Sunday, January 31, 2010

Book Review: Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate - by Jerry Bridges

Jerry started off the book by drawing the attention of the readers to the spiritual condition of the Corinthians church during Paul's time. Despite the mess and sins in the church of Corinth at that time, Paul addressed them as saints (2 Cor 1:1 and 1 Cor 1:2).

How could Paul address them as saints? Paul similarly used the word in other places like in Romans 1:7; 16:15; 1 Cor 1:2 and 2 Cor 1:1.

Jerry then explained that the Greek word used for "sainthood" and "holy" is "Hagios", which refers, not to the character, but rather a state of being (being set apart, separated for God) (1 Cor 6:19-20).

What are we separated for? Titus 2:14 says that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works (Titus 2:14, NKJV). In other words, we are set apart so that we will be zealous for good works. We don't become saints by our own effort. We are "made" saints by God Himself.

Yet, as Jerry pointed out, if we are honest with ourselves, we know that nearly every waking hour, we sin in thoughts, words and deeds. Our best motives are often stained with impure or mixed thoughts and intentions. Why such discrepancy between what God has promised for us with what we actually experienced in our daily lives? Galatians 5:17 says that it is because of the desire of our flesh."For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish." (Gal 5:17 NKJV).

1 Peter 2:11 calls is a war. "Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul" (1 Peter 2:11 NKJV).

Unfortunately, it is not only that we are waging war against the lust or desires of the flesh, but we often soften our concept of sins. We categorise sins. We tend to evaluate our character and conduct based on the moral culture we live in. Often times, as we think of the blatant and obvious sins around us such as murder, rape, stealing, etc, we tend think of ourselves better than those committing such criminal offenses. We tolerate certain sins while condemning the obvious ones such as mentioned above. We let ourselves off the hook by saying that our sins of selfishness, critical spirit, impatience, anger, judgmentalism, etc are not as bad as the "sins of the world."

And this book is exactly about - addressing those sins that we often think are "respectable" or "tolerable". Unfortunately, every sin is serious because every sin essentially breaks God's law. And sin essentially is about "missing the mark", falling short of God's holy standard.

Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.
(1Jn 3:4 NKJV)

And sins are cancerous; sins can spread to other believers; the sins that we tolerate can grow into something more serious. For example, the sin of anger, can grow into hatred, jealousy, etc.

The first six chapters of this book are a general description, dealing with the problems of sins, and the direction we should take towards the problem of sins. From chapter seven onwards, Jerry dealt with specific "tolerable" sins, one in each chapter. These are:

- Ungodliness
- Anxiety and Frustration
- Discontentment
- Unthankfulness
- Pride
- Selfishness
- Lack of Self-control
- Impatience and irritability
- Anger
- Judgmentalism
- Envy, Jealousy and related sins
- Sins of the tongue
- Worldliness

In Chapter six, Jerry pointed out some general ways that we should be heading towards in dealing with the problem of respectable sins:
1. Apply the Gospel
Jerry devoted an entire chapter (Chapter 4) to discuss on this important aspect.
As Jerry puts it in Chapter 4:
"The remedy for our sin, whether scandalous or acceptable, is the gospel in its widest scope.....[The gospel in its widest scope means 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."

A very interesting practice that Jerry himself applied is "preaching the gospel to yourself every day". I agree with Jerry that this is an effective and important discipline we can develop. Not only do we need to preach it to ourselves every day, but we should also personalize it to ourselves, as Paul did in Gal 2:20:

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
(Gal 2:20 NKJV)

See also 1 John 4:10
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
(1Jn 4:10 NKJV)

[*Suggested verses by Jerry to personalize: Ps 103:12, Isa 43:25, Isa 53:6, Rom 4:7-8, Rom 8:1, Psa 130:3-4, Isa 1:18, Micah 7:19, Eph 1:&, Col 2:13-14, Heb 8:12, 10:17-18].

As Jerry said, the gospel is vital for Christians because:
  • a. The gospel helps us to see who we are - although we are truly saints in the sense of being separated unto God, all of us are still practicing sinners. The gospel helps to plow the ground of our hearts so that we can see our sin.
  • b. The gospel frees me up to face my sins. The gospel assures me that my sins are forgiven, and therefore, I am free to acknowledge and deal with it.
  • c. The gospel motivates and energizes me to grow my Christ-like character. Rom 8:13, Col 3:5

2. Depend on the Holy Spirit
Jerry also devoted an entire Chapter (Chapter 5) on the issue of the power of the Holy Spirit in this aspect.

As mentioned in Chapter 5, some of the ways the Holy Spirit works in us in bringing conviction of sin, include:
  • He causes us to see our so-called "respectable" sins as sins really!
  • He works through the Scripture (2 Tim 3:16)
  • He works through our conscience
  • He empowers us to deal with these sins (See Romans 8:13, Philippians 2:12-13, 4:13)
  • He brings into our lives the circumstances that are designed to cause us to grow spiritually.

We are responsible to put to death the acceptable sins in our lives; we cannot simply lay this responsibility on God, ad sit back and watch; yet at the same time, we are dependent. We cannot make one inch of spiritual progress apart from His enabling power.

3. Recognize your responsibility (as explained in the previous paragraph above)
Work as if it all depends on you, and yet trust as if you did not work at all"

4. Identify specific respectable sins in our individual lives

5. Memorize and apply specific Scriptures

6. Cultivate the practice of prayer

7. Involve a few believers with you - a sense accountability

In a way, I find this book "difficult" to read, it was not an easy read but it is a very vital read because as I read, the Holy Spirit, like a gentle surgeon, took the surgical blade and cut through the specific malignant areas of sins in my life.

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