There was once a little boy who prayed, “God, if you can’t make me a better boy, that’s OK, I’m having fun just the way I am.” I think there’s a little bit of that boy in all of us. We know that we should fight sin. We know we need to put it to death wherever we find it, but if we are honest, we have to admit there are some dark corners of our hearts that we prefer to keep dark.
Augustine made a similar confession in his days prior to his conversion: “Give me chastity, but not yet.” Christians don’t have the option to wink at sin and say, not yet. While it is absolutely true that our standing before a holy God is through the righteous work of Christ and his merits only (Rom 4.4-5), it is equally true that we must fight for holiness and purity (Heb 12.14; I Pet 1.14-16).
John Owen wrote voluminously about sin and it’s mortification. Owen’s famous words: “Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
As you daily fight to pursue holiness, there are probably some untruths that you have allowed yourself to believe about sin. Part of the problem is sin itself deceives us about it’s deceitfulness. This is what the prophet was getting at when he wrote: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9) Here are four lies that seem to filter into our thinking about sin.
Small Sins are Insignificant
The notion of a “small sin” is a misnomer. To borrow a thought from JI Packer, there is no small sin because there is no small God to sin against. The misunderstanding on our part stems from our tendency to only see the horizontal impact of sin rather than viewing it from God’s perspective. The problem with a little white lie is God wants you to tell the truth. The person you lied to or about, though important, is secondary.
Jerry Bridges classic work, The Pursuit of Holiness puts it this way: “Are we willing to call sin ‘sin’ not because it is big or little, but because God’s law forbids it?”
I’ll be quick to recognize that sins carry different consequences. Murder gets you jail time or worse, anger may lose you a friend. But the real problem with both is they are against a holy God first and foremost.
Another huge problem with small sin, it won’t stay small. Sin grows. Having a pet small sin is like having a pet alligator. The cute lizard becomes a full size gator. Then you have a problem. As good Reformed folks like to say, “Good luck with that.” Your lust will grow. Your anger will grow. Your laziness will grow. Fight it. Kill it, now! Follow Owen’s counsel and kill it before it kills you.
Common Sins are Acceptable
Some sins seem so ubiquitous that it seems strangely out of step to recognize them as sin. But as my parents used to say, “If everyone else was jumping off a cliff, would you do it too?” The normalization of sins such as complaining, gossiping, envy, and slander speaks to our increased callousness to sin not to their acceptability before God.
We tend to make peace with sin that we see regularly. We must remember, common sins are still sins. Sins for which we have been delivered by Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross.
Habitual Sins are Permanent
The Puritans spoke of ‘besetting sins.” These are the sins that find their way over and over again into our lives. While I recognize that some sins do seem to be more common than others for an individual, I tend to think that all sin is besetting. There are only so many ways to sin. John says, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” (1 John 2:16) Every sin can easily fall under the heading of desires of the flesh, desires of eyes, or pride of life. So yes, you may find yourself in repentance more often over a particular sin, but don’t be deceived further by sin to imagine that you have to remain forever in that sin.
Whether you’ve gossiped 10 times or 10,000 times, sin need not define your life. By grace, through faith, with a view to your righteous standing in Christ, fight sin. Never let up.
Circumstantial Sins are Excusable
Of course all sins are circumstantial in some sense. What I mean by this is the often tried tactic of blaming our sin on someone else’s action. It started in the Garden of Eden and has been used ad infinitum since. We do it all the time. Have you ever said something like this: “I’m sorry I became angry with you, BUT you know when you speak to me in that tone I will react that way.” You have effectively excused yourself and placed the blame for your sin on the other person. Don’t excempt yourself from sin. Own your sin for what it is.
Jesus words about sin in Matthew 5 may come across as extreme to us. He is the one who taught that hating your brother is equal to murdering your brother and lusting after a woman is equal to adultery. He also urged that all sin must be fought diligently, to the point of losing a limb over going to hell. (Mt. 5.21-30) Jesus left no doubt about the serious problem of sin.
Can you imagine if we actually adopted Jesus’ view of sin? We say things like, “I’m sorry I reacted in anger, but you made me mad.” But we would probably not excuse it so easily if it were actual murder. Imagine, “I”m sorry I killed them, but they made me mad.” We don’t excuse murder so easily. Sin is sin. Call it sin.
We have to remember that our battle with sin is not one that must be fought out of guilt but out of grace. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, God has redeemed you and you will never have a more righteous standing. But that does not mean that we do not fight for holiness everyday of our lives. John Piper once said, “Every morning when I wake up, Satan is sitting on my face.” Sin doesn’t take a day off. Neither can we.