The Three-Second Rule

Late one evening, as my son and I snagged that last minute snack before bed, my son dropped a chip on the floor. With the fluid motion of an accomplished basketball player, he swooped low to quickly catch the chip on its first bounce and quipped, “Three-Second Rule.” The chip disappeared into that cavity he called a stomach.

A fellow once told me that the “Three – Second Rule” originated in the Navy (that wouldn’t surprise me, given the hygiene of some of my former shipmates). The rule goes something like this: if you drop food on the floor, it doesn’t really get dirty for three seconds. I don’t buy that, especially considering the fact that food consistency plays an important part in whether or not you want to pick it up and eat it (when something mushy, like mashed potatoes or Jell-O®, hits the floor I’m not eating it!).

This rule is usually applied tongue-in-cheek, however, some would take this rule to greater lengths. For example, some sins seem to be popularly governed by the “Three-Second Rule.” In other words, sinning a little is excusable because it doesn’t really count if you don’t do it repeatedly over a long period of time. If you don’t use God’s name in vain frequently, then once in a while it is acceptable. If I don’t make a habit of stealing, a job-related “procurement” on rare occasion is allowable. In fact, we cannot possibly get along with everyone, so when we torch our neighbor occasionally, it is permissible.

The rationalization of the “Three-Second Rule” is in denying reality. That moment of contact between the chip and floor creates a situation wherein the chip is “dirtied.” The post-event dilemma is: How will you react? Will you eat the chip, or not. The real issue is not a question of contamination, but perception.

People who go through life living morally upright lives sometimes labor under the delusion that they fall under the “Three-Second Rule.” They don’t do anything outrageously wrong, so they don’t really need to believe in a Christ who died for their sins, after all, they’re such small sins; they don’t really need to repent because, after all, they’re not really that bad; they don’t need to obey the gospel because they are living moral lives and aren’t really bad people. But, the Bible says, “…all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2), and there is no way to close the gap between God and humanity until we deal with sin (Acts 13:38; Colossians 1:14). Perception does not compensate for contamination.

I know really “good” people, who live very moral lives and whose example is often better than the Christian whose life makes a mockery of Christ. I also know, with even more certainty, that they will be lost eternally if their sins are not washed away (Acts 22:16). And, if they keep thinking that morality and “comparative religion” (“I’m not as bad as so-and-so”) is a sure ticket to Heaven, they will be sorely disappointed. At the final Judgment, there will be no “Three-Second Rule,” just “the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52).