NavPress (Colorado Springs, CO)
Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges is a book that does exactly what it claims to: exposes the sins that the culture has deemed acceptable. Reading this book brought to the light the many sins that I have marked as “ok” in my life and the lives of others. Bridges takes the truth of Scripture and with careful exposition lays bare the sins which are running rampant in Christian culture.
Bridges starts by outlining our position as believers. As believers, as Christians, we are saints. Through Bridges career in the armed forces, he became familiar with the term “conduct unbecoming an officer.” In the Christian life, then, we are sinning when we are guilty of “conduct unbecoming a saint.” Looking around us, we have to stop and question what has happened to sin? As Christians we don’t seem to know what sin is, yet we do it on a daily and even moment by moment basis. We tolerate and ignore sin as if it does not exist. Were we to compare our lives to the plumb line of Joel, we would find that our lives are full of religious pride, critical attitudes, unkind speech, ungratefulness and a host of other sins that fall far short of God’s standard of holiness yet that we accept and even endorse. Sin, as described by preachers of the 17-1800s, was vile, ugly, odious, malignant, pestilent, pernicious, hideous, spiteful, poisonous, virulent, villainous, abominable, and deadly. The church today has lost sight of this, preferring instead to shove sin under the carpet in the pursuit of the acceptance of “the world.” All sin, Bridges reminds us, is done in the presence of God.
It is the gospel that prepares us to face our sins and frees us to do so. Bridges explains then that we must exercise “dependent responsibility.” We are responsible to rid our self of sin but we are also dependent on the Spirit. In short, to deal with sin, we must apply the gospel, depend on the Holy Spirit, recognize responsibility, identify specific sins, memorize and apply appropriate Scripture, cultivate the practice of prayer, and involve a few other believers (bring to the light).
The first “respectable sin” that Bridges outlines is that of ungodliness. Personally, I had previously thought of myself as a godly person – I go to church, I’m involved in ministry, I read my Bible and memorize and study. Ungodliness however, is defined here as living my everyday life with little or no thought of God. Ouch. Stab to the heart. How often during my day is it apparent that I’m living as a child of God? When my computer is slow and not working to my expectations, do my reactions and responses provide evidence of God’s grace in my life? Sure I read my Bible in the morning, but how do I let that affect the rest of my day? The goal should be that I live in conscious awareness every moment in presence of God. I have been working to change this in my life by mentally “forcing” myself to pray more frequently throughout the day and refocusing my thoughts to God and His sovereignty. One thing that has helped me tremendously is to really study out and begin to understand the awesome dependence that we really do have on God – and also realizing once again the extent of His sovereignty over all the affairs of the earth – even my computer crashing.
The second sin on the list is anxiety and frustration. This one hit home for me this month as I dealt with the challenges of being a second year and stepping up to a new level of responsibility. I so easily allow myself to be weighed down by worries about my inadequacy in leading and building relationships, my inability to fund school next year, my future, etc. Anxiety, stress, worry, fear, frustration – whatever you call it, it is sin. Regardless of its name, it is a lack of trust in God and a lack of acceptance of God’s providence and sovereignty. It is unwillingness on my part to cheerfully accept God’s agenda for my life. Bridges writes that a mark of Christian maturity is acquiescence to the Lord’s will based upon His wisdom, holiness, sovereignty, and goodness. It must be our trust in God that directs our thoughts rather than our lack of faith in Him. Specifically, I have been trying to turn my worries regarding the possible lease and/or sale of my horse into prayer. When I begin to attempt to work out the possible ways that I could keep my horse and the pros and cons of each option, etc., I have been reminding myself that God is in control of this entire situation and that the final outcome is in His hands.
Bridges’ third sin also was soul-piercing: discontentment. Oh how often I fall into this sin. “It would be so much nicer to be working in the barn or construction today.” “If only I could work in a different department.” “Why do I have to be so easily prone to being overweight?” All of these show not only my lack of acceptance of God’s plan and purpose for my life, but also my idolatry of myself in lifting myself above God to say that my plans are better than His and that He messed up. Acceptance, according to Bridges, brings peace. We must trust that God in His love knows best. In the office, I have been bringing my mind into subjection by quickly quenching each thought of discontentment with a word of thanksgiving for being in the office. Some days this is admittedly easier than others, but through this I am starting to see a change in my heart.
