September 2, 2014

A Short List of Troublingly Common Sins

Paul made a lot of sin lists. You know, lists of sins.

If you’re a preacher or teacher, you’ve probably used Paul’s sin lists a few times as the raw material for a talk or sermon. You’ve walked through the list, one sin at a time and said a little something about each one. It may not have been the most interesting talk you ever did, but it took up some time and sin is always relevant, right?

Those lists can be pretty spectacular.

Romans 1:28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Comprehensive, that’s for sure.

But if the apostle were writing an epistle for the Christians like me and those I know, it would be good to get to some specifics that are really aren’t going to make the papers for sensational sins. No, the sins we need to be confronted about in my life and community are the sins that Christians have incorporated into their normal lives with unremorseful regularity. They won’t get you in jail. In fact, you can be up to your ears in these sins while you are doing all kinds of church work and professional ministry.

These are the sins we have quietly voted to accept. They’re OK. They have an exemption. They are either compatible with some version of what we think it means to be a Christian, or they are just so essential to the way we’ve decided to operate that we can’t really see them as wrong.

So I’m not an apostle, and I’m not the author of anything close to scripture. But I am a sinner, and I know my sins well enough to recognize them in Christian community, ministries and relationships.

1. Not keeping promises. Also known as a lack of integrity. You say you’ll do something. You promise to show up and do it, but you don’t. You find ways to avoid doing what you promised to do and you eventually find a way to quit. That usually needs a little God-talk to make it go down easier.

What about the promises you made your spouse? Are you keeping them? Your congregation? Your children? What about simple promises made in commerce or employment? In business and friendships? What about promises of service, generosity, support or leadership?

2. Lying. All shapes. All sizes. All kinds. All the time. Christians are exaggerators, prevaricators and simple liars. They lie and they excuse lying. They fault others for not believing the truth and they readily lie as quickly as anyone I’ve ever seen. Because it’s so much a part of the kind of communication that’s acceptable in Christian leadership, its rarely called out from the pulpit.

Lying is self-protection. It is the opposite of faith. We do it naturally and easily, and we are often afraid to do without it. We need others to believe the little lies we live on, and when they do, all is well. When they don’t….we become terrified that we’re going to be accountable, and then some of those spectacular sins in Romans 1 appear far more possible.

3. A lack of integrity. I’ve written on this before. I came to the point as an adult Christian that I couldn’t stand to look at myself on this issue. My moral character had holes in it. I manipulated all sorts of things to keep myself self from conviction. I was about 30% of what I appeared to be. I was miserable in my own skin. I hated to look myself in the eyes.

I repented of this life and I went on a journey to reclaim integrity. It’s not been easy…..mainly because being a person of integrity puts you into conflict with a large section of the Christian community.

Who honestly cares if my church lies about its membership numbers? Who cares if the story I just told came from a Google search? Who cares if I claim to have read a book when actually my assistants read it? Who cares if I do what my job description says I do? Who cares if I actually make those pastoral visits? Who cares if I take home office supplies?

This list can go on and on and on.

4. Cruel speech about those with whom we differ. I’ve say at lunch tables with fellow Christians who suggested we put gays on an island and bomb it. I’ve heard every lie about Obama out there repeated (and forwarded) by Christian people. I’ve heard Democrats called dozens of cruel and ridiculing names.

I’ve heard all of this excused as “Well listen to what they say about us,” as if Jesus explicitly taught us to retaliate when treated unfairly.

And what is the record of this sin as directed toward other believers with whom we have some minor disagreement or conflict? What have we given ourselves permission to say and do?

5. No grace for ordinary failure. Why is it the Christian who will predictably enforce the smallest rule to the nth degree, with no thought of mercy? Why do people who love “Amazing Grace” act as if grace is the opposite of everything we believe in when it comes to dealing with people?

