The Subtle Deception of Sin
By JASMIN HOWELL
CLEANSE ME FROM SECRET FAULTS
Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.
I woke up on a bleary morning, the sky overcast and grey. Stumbling out of bed, my mood did not brighten when I tripped over the gigantic pile of dirty clothes on the floor at my feet. I saw a pair of my husband’s socks and jeans, and started to get grumpy… Why did he have to leave his clothes in such a mess? As I wandered to the bathroom, I noticed his shaving gel and razor still on the counter from the previous night’s grooming. How hard could it have possibly been for him to put it away? Walking out into the kitchen I saw a stack of dirty tupperware by the sink, and his empty water bottles and coffee mugs from his previous day of travel for work. They could have at least been put into the dishwasher. And slung over the back of a kitchen chair was his coat. His keys, wallet, and phone were left in a pile on the table. What a mess!
This mode of thinking carried on for at least an hour as I wandered around the house in an increasingly grumpy headspace, my mind narrowing in on anything my husband might have left out of place. And he still lay sleeping, blithely unaware of my growing sense of frustration.
By the time he woke up and casually strolled out into the kitchen — a smile on his face, happy to see me — words of accusation and irritation were on my tongue. I had worked myself up into a state and was not going to let him be happily ignorant while I was left to clean everything up.
“Hi,” he said, reaching out to give me a hug.
Instead of folding myself into his arms, I blurted, “Honey, I can’t handle it. Our house is such a mess!!”
After a short tirade on the subject, and after I pointed out the long list of messes that he had left around the house, the tone for the morning had been set. And it wasn’t very pleasant. I felt satisfied that I had gotten my point across — very sure that I had clearly expressed my perspective on the matter. But my husband (I found out later) had left the house unhappy, having had all his flaws and errors pointed out and piled high for his viewing pleasure.
As the morning went on and I begrudgingly started to clean, I came to the pile of clothes on the floor of our room and tossed my husband’s socks and jeans into the laundry basket. I got to the bottom of the mess and realized — with growing shame — that what remained on the floor was all … mine. When I went into the bathroom to clean the counters, I put away his shaving gel and razor and then noticed the rest of the mess was … mine, too. My hair dryer, straightener, miscellaneous hair products, towel from last night’s bath, bobby pins, and hairbrush. And in the kitchen, beside his tupperware, was the plethora of unwashed dishes in the sink that I had meant to clean up the day before. And on that same kitchen chair, under his coat was one of my coats, two of my purses, and below on the floor were a few pairs of shoes that I hadn’t put back in the closet.
By focusing on his mess, my own was conveniently hidden from my sight. What a metaphor for the sin in our lives!
That morning’s incident with my husband showed me one thing in particular: sin was hidden in my life. I saw the truth quite plainly as I stuffed my dirty laundry into the hamper. I was a sinner. Not simply in theory, but in practice. My attitude and actions were sinful. Full of pride and self-justification. The realization came with fresh conviction. As if God didn’t just remove my blindness to this one situation, but rather pulled back a curtain on my whole perception of myself. As I walked through the house, God gently began to make me aware of the tendency in my life to give swift rationalization for my own sin, casually brushing it off. Meanwhile, I was very good at noticing the wrong attitudes and actions of others. Even more alarming to me was that I often viewed my own sin as “less serious,” because it was not as glaringly obvious. My sin — often subtle, was easily hidden, and even more easily ignored.
Getting to the Bottom of the Mess
In Psalm 19 David pleads of the Lord, “Cleanse me from secret faults … Let them not have dominion over me” (vs. 12-13). This verse has often seemed strange to me. Secret faults? As a Christian, how can I have sin in my life that I don’t know about? In a commentary on this Psalm by Matthew Henry there is a quote which I think answers this question well: “We are guilty of many sins which, through our carelessness and partiality to ourselves, we are not aware of; many we have been guilty of which we have forgotten…” (emphasis added).
