Respectable Sins 4: The Remedy for Sin

Having given us the bad news in chapter three, Jerry Bridges is ready to give us hope for our sorry condition. He begins the chapter by telling the story of John Newton. Once upon a time, Newton was a slave trader and a captain of a slave ship bringing Africans to the Americas. But the Lord rescued Newton and made him a minister. Newton renounced his old way of life but never forgot the depth or severity of his sin. The grim realities of slavery weighed on him for the rest of his life. Bridges shares a quote from near the end of Newton’s life: “My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.” Herein lies the remedy for the malignancy of sin: Christ is a great Savior. This is the message that Bridges counsels us to apply every single day.

“The remedy for our sin, whether scandalous or acceptable, is the gospel in its widest scope. The gospel is actually a message; here I am using the word gospel as a shorthand expression for the entire work of Christ in His historic life, death, and resurrection for us, and His present work in us through His Holy Spirit. When I say the gospel in its widest scope, I am referring to the fact that Christ, in His work for us and in us, saves us not only from the penalty of sin but also from its dominion or reigning power in our lives.” This is good news: the work of Christ deals with both the guilt and power of sin.

Bridges reminds us that we must remember what Christ has done and preach it to ourselves habitually. “Using” the gospel by reminding ourselves of the work of Christ helps us in three ways:

  1. The first use is “to plow the ground of our hearts so that we can see our sin.” The gospel is only for sinners, and so preaching the gospel to ourselves is about getting rid of all the ways that we evade our sin.
  2. The second use is to free ourselves to face our sin openly. “To the extent that I grasp, in the depth of my being, this great truth of God’s forgiveness of my sin through Christ, I will be freed up to honestly and humbly face the particular manifestations of sin in my life.”
  3. The third use is to motivate us and energize us to deal with our sin. Our motivation to fight sin comes from our gratitude that Christ has already saved us and the encouragement that we receive from our loving Father.

Because Christ has already died for us and rose from the dead, the guilt of our sins – even those “respectable” sins with which we struggle – has already been dealt with. We are already adopted into God’s family in Christ. Next time, we will consider the Spirit’s work in us to free us from the power of sin.

Can you give an “elevator pitch” of the gospel message? What elements should be included? How have we as contemporary Christians sometimes missed the heart of the good news? In other words, what have we focused on which falls short of the Biblical presentation? What are the implications of the necessary elements for your life? Consider writing down your elevator pitch on a notecard and reading it every day.

Respectable Sins 3: The Malignancy of Sin

This is the third in a series of reflections on Jerry Bridges’ Respectable Sins.

According to Bridges, we should think of sin as we think of cancer. And lest you and I respond to this comparison as flippant, Bridges shares that he himself has experienced the ravages of cancer firsthand, losing his first wife during a year-long bout with the vile stuff. Like cancer, sin can spread inside of us undetected, and our own sins can even “metastasize” to those around us. The Puritans understood the dire realities of sin, and Bridges shares a series of book titles illustrating their opinion of sin:

The Sinfulness of Sin

The Mischief of Sin

The Anatomy of Secret Sins

The Evil of Evils or The Exceeding Sinfulness of Sin

I think you get the point. And the battle with sin is not just for the non-Christian. Bridges: “Now, here is the unvarnished truth that we need to lay to heart. Even though our hearts have been renewed, even though we have been freed from the absolute dominion of sin, even though God’s Holy Spirit dwells within our bodies, this principle of sin still lurks within us and wages war against our souls.” Paul calls the indwelling principle of sin working in us the flesh. The flesh is human personality under control of the sinful impulse. It is true that God gives us new hearts when we are born again. We are new creations, but the flesh persists in a manner analogous to muscle memory. For the Christian, the great problem is that we continue to live in ways inconsistent with our true identity in Christ. Sanctification is learning to live out of the reality of who we are in Jesus.

Why is sin so “sinful”? According to Bridges, any sin – even our “respectable” sins – is rebellion against the sovereign authority of God, despising of the law of God, and a grieving of the Holy Spirit. Ouch. But throughout this chapter, Bridges reminds us that hearing the bad news sets us up to receive the good news. He will explicate this good news in coming chapters.

Have you experienced the undetected “spread” of sin in your inner life? How did God get your attention? Have you experienced Christian community hurt by the “metastasizing” of sin among church members? How did healing and restoration occur in this context?

Respectable Sins 2: The Disappearance of Sin

This post is the second in a series of chapter summaries from Jerry Bridges’ Respectable Sins.

Bridges makes a bold claim: “The whole idea of sin has virtually disappeared from our culture.” Bridges published these words in 2007. He had yet to live to see the aftermath of the #metoo movement or the outrage mobs trolling social media for any sign of indiscretion against “inclusivity.” Has the heightened talk of morality in public actually made us a more moral people who are once again sensitive to the thing called sin? I would answer the question in the negative. Modern morality is often about performing for the sake of getting “in” with certain groups. It is undoubtably good to call out sexual abuse. But even our rightful calls for the end to such things are almost never followed up with a sexual ethic that has interest in doing what God wants us to do. Sin is still hard to talk about, especially in a world obsessed with therapeutic approaches to life.