Why do so many of us use guilt and manipulation, and then call it “grace?” It’s not. Why do we believe that Jesus’ stories about servants who were forgiven but refused to forgive don’t apply to us?

Why will it be the Christian kid whose parents expect perfection from him? Why is it the Christian student whose life has been micromanaged to the point of being “cruel and unusual?”

Yes, it’s a short list. I need to say some other things about other sins, and especially talk to those of us who are leaders. These are common in my life, in many lives and in many Christian communities. They are boring, because they are everywhere.

They are the sins that erode holiness, poison obedience, dilute character, produce phoniness and weaken communty.

If you are a young Christian, consider this: If you can walk away from these sins, you’ll be markedly different from many other Christians, and those who have had typical experiences will know you are different.

Or even better, make up your own list that fits you and your character. Start close to home, and see if you have a list of “sins for exemption” that needs to be thrown away.

Comments

  1. Exaggeration (but not hyperbole)is the one I have been dealing with. It’s a subpart of lying.

  2. I believe Jerry Bridges does a good job in Respectable Sins.

  3. We did Respectable Sins in my small group. It was extremely convicting.

  4. Complaining and negativity about other people, and especially clients at work is a big one for me. My wife and I great rant sessions which are anything but graceful. The oldest, and most mature Christian I know quotes Phil 2:14-15 as his favorite passage because says that being blameless lights in a wicked world has a lot to do with not complaining or ‘questioning’.

  5. Two comments:

    Please continue to say this.

    Lord, forgive me for I have sinned.

  6. These all seem to have a common root: pride. I need to build myself up cheaply and artificially by tearing someone else down or pretending to be someone I’m not. I spend so much time focusing on me that I have no time for my neighbor. Until I change my focus, I will have no hope of being “good” (whatever that means) because I will already be completely disobedient to the core of the gospel.

    An older Christian once told me to read the Sermon on the Mount every day. I need to follow that advice.

  7. I’ve also noticed how insanely authoritative some Christians can be in their judgments of those who try to get rid of these sins in their lives. C.S. Lewis discusses this beautifully in “The Four Loves”, but I didn’t realize how common it was until I found myself discouraging people I respect for doing the things that I respect them for and don’t, for myself, want to do. You know, stuff like foreign ministry or refusing to speak bad of people or avoiding spectacle they’re uncomfortable with.

    How much of the “confessing” Christianity we practice is just trying to convince other people to commiserate with our guilty feelings and rub themselves in our dirty assumptions? Some of it. Or maybe just all of my part.

  8. I hear you, especially on the exaggeration as lying. I really really need to work on that one. And I’m not exaggerating.

  9. OH yeah! I’ve just gotten a new job working at a christian based institution, and am often agast at what comes out of “good christian” mouths. I’m a life long conservative politically, but not this year. After spending a few months around these good conservative Christians, I want no part of it. Funny, I never knew that socialism and most forms of government are wrong because of the corrupting power of original sin, but not so capitalism! It’s been eye-opening, and surely points back to the fact that our faith must be in Jesus, not his spokespeople.

  10. I like the one about grace. I was reading Yancey the other day (again) and noticed a phrase I hadn’t noticed before: the scandal of grace.

    I totally flipped out. I blogged about it and it has caused a bit of a stir around my world.

    The grace of God. Available for all. Scandalous!

    This could become my life’s motto/mission.

  11. A sense of entitlement, as in demandingness, selfishness, “my rights”. It’s the polar opposite to dying to self and loving my neighbour.
    People justify all sorts of behaviour that would otherwise be labelled plain old “wrong” as something they had to do because their needs weren’t being met. Who said we were here to get all our needs (and wants) met? who said there weren’t times when we have to die to our own desires in order to keep our promises and love our neighbours. I suspect our number one idolatry is theidolatry of self.

