3 Popular Spiritual Cop-outs

I once went on a twitter rant about what I described as spiritual cop-outs. I thought it would be worthwhile to revisit the topic. This time a little more in-depth. The problem I found was our tendency as Christians to create scapegoats and deflect blame when we reflect on our spirituality, whether it be sin in our life or our inability to live out the biblical call in a way that is pleasing to God.

This is not an opportunity to point fingers, rather a chance to be honest and faithful in our commitment to being obedient in our walk with God.

First, what is a cop-out? Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as:

I took that understanding of the word cop-out and applied it to the experience of Christians in American society. Therefore, a spiritual cop-out is something we say or an attitude we reflect in situations where we believe that it is in our best interest to save face by avoiding responsibility and accountability for our shortcomings. These cop-outs usually come in the form of folk theology, defined by Stanley Grenz and Roger Olsen as "a kind of theology that rejects critical reflection and enthusiastically embraces simplistic acceptance of an informal tradition of beliefs and practices composed mainly of clichés and legends.

Christians have been heralded as some of the biggest purveyors of hypocrisy in the world today. A simple Google search of the phrase, "Christian hypocrite" will give you a good précis of  how many non-Christians and some Christians feel about this problem. We Christians are often known for our judgment and condemnation of sinners in the world as if we are the shining example of true morality. Not only do we have a tendency to cast these judgments and condemnations onto non-Christians, but we also cast them onto those who share in the experience of being part of the Body of Christ. This is perhaps the reason that these cop-outs have become so common among Christians.

This list is in no particular order:

1.  The devil made me do it.
This is undoubtedly the oldest cop-out of the group, first appearing in the Book of Genesis when God asks Eve, "What is this you have done?" She replies, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." This cop-out didn't work for Eve back then and it surely doesn't work for us today. The devil can't actually make us do anything (unless of course one is demonically possessed). What the devil can do and will do is tempt us and influence us, but we still make the choice to sin and commit actions that are less than favorable in the eyes of God.

When we use this spiritual cop-out we are attempting to excuse ourselves from owning up to our sins. We are also denying various truths we find in the Bible. We read in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that God will never allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to withstand. In that passage, we also see that God is gracious enough to provide an escape from temptation. Another truth is that the Holy Spirit who dwells within us is stronger than the devil (1 John 4:4). By making the devil a scapegoat we are only hurting ourselves because the fact still remains that the devil cannot make us sin. Thus, we are still going to be held accountable for the sins we have committed. Before we can correct sin we must at least admit to it.

2.  God knows my heart.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a French abbot who lived about 1000 years ago once said, "L'enfer est plein de bonnes volontés et désirs," meaning hell is full of good wishes and desires. It is true that God knows whats in our hearts, but do we really know? Jeremiah 17:9 states, "The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure. Who can understand it?"

We commonly use this spiritual cop-out to make up for our lack of good works. As Christians we are called to servitude. In fact, in Ephesians we read that good works are actually a result of our salvation. Our words and actions come from the heart so if our hearts are as pure and our intentions are as good as we think they are, then our lives should reflect that. God does not look past our shortcomings to our good intentions.

3.  Only God can judge me.

If not for Tupac this spiritual cop-out might not be as popular with my generation as it presently is. It is also the most difficult one to confront because it is true that God is the ultimate judge of all of us. Matthew 7:1 declares explicitly, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged." This verse is the reference point for the theological understanding behind this popular idiom. We use this spiritual cop-out most often when we are living in a way that is unpleasing to God, but do not wish to hear that be identified by others. We bear the judgment of people who we feel are in no moral position to do so because of the immense planks that skew their spiritual vision.

If we examine the entire Bible and even the text within Matthew we will see that God enables man to judge. Jesus was not condemning judgment itself but hypocritical and self-righteous judgment. In John 7:24 Jesus says, "judge with right judgment." We are to judge righteously, that is not of our own understandings or opinions, but judge according to the truth that God has given us. We should keep in mind our limited ability and low discernment when our vision is impaired by our own imperfections. 

We are our brother's and sister's keepers. We are to care about one another. There is a way to be confront another's sin without being "judgmental." In 2 Timothy we are directed to, "reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching."

Avoidance of accountability leads to mediocrity in most areas of life. When we add this trait to our individual walks with Christ what we are left with is dormancy and a strong leaning toward complacency. We are stunting our spiritual growth by not properly dealing with our spiritual faults and missteps.
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  1. This speaks directly to the point of spirituality. It can sometimes be a battle against our lower self. I think we have all used these excuses (or some variation based on our faith). Acknowledging these cop-outs sets the ground for personal accountability.