Have you ever found yourself so caught up and concerned with the rampant sinfulness of our culture that you forget about the subtle sins in your own heart? If so, Jerry Bridges has written a book for you. Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate (NavPress, 2007) takes aim at the sins many Christians consciously or unconsciously consider “acceptable” behavior. For those who take the lordship of Jesus Christ seriously and seek to be like Him, this book is required reading.
The first chapters of the book set the stage by describing the true nature of sin as God sees it. Tragically, the idea of sin has disappeared in many churches, and where the concept remains, it is sometimes deflected. In other words, we readily condemn those outside of the church for flagrant sins, all the while silently condoning our own sins such as gossip, envy, and discontentment. We do not realize that sin, all sin, is a malignant spiritual cancer that, left unchecked, will destroy us and corrupt those around us.
Bridges, however, does not leave it at this. He does not stop with the bad news. He places his discussion of sin in the context of the Gospel of Christ — the only remedy for sin. He reminds us that the reason Christ died on the cross was in order to atone for the sins of His people. In order to deal effectively with sin, whether flagrant or “respectable,” Christians need to preach this Gospel to themselves every day. Bridges also reminds us that in order to deal with sin, we must depend on the Holy Spirit. This does not mean taking a quietistic “let go and let God” approach, because our action is still required, but our action apart from the work of the Holy Spirit will be ineffective.
After dealing with these necessary introductory matters, Bridges moves to a chapter-by-chapter analysis of “respectable sins.” Bridges considers the root sin to be ungodliness: “living one’s everyday life with little or no thought of God, or of God’s will, or of God’s glory, or of one’s dependence on God.” Christians often live in this way, as if God is essentially irrelevant in their day-to-day lives. Bridges turns next to the common sins of anxiety and worry. Both are sin because both betray a basic lack of trust in God.
Another sin that is widespread among Christians is the sin of discontentment, which arises from unchanging circumstances that we can do nothing about. Unthankfulness is also persistent among Christians, who sometimes do not realize how serious a sin it is. Bridges suggests that one reason for the decadence of our culture may be the judgment of God for our failure to honor and thank Him. An entire chapter is devoted to the sin of pride. Bridges focuses on four specific kinds of pride: moral self-righteousness, theological self-righteousness, pride of achievement, and the pride of an independent spirit. He then examines the sin of selfishness, which can also manifest itself in different ways. We can be selfish about our interests in conversation, about money, about time, and we can demonstrate selfishness by simply being inconsiderate.
Self-control, as Bridges explains, is “a governance or prudent control of one’s desires, cravings, impulses, emotions, and passions.” Lack of self-control is another common sin among Christians. Bridges offers as examples our lack of self control in regard to food, tempers, personal finances, and activities such as watching television. Bridges then looks at those sins closely related to anger, sins such as irritability, resentment, and bitterness. Sadly, these sins are often directed at those whom we should love the most, including our spouses and our children.
The final chapters deal with the “respectable sins” of judgmentalism, envy, gossip, slander, lying, and worldliness. Gossip is among the most prevalent “respectable sins” while at the same time being among the most destructive. Worldliness may require definition. It may be defined as “being attached to, engrossed in, or preoccupied with the things of this temporal life.” Bridges deals with three types of worldliness: a worldly attitude toward money, vicarious immorality, and idolatry of the heart.
A word of warning is required when reading this book. If while reading you catch yourself thinking, “I really wish so-and-so would read this book,” then it is especially for you. We are all guilty of at least some of these sins some of the time. We all need reminding that every time we sin, we despise God (2 Sam. 12:9-10). Most of all, we all need reminding that Jesus died on the cross that all of our sins might be forgiven.