  12. Michael–#3, ‘A lack of integrity,’ confuses me. It’s not clear from the first two paragraphs if you mean concupiscence, or remorse for sinfulness, or what; and the list of examples seem to be instances of false witness, failure of duty, and theft–all sins to be avoided, but not ones that make clear to me what you mean by ‘lack of integrity’ as a sin.

    Forgive my obtuseness, and say it in other words?

  13. I think another really commonly ignored sin is greed. If you don’t want to share nobody will say anything to you. In fact it’s the norm. This wasn’t the way it was for the early church though. Paul even goes so far as to command the believers to expel the greedy from their fellowships! I think that we never hear of this happening because greed is so pervasive in the the evangelical church that most people realize that if they discipline brother Dave because he just bought a new sports car rather than serving the kingdom, they might be the next one taken to task for their frivolous purchases. Unless we as a church take a standard of purity with regard to greed we can never judge other church.

  14. Part of our problem, I think, is that so much of what we have is not Christianity. We think we have a larger portion than we really do. What we have is part cultural-Christianity, or misguided assumption, or a firm belief in a half-truth, darkened understanding, etc.

    A good woman in our church told us last night that she is just now realizing that she had always believed she was serving God by pleasing everyone around her. It came to her like a revelation because that idea was like an unconscious, seemingly self evident truth. But don’t we all have soul diseases like this?

  15. o.h.

    Let me give you an example of what I think that Michael is talking about. I had a Sunday School teacher when I was about 13 or 14. She kept promising us girls that she would have us over to her house for an overnight. It never happened. I don’t think that it was even scheduled and had to be cancelled.

    I do also remember that there were some girls that could have used some womanly encouragement, and did not get it.

  16. I’ve been convicted about what comes out of my mouth. Just get me with the right bunch, and man. And it’s amazingly difficult to stop it. Since this happens with my friends at work, there are opportunities all the time.

    Well, I’m glad I’m convicted. God is still holding me close. And I’ll continue to ask Him to help me, everyday, to just shut up. One day I’ll get it.

  17. While it is noble and fitting for us to examine ourselves, and I do appreciate the exercise of naming sins in our my heart, I do not think that this is the path to a Jesus Shaped heart. May I offer a word of hope here for all of us whose list would just be too long to type? The quote from Romans is a list of not only sins, but symptoms. The disease is LackaGodheartedness. Since sin is anything against God’s Will lists could go on for ever.
    Maybe I am too sensitive but I work with some people who came from various legalistic denominations, or at least churches with legalistic leaders, with lists of sins that they were taught to read over and over and meditate on[one list did have mixed bathing on it] in order to act like True Christians. Some of these lists made me cry with the weight of legalism. Each of these people struggled with sin, self doubt, powerlessness and had the self worth of a worm, as they could never live up to this impossible list. No list of rules was effective in producing sanctification. Never will be. If sin lists worked we could stop the bible at Leviticus. The law was given so we may know sin and the list can only show our sin, not give us any help at all in avoiding it.
    What concurs sin is Christ! To see fit to acknowledge God! What if we consentrated on the positives, His power, His might, and made a list of the do, not the don’t.
    Mr Monk, would filling your heart and mind with James 5:12 not cover 1 and 2 on your list? And I am sure that meditating on Psa 19:4 will cover 3
    and that if Mic 6:8 is alive for you cruel speech would have no room.
    Christ did not tell us what not to do and then leave us! He said to be full of the Holy Spirit . I agree that a list can help point out sin, but will never overcome it. Staying close to the True vine so that we may abound in Fruit is our only hope.
    Please understand that I want to get to the same place you do, but I feel the accent put on the negative for so long is a great problem in many churches. We are sinners, now what. To go to the hospital to list the complaints of the disease does not bring healing. Healing comes from positive action.
    Dave, I agree so much, Pride. We need to be small so that He can be great. We will all benefit from reading the Sermon on the Mount. Look how positive the Beatitudes are! Blessed are the..Blessed..positive.
    Now remember, no cruel words, if I am a fool be kind and I too shall pass.