But let us not bemoan the state of the culture. Bridges points out that sin has been forgotten in “conservative, evangelical churches.” In this case, the problem is one of deflection. We love to talk about the sins of the people out there (didn’t you see me doing it in the last paragraph?), but we don’t want to talk about the sins rampant within our own communities and our own hearts. Unfortunately, God is interested in our “respectable sins.” Bridges writes, “God’s law is seamless. The Bible speaks not of God’s laws, as if many of them, but of God’s law as a single whole.” This is why our “little” sins are dangerous. They break God’s seamless law just like the “big” sins. Bridges is quick to point out that different sins vary in levels of seriousness (isn’t murder much more consequential than a harsh word?). But this still shouldn’t stop us from seeing that “Sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4).

“Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” (Galatians 3:10). This verse reminds us of two things. First, our “respectable” sins matter to God. They deserve the curse of God. Second, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). Christ died so that we could be free of all sins, defined not according to cultural standards of sin but according to God’s righteous standard. “Good” Christian people need the cross, too.

What words do we often use to avoid saying the word “sin”? Have you ever had the experience of condemning the sins out in the world and then being humbled by God’s reminder of your own sins? If the Christian is reconciled to God through the work of Jesus, why are we so quick to try and cover up our sins? Do we really believe that even those things are forgiven?

Respectable Sins 1: Ordinary Saints

This post is the first chapter summary in a series of posts focused on Jerry Bridges’ Respectable Sins.

The church in Corinth was a mess. It was full of contention, immorality, and disorder. And yet Paul did not hesitate to call the Christians of Corinth “saints” (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1). According to Jerry Bridges, it was common for Paul to call ordinary Christian people saints: “[Paul] uses it in several of his letters and frequently refers to believers as saints (see, for example, Romans 1:7; 16:15…Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; 4:21-22; and Colossians 1:2).”

In its popular usage, the word saint is reserved for select individuals who seem to be particularly holy. But Bridges makes clear that this is not the way the word is used in the New Testament. What then is a saint, according to Scripture? “[A saint] is someone whom Christ bought with His own blood on the cross and has separated unto Himself to be His own possession.” This is a crucial observation that needs to be locked down before we discuss any of the “respectable” sins which are the subject of this book. It is crucial for two reasons: (1) A Christian is someone who has been definitively set apart for God through the work of Christ. “In the biblical sense of the term, sainthood is not a status of achievement and character but a state of being – an entirely new condition of life brought about by the Spirit of God.” And (2) our “state of being” shapes how we understand our calling as God’s people.

Because we are saints, holy living is not something foreign to us. It is simply the outflow of what we have been re-created to be in Jesus Christ. You are a saint, so be holy. Be who you are! Moreover, our status as saints helps us to see that any sin is, according to Bridges (using a military metaphor), “conduct unbecoming a saint.” You and I are saints, and we must remember this as we go on to study topics such as anger, impatience, and jealousy.

Is it difficult for you to think of yourself as a saint? Why or why not? Who is someone that you know that you easily call a saint? Why? Do you think this person would think of him-or-herself in the same way that you think? Is it possible that even your “saint” finds it difficult to be called a saint?

Lenten Resource: Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges

During the Lenten season, it is common for Christians to speak of “giving something up.” And so we find some (usually) little thing in our lives, and decide to completely or partially forego it until Easter Sunday. Having done such things myself, I am no longer certain that such behaviors ever make much of an impact on the shape or trajectory of our spiritual lives. For example, have you ever given up some food item during the Lenten season, only to find yourself returning to old indulgences with gusto after it was all over? What good did the temporary abstinence do if it only led to renewed (or even increased) consumption when everything got back to normal?

I am not willing to say that such small behavior modifications are completely bad for us or that they are of no value in the pursuit of God. God wants us to submit all of our lives to him. If that means giving up chocolate for a season, then so be it. But we should never forget the words that Samuel speaks to the disobedient King Saul: “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22 NAS).

King Saul had not been obedient to God. His sacrifice could not balance out his disobedience. In a similar manner, our little sacrifices (and all sacrifices are little next to the majesty and power of God) cannot make up for our disobedience. First, no sacrifice that we offer can ever atone for our sins. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can do that. Second, God wants to make us like Jesus through the power of His Spirit at work within us. Though it might be beneficial for me to use my cell phone less, such an action does not necessarily make me more like Jesus.

In this spirit, during the course of Lent, I will be summarizing chapters of Jerry Bridges’ Respectable Sins. Here Bridges challenges God’s people to be honest about the “little” sins that Christian people are willing to tolerate. We are not talking about the big, obvious spiritual blunders. In this book, the focus is on things like anger, gossip, and jealousy. Please use these summaries as a means of being open and honest before the Lord about those “respectable” areas of disobedience in our lives. And as you do so, never forget that Easter hope is on its way!

What has been your experience of “giving something up” for Lent? How has it had either positive or negative impact in your life? Are you giving something up this year? What do you hope to result from this behavior modification?