Let’s be honest. Each of us has a scale of sins and wickedness by which we gauge and evaluate our personal morality and self-worth. There are things that we would never consider in our day-to-day lives, like murder. We think through the ten commandments and think, “I would never rob someone, I would never kill someone, I would never…” and walk away feeling pretty good about ourselves.
Then there are those sins of temptation with which we wrestle. Sins of disposition, if you will. We are all born with or inclined socially to certain sins: white lies, fudging on our taxes, exaggeration, gossip, pride, slander, etc. Some of us might be inclined to the large-scale sins like murder and grand larceny, but for the average Joe, it is typically these sins of the heart and more personal sins that tempt us on a regular basis.
But lastly there are those sins that we actually enjoy and with which we have made peace. These are those most dangerous of sins. Any sin with which we have made peace can potentially separate us from God. Forever. Again, it can be any of the listed sins from the major or tempting sins, but they are typically sins of the heart. And what is most terrifying about these sins is that we not only accept them and allow them to continue in our own lives, but we also are keenly aware of other Christians preforming them and we give them approval in doing so.
This is a terrifying reality, of which the Bible speaks extremely harshly:
“And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”
– Rom 1.28-32
Read through that list again slowly. It is a depraved mind that is full of greed or envy. It is wickedness to gossip or slander. Pride, insolence, any strife or boasting. Disobedient to parents! Anyone who is unloving, untrustworthy, or without understanding. This mention of understanding is not knowledge based, it is someone who carelessly passes by someone in need – perhaps with a disability – and just continues about their own lives without concern for the person in need. Do you avoid that mentally handicapped person who shows up at your church every week?
Pride, slander and gossip are so detrimental and yet so much a part of our lives. In the church world, we might have felt convicted about any of those three, but in order to continue to placate our flesh, we dress them up as prayer requests. “Please pray for Suzie Q, you won’t believe what happened…” Or, “We really need to remember John Doe, he is struggling with…” Or even still, “Pray for me, I really need/deserve/am angry at…”
We, if we allow this kind of attitude and conversation within the church are just as guilty as those who do it: We “give hearty approval” by listening to their prayer requests, throwing out a verbal hail mary, and entertaining the sin (Rom 1.32).
But the danger of this sin is eternal:
“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.“
– Heb 10.26-27
John teaches us that there is grace when we sin, provided we confess it, repent from it and never make peace with it (1 John 2.1). Where we enter into dangerous territory is when we consider these palatable sins excusable. When they are no longer bitter in our mouths or hearts, and we choose to enjoy them or receive the momentary pleasure that comes from them.
Hear me clearly, all sin is desirable. It is a very rare occasion that any of us would give in to a sin that we despise and hate. Sexual sin feels good in the moment. Stealing provides a rush and the pleasure of ownership, if even momentary. Lying pads one’s ego and creates some sense of image or appearance that is not true. Even murder might provide some level of pleasure for some people. Drunkenness pleases the senses and removes the worries of the world.
But when we are given Spiritual life by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, He enters into our worlds and rocks them. It is His purpose and job to convict us of sin and push us on to holiness – helping us and empowering us to stop sinning unto the glory of God:
“And [the Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”
– John 16.8
Thomas Watson teaches us well,
“Until sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.”
When we choose to sin in light of His prodding and conviction in our hearts, we grieve The Holy Spirit who is working to convict us and make us hate sin. How do we keep from grieving him? Paul tells us clearly:
“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
– Eph 4.25-32
Slander and gossip are extremely dangerous. Jesus said that we will each give an account for every careless word that comes out of our mouths (Matt 12.36). God promises to destroy anyone who slanders his neighbor (Ps 101.5). So let us not take it lightly. Let us examine our own hearts and those with whom we interact in the Church. Let us claim with Augustine:
“Let those who like to slander the lives of the absent know their own are not worthy of this table.”
All sins with which we make peace are damnable and can separate us from God. Let us press on to fight these sins in our own lives and in the lives of those whom we love. Let us put it away, remove it from our lives, our churches and our hearts. Let us learn to hate the taste of sin – that it would bitter – so that Christ alone tastes sweet and we can grow in maturity.