  18. Rob Lofland says:

    I am struggling at this very moment with an ethical dilemma at work and trying to shift blame which my employer has endorsed and suggested.
    Thank you for the clear words.

  19. That Other Jean says:

    o.h.,

    I think I understand what Michael is talking about.

    It might help to think of lack of integrity as an “umbrella sin,” since it covers a multitude of matters. Bearing false witness, failure of duty, theft, promises unkept, backbiting, taking credit of someone else’s efforts–all those sins that involve knowing what is right and not doing it, or knowing what is wrong and doing it anyway–are part of “lack of integrity.”

  20. Integrity: You are not solid.

    You have life divided into compartments and some of your compartments are taking on water. If the connecting doors are open, disaster will arrive. If more compartments take on water, you’ll sink.

    Ask an engineer what integrity is. For a ship, a bridge, a wall.

    The lack of integrity is the greatest disease in Christendom.

    My operating principal with Christians of any age or denomination is simple: I never immediately believe what I see and hear. This makes me very unpopular with a lot of people, but I can’t help that.

    All is not as it seems. Look at the man with his head in his hands. His adultery is now known. But where was it the months and months before? Why is he weeping now? Who was he yesterday?

    He was a man without integrity, and that very fact blinded him to the truth.

    So now his fall is a gift, because when the ship is raised from the ocean floor- which Jesus does, btw- he can decide that integrity is more important than appearance or pleasure or success or survival. And he can cast his character out onto the sea with Jesus, and let the Christian world be damned.

    Are some of you listening? Some of you reading? Now? You are listing to one side. Why?

  21. Eric Rodgers says:

    I agree very strongly with the Christian parent that micro-manages their kids. I teach Confirmation and Catechism classes as part of my vicarage responsibilities, and my wife helps out with the 7th grade volleyball. The “Christian” parents can be really good or really bad. The pastor and I are dealing with one kid whose parents just aren’t cutting it, and he’s rebelling, even in the 8th grade. One of the girls on the volleyball team is really hard on herself because her parents have superhuman expectations of her, and she just can’t keep up with them. Then when there are others around, they turn their ire away from their children and direct it at the coaches. It’s not pretty. Parents are to raise their children in such a way that they don’t frustrate or infuriate their kids, so it frustrates and saddens me to see students who are under too much pressure at a supposedly perfect home. These are the children who will grow up never knowing forgiveness or grace and will look for it anywhere else that they can find it.

    This is also why I believe parents should have more children. They have less time to be hypercritical of children if they have to worry about more of them.

    Pax Christi, y’all!!

  22. Bible Characters for your next Halloween dress up:

    Satan
    the Witch at Endor
    The mob in Sodom
    Gomer
    The Lady who shoved the tent peg through the guys head
    The girl in Song of Solomon
    Solomon and his Ho’s
    The guy who carved up his Concubine
    Ehud and Eglon
    Delilah
    Jezebel being eaten by dogs

  23. IMONK: What a ‘wise’ and touching entry. I often lament over my sins of omissions after the Holy Spirit reminds me that ‘only what’s done for Christ will last,’ and ‘visit the widows and orphans in their affliction.’

    WILLOW: Scripture says that Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him as RIGHTEOUSNESS. You and IMONK both have so beautifully spoken concerning sin. FRUITS are essential for successful Christianity…..Christ likeness in love, humility, and most of all…SERVITUDE. The more sustenance receive from the Vine, the more our Christian branch will become whole and healthy!! AMEN! AMEN! AMEN!

