It’s all about me! Through October we’re reading a book that is very much about you, and me, but it won’t be a pretty picture, at least not at the start. We’ll be looking at my sin, and yours.
How do you do feel about the prospect of spending a month reflecting on attitudes and responses that you might like to think of as “acceptable” sins, but God might not tolerate? Respectable Sins was challenging when I first read it early in 2009. I read through the book again earlier this year as I contemplated writing these posts. And I’m going to re-read the book as I put finger to keyboard and write these posts. It’s been a painful couple of years!
As we read, our lives and our subtle sins will be under the microscope of God’s word. I expect to be once again confronted by the greatness of my sin and the holiness and grace of our God, in the person and work of his Son.
It seems to me there are several responses we can make as our sins are exposed. There’s the fight response - we can dismiss Jerry Bridges as unreasonable or extreme in his call for the saints to pursue holiness, declaring indignantly “Who’s he to analyse my life!”. Or we can rise up, resolving to conquer our sinful behaviours and undertake a DIY spiritual boot camp. There’s the flight response where we justify and dilute our sins – and we know an endless number of creative ways of doing that! Or those of us with sensitive consciences might respond with fright; overwhelmed by our sinfulnesss, we sliding into a black hole of despair and guilt.
For these reasons, I plan to travel slowly through the first 6 chapters of “Respectable Sins”. Jerry Bridges models very real wisdom and pastoral love in the way he spends nearly one third of the book helping us to dig deep into the Scriptures, encouraging us to strengthen our appreciation of the malignancy of sin, the remedy for sin and the power of the Holy Spirit. I’d suggest we can do no better than to follow his lead.
So a few suggestions as we start our journey –
* let’s spend more time humbly reading for ourselves the Scriptures Bridges points us to, and looking for others that speak to the topic. Let’s reflect deeply on these words opf God, and pray over them, with the humility to be challenged and taught by God himself.
* let’s pray for ourselves, and our fellow book-clubbers, that we’ll be convicted, not by the writings of Jerry Bridges, but by Spirit of God, in the Scriptures.
* we can be praying for each other - that we’ll each have a deepening awareness of our sin, God’s holiness and his grace in Christ.
* as you read the Scriptures, perhaps choose some Bible passages that are especially significant for you, in your struggle with subtle, respectable sins. Choose passages that remind you of your sinfulness, but also scriptures that remind you of God’s grace, mercy and enabling power. Commit these to memory, write them on cards, post them around the house, on the car dashboard, load them on to your ipod, as an aid to renewing your mind and transforming your life.
I’m comforted by the reminder in chapter 1 that, even in the pear shaped Corinthian church, Paul often addresses God’s people as “saints”. Do you think of yourself as Saint_____ (fill in your name!). Why?
Take some time now to thank your merciful God for calling you out from your old sinful way of life and setting you apart for his glory. Ask him to help you remember that the fellow saints with whom you meet weekly were, like you, “bought with a price” (1Cor 6:9), and are now new creations in Christ (2Cor5) – even the difficult ones!
In chapter 2 Bridges raises the question of how we define sin in our Bible believing churches. He bravely challenges us to consider whether we have effectively created 2 categories of sin – the respectable sins of the saints and the serious sins of society, “my sins” and “their sins”. How do I attempt to reshape some of my sins into something respectable, acceptable?. I redefine, justify or relativise them - in my mind, of course! “My sin is not as serious as that sin…at least I’m not…but you’ve got to understand my situation”. My sins are unavoidable, in the circumstances. I rationalise, minimise, excuse and explain them (“it’s my upbringing, circumstances, personality, PMT, menopause”). I deflect my responsibility and blame others for my sin.
What about you?
In our Bible believing Australian churches, I wonder if we recognise that all sin is serious in God’s eyes, but it’s all a bit overwhelming so we pick a few sins that we’ll take seriously and work on, and leave the rest. A bit like the house work – clean the public rooms, the obviously dirty rooms (toilet, bathroom, kitchen floor) but leave the private rooms and the dirt we can tolerate (the laundry, window tracks, behind the lounge). But sin is significantly more serious than housework isn’t it? And that leads us to chapter 3.
In the light of these 2 chapters, try turning this passage into a prayer for yourself.
The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.'
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."