Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate by Jerry Bridges“It’s fine to be told sin no longer has dominion over me, but what about my daily experience of the remaining presence and activity of sin? Does the gospel cleanse me from that? Can I hope to see progress in putting to death the subtle sin of my life?”
Warning: If you have no desire to identify, expose and root out sin in your life, then this book is not for you.
Little white lies. Guilty pleasures. Errors in judgment. Recently on the Food Network, one of the chefs prided himself in his specialty: cooking with what he called “seven culinary sins.” These are just a few examples of how the language of modern-day society softens and trivializes the seriousness of sin. When was the last time you heard someone said they fornicated? No, instead they say they “slept with” someone; now doesn’t that sound nice and cozy? Saying that two people are “having an affair” sounds so much more pleasant that saying they’re committing adultery. We are told to be sensitive and tolerant of the faults of others. We don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, damage their self-esteem or cause them to feel guilty, let alone take responsibility, for their sinful behavior so we label the behavior a character flaw or even a disorder. But never mind the character flaws, weaknesses and sins of others; what we need to be concerned with is our own sin.
Jerry Bridges observes that the Puritans had a more serious view of sin and addressed this topic often in their writings in books such as The Sinfulness of Sin, The Mischief of Sin, The Evil of Evils, The Mortification of Sin, Indwelling Sin in Believers. Bridges noticed that in one of these books, the author used such terms as “vile, ugly, odious, malignant, pestilent, pernicious, hideous, spiteful, poisonous, virulent, abominable, and deadly” to describe sin, and that was only in a few pages! In Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges compares sin to cancer, for “when desire [or lust] has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:15). For this reason Bridges believes that it’s crucial for the Christian to confront every sin, and he doesn’t hesitate to identify common subtle sins that even Christians sometimes overlook or excuse.
The acceptable sins…deceive us into thinking they are not so bad, or not thinking of them as sins, or even worse, not even thinking about them at all! Yes, some of our refined sins are so subtle that we commit them without even thinking about them, either at the time or afterward. We often live in unconscious denial of our “acceptable” sins.
Sin doesn’t just go away the moment we come to faith in Christ, a fact that every true believer can attest to. In his book, Bridges begins by trying to help the reader understand just how serious sin is and why:
When we sin, when we violate the law of God in any way, be it ever so small in our eyes, we rebel against the sovereign authority and transcendent majesty of God…It is indeed cosmic treason…to despise God’s law is to despise Him.
Even after we’re saved we continue to battle remaining sin; a war wages within us between the flesh and the spirit (Rom. 7:14-25). We will become discouraged and defeated if we try to combat sin in our own strength. So Bridges reminds us of the remedy for our sin: the good news that Christ’s death saved us not only from the penalty of sin, but also from the power of it in our lives. If my sins have already been atoned for by Christ and I’ve been forgiven, then God no longer holds my sin against me. I don’t need to be defensive or try to hide my sin or fear condemnation for it (Romans 8:1). He’s no longer my enemy and judge; He’s my loving Father and will enable me to deal with my sin. This realization will actually free me to acknowledge and confront my sin.
While it’s true that no sin is so big that God cannot forgive it, it’s also true that no sin is so small that He can overlook it. He takes no sin lightly, and neither should we. After all, “Shall we presume on God’s grace by tolerating in ourselves the very sin that nailed Christ to the cross?”
Make no mistake: Dealing with our sin is not an option. We are commanded to put sin to death. It is our duty to do so. But duty without desire soon produces drudgery. And it is the truth of the gospel, reaffirmed in our hearts daily, that puts desire into our duty…It is the gospel that motivates us to seek to be in our daily experience what we are in our standing before God.
The author follows this exhortation with some practical suggestions for confronting sin in our life. When the Holy Spirit reveals and convicts the believer of sin, his best weapon for dealing with it is the sword of the Spirit, God’s Word. The Gospel is not only for unbelievers – it’s for all sinners; “there is never a day in our lives when we are so “good” we don’t need the gospel,” Bridges says. For this reason, he encourages the reader to preach the gospel to himself daily. I need to remind myself of what Jesus already accomplished for me and of God’s promises. In summary, Bridges recommends these steps:
- Apply the gospel.
- Depend on the Holy Spirit.
- Recognize your responsibility.
- Identify specific respectable sins.
- Memorize and apply appropriate Scriptures.
- Cultivate the practice of prayer.
- Involve one or a few other believers with you.
Next, Bridges discusses some of the specific sins that are often tolerated by Christians, or not even considered by some to be sin at all. Of course this list isn’t all-inclusive; you may think of other sins that affect you, and the above steps will still be applicable. Some of the sins Bridges addresses include:
- Ungodliness and Unthankfulness
- Pride and Selfishness
- Anxiety, Frustration and Discontentment
- Impatience, Irritability, and Anger
- Envy and Jealousy
- Lack of Self-control
- Sins of the tongue
I’m sure every reader sees at least a couple of issues on this list that they know they struggle with, while there are others that you may think don’t apply to you as much, until you really take a closer look at them. Bridges provides a broad definition of each term with some of their manifestations. He reminds us that all sin begins in the heart and may express itself outwardly in different ways. Like a doctor who uses symptoms to diagnose a medical condition, by identifying particular signs or evidence of sin, Bridges is helping the reader to dig down and expose the root sin which may be lying below the surface. And this is where it gets personal! You just may feel this is where the writer moves from preaching to meddling.
Take ungodliness for example. Does any Christian consider himself ungodly? He’s ready to admit he’s not holy or perfect, but doesn’t the term ungodly apply to really wicked unbelievers or pagans? Bridges makes this distinction:
Ungodliness and wickedness are not the same. A person may be a nice, respectable citizen and still be an ungodly person…Ungodliness describes an attitude toward God. Ungodliness may be defined as living one’s everyday life with little or no though of God, or of God’s will, or of God’s glory of one’s dependence on God…God is essentially irrelevant in his or her life.
This was very eye-opening to me and caused me to stop and reflect on the areas of my life in which I habitually exclude thoughts of God. Two other topics that inspired some self-examination for me personally are the issues of Pride and Selfishness. Everyone knows pride is a common sin — that God opposes the proud and pride comes before a fall. Bridges points out that the problem with exposing pride and selfishness is that we can easily see them in others but it’s hard to see them in ourselves. Consider some specific ways that pride displays itself: moral self-righteousness, pride of correct doctrine, pride of achievement, and independent spirit. Ouch! Bridges likewise gets down to the nitty-gritty with the sin of selfishness.
Every topic is addressed using many scripture passages to show what God’s Word says about that particular sin, and to remind us who we are in Christ and that we can have victory by the power of the Holy Spirit. It can be overwhelming to see all the areas in your life in which you regularly fall and fail God, but thankfully He never fails us!
I’m currently going through this book with my daughter-in-law and a friend using the Discussion Guide. I haven’t quite finished it yet, and I see that there is still some tough ground ahead to cover. May God give each of us who reads Respectable Sins the grace and humility to hit our sin head on for His glory!
“The Christian is to proclaim and prosecute an irreconcilable war against his bosom sins; those sins which have lain nearest his heart, must now be trampled under his feet.” – William Gurnall, The Christian In Complete Armour, Vol I, Part First