  24. treebeard says:

    This post really hit home. Willow, thank you for your thoughtful comment.
    I find myself going between the two extremes:
    1) Hypersensitive, overly conscious of sin, wallowing in despair.
    2) Passivity, knowing Christ has taken care of it all and I can do nothing to change myself, looking to the Spirit to bring about good fruit.
    I’m sure there must be a balance between these extremes, but I haven’t found it yet. I have seen “sin lists” misused to bring about condemnation, and have never observed them “working” by leading to victory or freedom over bondage. The law brings death, not righteousness.
    What does it mean to be free from sin, and also free from the law? I don’t have an answer, and I wish it were not so difficult and complicated. Surely the Christian life described in the New Testament should be one of simplicity and joy. Looking at my sins does not seem to help my Christian faith, and neither does pretending they are not there.
    My own conclusion, for what it’s worth: Don’t look at your sins, look at Jesus. Obey His word as much as you can, but recognize you need the Spirit’s empowering. And always obey His voice within you, since He is our Shepherd and our Wonderful Counselor, who leads us by the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

  25. Michael and other friends–thanks for the explanations. I feel like a moral midget, though, since I’m still not quite grasping it, and I think it must be that I’ve gotten used to thinking in straitened ways about sinfulness and am too spiritually calcified here to get it.

    But I do get the drift about the need to examine the conscience, and to probe especially deeply into “tender areas,” those being presumably the compartments that are taking on water.

  26. Very nice post. Thanks for the reminder that we all come up short, even if it’s out of most people’s peripheral vision.

    Several have mentioned exaggeration. I think it can be deceitful at times, but there’s a type of exaggeration in storytelling that I really don’t think is bad. I really think our culture needs more storytelling and human elements, as opposed to merely more technological advances and continual dehumanization. But that probably reveals one of my little sins – Sometimes I think I “get it” more than others, and arrogance has a filthy smell!

    Thanks for the good post.

    Mike

  27. You know, it’s funny–whenever Christians who vote pro-abortion and pro-gay marraige want to justify their completely unbiblical stance on those issues, they always pull out some variation on the “Who are you to judge” card. Of course, this leads, just like clockwork, to their claim of “hate speech”. I’m like “Come on, guys. Learn to sing a new tune cause this one is getting old, doesn’t have a good beat, and you can’t dance to it.”

  28. I need some very serious self-reflection.

  29. To put it mildly, I’ll leave a suggestion , or rather another interpretation for what is being grossly observed; and a hard pill to swallow of a woman who believes now in only “Faith”, and not the Church…..”To often, however, Christian Faith neither mends the world, nor Helps human beings thrive…. To the contrary, it seems to shatter things into pieces, too choke off what is new and beautiful before it has a chance to take root….we trample underfoot what is good and true…. this is so sad…
    I believe it has become gutt wrenching and quite dishonoralbe to God to uphold the unworthy in a disguise made of lies….but, a woman/or any Christian–that experience any sort of oppression-and foes, need be to fix her eyes on Jesus to fufillin waits anything that has been drastically hidden…lies that destroy community-The Church…Weaken a ministry for years it will…its best to “up-hold truth and be dignified” with our every action–lest we NOT be accountable to God. The ongoing power of “church politcal systems” eventually tear a worthy church apart–sometimes needing for a small disasster to hit home; before a humbling final-gestrue will ever be known….this is unfortunate…”twisting the truth only thrives a thin-skinned ministry”….”best we fall down on our knees -begging Gods mercies”….Rahab

  30. Some other sins for your nice list:

    Procrastination
    Ingratitude
    Impure thoughts
    idleness
    Being easily offended
    Slow to forgive
    Gossiping
    Gluttony
    Foul mouth

  31. Thanks I Monk and all that posted on the blog.

    I arrived at this blog while researching common sins in preparation for my Sunday school lesson on forgiveness (based on the parable from Mathew 18:21)
    Well I got more than what I bargained for from this blog. That is the importance of the church a community of believers with different experiances coming together. You learn how to avoid pitfalls that others have already fallen into because they point them out for you. At a hospital you will find terminally ill as well as great physicians alike. It is up to you to find a good hospital with good physician, but most important is that the chief of staff is the Great Physician Jesus