When I was a teenager, my friends and I liked to go out to our local Applebee’s and get loads of appetizers together. And every time we went, I faced the dreaded question:
To get the virgin daiquiri, or not?
A “virgin” drink, for those of you who don’t know, is a non-alcoholic version of an alcoholic drink. I had my first virgin daiquiri on a cruise on a school trip, where the ship’s staff served them to all the delighted high schoolers to make us feel like adults. After that, upon learning Applebee’s also offered these marvels, my friends all wanted to get them all the time.
But oh, how I debated!
The debate went a little like this: if I get a virgin daiquiri in a regular daiquiri glass, and someone who knows me sees me drinking it, they have no way of knowing it’s non-alcoholic. (It did not occur to me at the time that anyone who watched a sixteen-year-old throw back a daiquiri in broad daylight after school would probably realize it was not alcoholic). What if they think I’m a drinker? What if they see me sinning? What if that hurts my witness? What if my daiquiri turns them away from Jesus forever?
I couldn’t bear the thought. I did not drink the daiquiri.
But many Christians think this way about sin. We worry a lot about sins that might “affect our witness.” We try to avoid the big, obvious showy things that make us look (we think) like hypocrites: alcohol and premarital sex and embezzlement and porn and whatever else. And that’s good! A love for Jesus does reject sin and strive for holiness. The closer we get, the more we want to be what He wants.
But may I posit something?
I think the “soft sins” are making us into hypocrites as much as anything else, my friends. And I think we’re far less concerned about those than we are about everything I just listed above.
I want to be clear: sin is sin is sin. But we as humans tend, I’ve noticed, to classify our sins into “hard” sins and “soft” ones. The hard ones are, well, the really bad, really obvious, really noticeable external sins: things like theft and murder, sexual sin, fraud, deceit. The “soft sins”? Well, they’re the thought-and-attitude sins: pride, arrogance, malice, envy.
When I hear people yelling these days about the hypocrisy of Christians, sure, they bring up examples of blatant corruption and outright deceit: the pastors that engage in acts of infidelity, the believers mired in sexual sin, examples of deception and fraud. But they also bring up things like smugness, self-righteousness, cruelty, unkindness, bitterness, and anger.
I sometimes ask myself: do I worry as much over my pride as I worried over that daiquiri?
The thing is that “soft sins” are easy to hide and difficult to cure. They lurk in our thoughts and our innermost heart, surfacing only now and then to be visible in our attitudes, our words, or our responses. We don’t confess them in accountability groups the way we confess eating too much or forgetting to pray. We rarely feel as bad about them as we do about “hard” sins, presumably because no one is really going to notice or see them but God.
And they can kill your relationship with a non-believer.
Non-believers can sense the disgust, the judgment, the contempt, the dislike, the envy, the pride that you never give voice to aloud. They can see it clear as day. You think you hide it, or at least never voice it–but its presence is impossible to miss. It’s there in a sharp turn of phrase, in your tone of voice, in the eye-roll you couldn’t restrain, in a sigh, in your smug Twitter comment, in your pitying glance. And those attitudes? Those thoughts? They repel people. They sicken them. And they push them away, sometimes forever.
If we had 12-step groups for pride and approached pride the way we approach alcoholism, churches would be overwhelmed with demand from the afflicted. If we chastised people for arrogance the way we chastise people for sexual sin, we’d have shamed half the population of our modern churches out of the pews. If we pretended that malice was as unacceptable as pornography, we’d have malice accountability groups springing up like mushrooms.
But we don’t. We like to think – even if we don’t realize we think – that cleaning up the “hard” sins, the biggies, the giant external red flags, will make us look like credible witnesses. Sometimes we trick ourselves that it means we’re doing something right. And that’s how the rot takes hold on the inside as our whitewashed facades cover absolute filth.
So the next time you worry about the way a sin is going to impede your witness or affect those whose eyes might be on you, give some consideration not just to the big obvious skywriting sins but also to the insidious thoughts and ungodly attitudes that master you. Working on those will change you, too – in ways that will astonish, surprise, and genuinely reflect back to the people who know you.