Nearly as disconcerting was the chapter on unthankfulness. I am such an ungrateful, wretched person. I complain about the food (though admittedly not as much this year – thanks to the major improvements made in that department), I complain about my work, I complain about my life. I continually fail to “be thankful in all things” as Christ commands. I fail even in the easy times – far worse in the difficult times. Bridges writes that “one characteristic of a spirit-filled life is a grateful heart.” My attempts to turn from this sin are similar to that of being content – when I catch myself being ungrateful, I have to cast that thought or word or attitude aside and replace it with one of gratefulness.
Once again convicting my heart was the chapter on pride. Whether this pride comes in the form of moral self-righteousness, pride over correct doctrine, pride in my achievements, an independent spirit, or resistance to authority and an unteachable attitude, it is all sin. 1 Peter tells us that God resists the pride and gives grace to the humble. Do I so value my own “lordship” that I am willing to have God resist me? I am a very prideful person – I boast in my abilities as if I were the source of those strengths instead of giving the glory to God who created me. I am sarcastic and mocking – putting other people down in order to make myself look good. Forgive me, Lord, for my pride. It is my prayer that I would be humbled under God’s mighty hand, seeing Him for the great and glorious God that He is, seeing myself in proper perspective to that, and always seeking to edify and lift up those around me.
Selfishness was the next sin in Bridges’ list, focusing on our overwhelming consumption of self. When we gather with friends, who do we talk about? Do we talk about their interests or ours? What is it that we spend our time on? Is our time spent in service to God and others or do we spend it all on the pursuit of our own desires? How about our money – what does our spending habits reveal about our priorities? The inconsiderateness that we so often show is merely a symptom of the greater sin of selfishness that we tolerate in our lives. Despite my conviction here, I admit readily that I have been failing miserably in changing in this area as of yet. I did apologize to Donnie the other day for my selfishness in responding grumpily towards him when he suggested once again that I should stay on staff next year. Just because I am wrestling with God in my heart on that issue does not give me license to take it out on him. This, I believe, was a step towards a life that thinks of others before myself. My battle plan here must be to continually ask God and myself what I can be doing to better serve those around me.
Bridges then spoke of a lack of self-control as being one of the sins that we deem “respectable.” There is a plethora of obesity in the church because, though we condemn those who smoke and drink as a response to stress, we see overeating as perfectly acceptable. This lack of self-control applies to our eating and drinking, our tempers, the money we spend, watching television and other forms of entertainment, our hobbies, impulse buying, etc. In my life, I know that I tend to fall short of self-discipline in controlling and dealing with my temper, in my exercise habits (oh, I don’t feel like running today…), in over eating (even though I only need one piece of pizza, two won’t hurt anything), and occasionally in my spending habits, though that has been curbed somewhat with the necessary lack of funds over the last year. Regardless, my failure to discipline myself is a sin. Over the last few months, I have been building a discipline of doing pushups each night. When asked last night why I insisted on doing my twenty pushups even after I had done twenty-five for Hilary during morning exercises, I had to respond that it was because I had worked so hard to build this habit, which in my weakness and tendency towards a lack of self-discipline, would, if broken, take months to rebuild. The same concept of discipline needs to be applied to my eating habits. If I’m not hungry, I don’t need to eat it. If it doesn’t benefit my body, I don’t need to eat it.
The eighth sin, impatience and irritability, is not only tolerated, but deemed normal in many circles. As parents, men and women are said to have a “right” to be impatient and irritable with their children. “I’m just having a bad day” is practically an expected response to anyone who is impatient or irritable – as if it gives them the right to act in that manner. Christ calls us to love one another, to be patient, and to respect each other. Somewhere between Scripture and our lives, a gap has been formed. What can I replace this with in my life? The answer is clear. Love must take the place of the impatience and irritability in my life. If I love those around me with the love of Christ, then I will not only have a reason not to get impatient or irritable, but I won’t have a reason to get impatient or irritable, because I will be seeking their good instead of focusing on my own selfish wants.
