my heart has been led by my eyes,
    or if my hands have been defiled,
then may others eat what I have sown,
    and may my crops be uprooted.” -Job 31:7-8

For most, this seems extreme—an over-the-top attempt to avoid sin. Job is focusing on his eyes, his steps, his heart, and his hands. Whereas we may ask for help to not abuse a good thing, Job is focused on wisdom in every direction, each step, each glance.

This shouldn’t be seen as extreme, rather it is wise. It is wise to recognize the frailty of human fortitude, the power of Satan’s schemes, and the capability of each situation to present a new trap for sin. These traps are rarely things that come out of nowhere. They are subtle habits and behaviors established with a few off glances, a few steps in the wrong direction.

Job is only concerned with following the letter of the law because he knows that providing space for the heart of the law to be honored means the letter need not be the focus.

If sin is a misplacement of affection, Job has sin avoidance correctly placed: it is about giving God his rightful place in our lives and honoring the heritage He has established.