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.