“Sin is sin. Even those sins that I call ‘the acceptable sins of the saints’–those sins that we tolerate in our lives–are serious in God’s eyes. Our religious pride, our critical attitudes, our unkind speech about others, our impatience and anger, even our anxiety (see Philippians 4:6); all of these are serious in the sight of God.” (pg. 21)
In his new book, Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate, Jerry Bridges tackles areas of sin that are often overlooked, justified, tolerated, and even accepted among Christians. As believers, we seem to have fallen into the trap of thinking that “sin is what people outside our Christian communities do.” (pg. 16)
We can easily identify, and condemn, those areas that we would consider “big” or “serious” sins of society – blatant immorality, shady business practices, or homosexuality. But, we fail to see our own “more acceptable” sins in the same light.
“It is easy to let ourselves off the hook by saying that these sins are not as bad as the flagrant ones of society. But God has not given us the authority to establish values for different sins…. The truth is, all sin is serious because all sin is a breaking of God’s law.” (pg. 20)
In the first several chapters, Bridges lays the foundation. He helps us understand the true nature of our sin – any sin – as unacceptable before a holy God. While he suggests that we may feel the need to throw the book across the room, I found his blunt, but humble style anything but infuriating. He continually offers practical suggestions for putting to death the various expressions of sin in our lives, always pointing us back to the grace and mercy of God found in the message of the Gospel, reminding us that “there is never a day in our lives when we are so ‘good’ we don’t need the gospel.” (pg. 37)
In chapters 7 through 20, Bridges addresses some of the “Respectable Sins” that believers deal with. I was amazed at his list. While it is not exhaustive, it certainly covers a wide range of attitudes, emotions and actions. I have heard sermons preached on gossip, pride, and anger – some of the more obvious, but still “accepted” Christian sins. But, there were areas addressed in this book that I had never before considered for what they really were – sin!
Bridges begins his discussion of “acceptable sins” by addressing what he believes to be the root cause of our other sins. No, not pride. Ungodliness. “We don’t think of ourselves as ungodly. After all, we are Christians…” (pg. 53) But, in this chapter, Bridges points out that even believers are susceptible to this sin. (And yes, he calls it sin.) He defines ungodliness as “living one’s everyday life with little or no thought of God, or of God’s will, or of God’s glory, or of one’s dependence on God.” (pg. 54)
How often do we read our Bible, or pray at the start of the day, but then go on with the rest of our activities without thinking of our dependence on God, or our responsibility to Him? If He is not a part of our thinking, how are we actively seeking to glorify Him with our actions?
“A person may be moral and upright, or even busy in Christian service, yet have little or no desire to develop an intimate relationship wit God. This is the mark of ungodliness.
For the godly person, God is the center and focal point of his or her life. Every circumstance and every activity of life, whether in the temporal or spiritual realms is viewed through the lens of this God-centeredness.” (pg. 58)
Bridges offers several Scriptures to memorize, ponder, and pray over in order to help us become “more conscious of the fact that you live every moment of every day under his all-seeing eye.” (pg. 61)
“Selfishness is a difficult sin to expose because it is so easy to see in someone else but so difficult to recognize in ourselves.” (pg. 102)
I have a two (almost three!) year old. “Sharing,” or learning to do so, is an oft-repeated theme in our home these days. But, as I read this chapter, I wondered if I spent as much time working on this concept in my own life, as I do working on it in my daughter. I think Bridges point on this topic was especially insightful as he said,
“We can be very learned in our theology or very upright in our morality and yet fail to display the gracious qualities of Christian character that Paul called the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23).” (pg. 101)
In this chapter, Bridges covers four ways that selfishness is manifest in the lives of believers: our interests, our time, our money, and the trait of inconsiderateness. It was the last one – inconsiderateness – that really caught my attention. I don’t know that I have ever heard someone describe “inconsiderateness” in this way before. But, as Bridges clearly points, “Anytime we do not think about the impact of our actions on others, we are being selfishly inconsiderate. We are thinking only of ourselves.” (pg. 105)
He gives examples of a person who is always late and makes others wait, or a person who leaves his or her mess for others to clean. He also includes being inconsiderate of another’s feelings – or at the very least, an indifference to them. My husband worked as a waiter for several years, and would always comment on the rude behavior of certain customers he knew to be believers. We need to remember that our behavior toward others, especially those who are serving us in some way (waiters, store clerks, or even family), can go a long way in brightening, or ruining someone’s day.
“Living unselfishly will likely not cost us our lives, but it will cost. It will cost time and money. It will cost becoming interested in the interests, concerns and needs of others. And it will cost in learning to be considerate of the emotions and feelings of others.” (pg. 107)
The sin of judgmentalism is one of the most subtle of our “respectable” sins because it is often practiced under the guise of being zealous for what is right.” (pg. 141) I found this chapter to be one of the most convicting in the book. Sadly, it is probably because it was one that I have seen demonstrated most often in my own life. Many of the examples in this chapter were from Bridges own experiences, but I could identify with them quite closely – issues of casual or dressy “church clothes,” church music styles, temperance versus abstinence (from alcohol). However, as he pointed out, many of these issues are based on personal preferences, which we often (wrongly) elevate to the position of biblical truth, or conviction.
“It is easy to become judgmental toward anyone whose opinions are different from ours. And then we hide our judgmentalism under the cloak of Christian convictions.” (144) He is not saying that we are not to address conduct that is out of line with Scripture. When a practice is clearly condemned or prohibited by Scripture, then we are to agree with Scripture, and call it what it is – sin. However, we must be careful to remember that we are also sinners before God.
Under the topic of judgmentalism, Bridges also addresses the issue of having a critical spirit. He says,
“Most of us can slip into the sin of judgmentalism from time to time. But there are those among us who practice it continually. These people have what I call critical spirit. They look for and find fault with everyone and everything. Regardless of the topic of conversation – whether it’s a person, a church, an event, or anything – they end up speaking in a disparaging manner.” (pg. 146)
And, just in case that quote is not quite convicting enough, it was his next statement that caught my attention: “I’m not writing about theoretical people. I’ve been with some of the, and they are not pleasant to be around.”
Guilty as charged. I have caught myself, more often than I would care to admit, expecting a pastor, speaker, or author to say something wrong – something that I disagree with. I have even gone to the extreme of actively, and intentionally looking for that something wrong.
There is nothing wrong with holding strong convictions. But, they must be held with humility, remembering Romans 14:4, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
Sin – especially those that we have attempted to rationalize, justify, and even accept – is not a pleasant topic. But, “we must also face them in order to deal with them. The worst sin of all, in practical terms, is the denial of the subtle sins in our lives. We cannot deal with them until we admit their presence.” (pg. 178) I cannot guarantee that you will not be tempted to throw this book out the window a time or two. And, resisting that temptation might very well result in conviction in one, or more, of the areas Bridges addresses. But, it will be well worth it. Bridges offers humble, practical, and most importantly, biblical advice for facing, dealing with, and ultimately putting to death the “Respectable Sins” in our lives.