Anger, closely related to irritability, is devoted two chapters in Respectable Sins. Bridges pinpoints resentment, bitterness, enmity, hostility, and holding grudges under the category of anger. Scripture says “be angry and sin not,” causing many people to attempt to justify their anger as righteous. Yet our anger most often stems from our pride, our selfishness, or a host of other sins in our lives that we have not yet yielded over to God, thus causing our anger to be a sin or a cause of another sin. Anger is an emotion that can and should drive us to action – thus, to be angry over our sin is not unacceptable. But rarely is our anger at our sin; but more often over an interruption in our selfish goals – such as the fact that our computer is slow just when we are in a hurry to get something done or that someone else’s plans (even God’s) don’t line up with our plan for the day. This then is sin. My battle plan for anger goes back to the understanding of God’s sovereignty in my life. When I begin to be angry, I need to stop myself and ask myself what God wants me to learn in the situation and what supposed “right” I have not yet yielded to God.
Judgmentalism is a sin that we often see straight from the pulpit. We judge others based upon differing convictions, doctrinal disagreements, and our critical spirits. Scripture tells us “judge not, lest ye also be judged.” Yet we continually go around, even unconsciously, judging people whose beliefs or actions don’t line up with our ideals for them. So I look at a person’s dress style and judge them accordingly, causing a breach in the relationship of the body of Christ.
Envy, jealousy, competitiveness, and controlling are all parts of rivalry that Bridges lists as sins. The basis for this is the pride that is an essential part of these. When we are envious and jealous of other people, we have taken our focus off of God and placed it instead on what the other person has. This reveals our lack of belief of God’s goodness and plan for our lives. Competitiveness that says we have to win to be the best; that we have to win even at the expense of others violates God’s command to love one another and put others before ourselves. These sins are all opposed by submission, humility, and seeking the good of others instead of being selfish. Thus, I have been attempting to keep my competitive nature under the control of the Spirit, always reminding myself that God has placed me here to show His love to others – which, sadly enough, doesn’t always mean putting my “W” over their “L” on the scoreboard.
The chapter discussing the sins of the tongue was extremely convicting. Gossip, lying, slander, critical (even when true) speech, harsh words, insults, sarcasm, and ridicule are all sins of the tongue. Any words of my mouth that don’t build up others, that are not edifying, those words are sin. It is no wonder then that James says that the tongue is a member of the body that must be brought unto the subjection of Christ. For in and of itself, the tongue is a wellspring of sin. Out of the heart, our mouths speak. It is our words that reveal what is in our hearts. It must be asked of every word that comes out of my mouth – is that kind, true, uplifting, and needful? My words often condemn and make obvious the sin of my heart. Sarcasm. Ridicule. Criticism. What is the condition of my heart? Poor, I am afraid. It is my goal to watch the words of my mouth, to see what they reveal about my heart. Even in the last few days, I have been trying to catch myself whenever I begin to utter a euphemistic expression and replace it with a word of praise and thanksgiving.
The final sin that Bridges brings to the forefront is that of worldliness. Worldliness is being attached to, engrossed in, or preoccupied with the things of this temporal life. It is accepting and going along with the practices of society around us without discerning if they are biblical. Do we accept or live in immorality – even to the point of immodest dress? Do we have a love of money? What we spend our money and time and energy on reveals our priorities. We must view all aspects of life through the lens of God’s glory. 1 John 2:15-16 tells us to not love the world or the things in the world. Idolatry is anything we place such a high value on that it absorbs our emotional and mental energy or our time and resources. I have been questioning of late what things I place in higher esteem than God. Sure, I become temporarily distracted with books, horses, cars, or clothing – but I don’t necessarily spend a lot of time or money on them. Yet, even by devoting more thought to them than I do to God, I am showing the worldliness of my heart. Thus, I am seeking to control my thoughts by keeping a close guard on what I’m thinking about. If I am meditating on the type of car I’d be driving if I were rich and famous, then I have to stop, refocus, and begin praying or meditating on the Scripture I read that morning.
In all of these sins that we so commonly accept and tolerate, it goes back to the fact that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. It is up to us to take a hold of the victory and grace of God in humility. We must pursue diligently holiness because we have been given all that is necessary for life and godliness.