The events of the last two weeks have made it more challenging to regularly post on my interactions with Jerry Bridges’s fine book Respectable Sins. But I will continue to do so, even as we move out of the Lenten season. In fact, we are just getting to the most practical chapters!
Is there a sin that lies at the root of all other sins? One of the classic answers to that question is pride. But Bridges wants us to consider another option: ungodliness. And what exactly is ungodliness? Bridges kicks things off with two important claims. First, all Christians are ungodly to some extent. Second, ungodliness is different than wickedness. Perfectly respectable people who do not engage in obviously vile things can still be ungodly in some ways. If this is true, then how is this ungodliness (present in all of us) manifested in our lives?
The first mark of ungodliness is to “live our daily lives with little or no thought of God.” We can wake up and have a “quiet time”, go to church on Sunday mornings, and tick a box that says we are practicing Christians and still basically move throughout life without thinking about God’s will or God’s glory. We do our jobs and raise our families and worry about our money in the exact same way as everyone else, with little specific thought about how our faith changes every element of our lives. The second mark of ungodliness is a “meager desire to develop an intimate relationship with God.” One cannot read the Psalms or the letters of Paul without a sense that the authors are passionate about being on intimate terms with God. Again, it is perfectly possible to live our Christian lives with little of the longing exhibited by someone like David: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (Psalm 42:1-2).
It is with this understanding that Bridges builds his case that ungodliness is the sin before other sins. “To use a tree as an illustration, we can think of all our sins, big and small, growing out of the trunk of pride. But that which sustains the life of the tree is the root system, in this case the root of ungodliness. It is ungodliness that ultimately gives life to our more visible sins.”
How do we battle this sin? First, we must intentionally train ourselves to take it on (in the power of the Holy Spirit, of course). Second, “…it will help to identify specific areas of life where [we] tend to live without regard to God.” Finally, we must fill our minds up with Scripture verses which teaches us about godliness. For example, we could meditate on Colossians 3:23 (“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…”) or Psalm 27:4 (“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple”). Such texts ground us in the abiding presence of God and in the intimate pursuit of God.
What areas in your life demonstrate this basic sin of ungodliness? In what situations do you repeatedly fail to consider the Lord’s presence or will? Are you comfortable with the language of intimacy with God? Why or why not?