A while back, when I was the leader of a youth group at a former church, I received a late-night phone call from one of “our” kids. She’d made a bad decision, done something she wasn’t supposed to do, and was caught in a compromising position. Regretful and upset, she wanted to know if my husband and I could pick her up.
We went to go get her as soon as we could. And though we were proud that she was self-aware enough to call, we were still startled when the first words she said to us, between hiccuping sobs, were, “Please don’t tell anybody.” Later, after we got her home and her family had dealt with the situation, we heard the same plea from her parents and eventually from her pastor: “If it’s okay, we’d rather none of this get out. We don’t want anyone to know about it.”
We agreed. And I watched over the next several years as this young woman went right on representing the ideal of young womanhood to the rest of the church body. Nobody suspected what had happened or what she had done; no one knew. No one would ever know. Why? Because the sin she had committed was considered too private, too bad, too much to be known publicly. Good girls raised in church, the thinking went, do not commit those sorts of sins.
I found myself thinking about this weeks later in a Bible study when, as part of the discussion section, we were all asked, “What sin do you struggle with most?” My answer was easy: pride. Not always in the sense of believing I am better than everyone else, but rather in the sense that I tend to think I know best (and often better than God), that I ought to be in control, and that I am the master of my life and everything in it. I overthrow God constantly; I have a bad habit of thinking I can handle things better than He does.
“Pride,” I admitted to the group. “I struggle with pride a lot.”
There were a lot of mm-hms and sympathetic glances and nods. No one looked particularly horrified. No one said, “You shouldn’t let something like that get out.” I listened to others’ sins: some said pride, some admitted “being unable to control the tongue,” a few offered up “not doing for God what I should.” It was the Christian equivalent of a job interview in which, when asked about his or her weakness, the potential candidate answers, “Well, sometimes I work a little too hard!” or “My greatest flaw is caring too much.” None of the answers seemed really…dangerous. Scandalous. Bothersome. But pride is the original sin in the Bible! It’s the sin that brought down Adam and Eve! I can’t think of a more blatant denial of God’s sovereignty…
…and yet I, and other believers I know, treat it differently than I do “other” sins that are arguably more public and more immediately scandalous: adultery, for example, or sexual sin.
I worry sometimes that in my own life I fall into the trap of believing there are “acceptable” Christian sins like pride and arrogance and envy. That there are sins that are shameful and sins that are, somehow, not – sins that should be hidden from the world and from others, and sin that it’s okay to admit. God has been convicting me about this lately, and it has helped me to remember two things:
1) Individual sinful acts are manifestations of a sinful nature. It’s tempting sometimes to contemplate a sin like slander and a sin like adultery and consider one arguably worse or more damaging than the other. But when I remember that we all share in what Colossians refers to as an “earthly nature” (3:5-6) and what Galatians calls a sinful one (5:19-21), it helps even things out. Adultery and slander appear different on the surface, but they come from the same God-resisting, God-defying spirit of sin that we all battle.
2) God abhors the sinful nature, and does not differentiate between sinful acts. In Matthew 5:22, Jesus points out that verbal slander from anger – what He refers to as calling your brother “fool” – deserves the penalty of hell and judgment. In John 8, when the Pharisees condemn a woman who has committed the “severe” sin of adultery, Jesus turns their condemnation back on them – and speaks to Her with compassion and the same instruction to leave her life of sin that He gives to the multitudes of sinners He comes across.
When we sin, however we sin – whether it’s a sin we feel safe sharing aloud or one that we hide and hope no one in our church finds out about – the act comes from the same will to defy God and glorify self that began all the way back in the Garden. God reviles the earthly nature in us that leads us away from Him; it can only help us to see it in ourselves and begin to revile it, too.