We are so prone to sin without even realizing it! Each of us has unrecognized messes in our lives — piles of sin — that we keep stepping over. We become so used to our own mess that we don’t see it anymore. It takes the grace of God alone to reveal our hidden sin to us.
And as God graciously opened my eyes to the trail of mess I had left around our house, I was surprised by my own … well … blindness. As I cleaned I began to understand more clearly what David meant when he asked the Lord to cleanse him from hidden faults. Room by room, the illusion of “my husband’s gigantic mess” was replaced by the even greater significance of my own. It bothered me so deeply that I could be so blatantly unaware of myself … so partial to myself … so apt to favor the rightness of my own actions while zoning in on the mistakes or flaws of others. Obviously, this was just a picture of a much greater truth — there were things in my life I was simply unable to see. And sin that goes unnoticed in our lives can have a surprisingly strong impact on our relationship with others and, most importantly, with God. Yet we can go days, months, and even years with unearthed sin in our lives that controls us in an unhealthy way.
LORD, DO THE WORK THAT I CANNOT DO. REVEAL, BRING LIGHT TO, AND CLEANSE ME FROM ANYTHING HIDDEN IN MY LIFE THAT WOULD KEEP ME FROM YOU.
One thing David wisely recognized was his propensity to sin — even though God called him “a man after My own heart, who will do all My will” (Acts 13:22). In fact, it was the unrecognized sin in his life that David seemed most concerned about. Even though his desire was to have an untainted relationship with the Lord, he knew that unrecognized sin could rule in his life and have just the opposite effect. And this should be our concern too. For Christians, the oft-forgotten reality is that even though Christ’s sacrifice has given us freedom from the power of sin — Satan is working overtime to cloak, hide, disguise, misrepresent, and even downplay the seriousness of sin in the world. And it is for this reason that David’s plea to the Lord makes even more sense to me as I reflect on myself. It is a prayer of humility. It is a prayer that says, Lord, do the work that I cannot do. Reveal, bring light to, and cleanse me from anything hidden in my life that would keep me from You. I want an untainted relationship with You! It is a prayer of great wisdom.
So how can we get to the bottom of the messy piles of subtle, hidden sin in our lives and begin to see its true impact?
Giving it a Name
First, we must stop applying all kinds of excuses and labels to our sin, and give it its proper name. Sin is sin. And it’s serious to God. The Bible clearly says that: “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Prov. 28:13).
We sometimes try to give sin a different “name” to cover it over or rationalize it. But it does not change its nature, or its consequences, it just keeps it hidden from sight a little longer. We often don’t notice our sin because we’ve become used to brushing it off as “fatigue,” “hormones,” “personality,” and other socially acceptable excuses and labels.
Even such a seemingly small thing as getting frustrated with my husband … I could have easily written it off and buried it as a matter of marital preferences, or personality differences, nothing more. On the surface only a small disagreement took place, but under the surface, a hardness would begin to grow. The small, subtle sin that pops up in our attitudes and actions is often the most easily ignored, but its compiled effect is very destructive. Like the mess in my home, every little thing I left laying around was a picture for the accumulation of wrong thoughts and attitudes that cluttered my mind and made it harder and harder for me to see my sin. The lie that Satan likes to spread around is that, “Sin is common. Everyone sins. So what? God knows this and its no big deal. Are you sure what you’re doing is even a sin?”
The mystery is that only God — in His grace and love — can make us aware of our sin. And once my sin was shown to me, I had the choice of how I would act next. I could continue blaming someone else (i.e. my husband), or making excuses for it, or just plain ignoring it. I could bury the truth God was showing me, and brush it off as “waking up on the wrong side of the bed.” But clearly, the mess wasn’t going to simply go away. Once I saw the amount of mess that was mine, I had to own it. It could only be cleaned up if I humbled myself, called my actions what they were, and sought forgiveness from my husband and from God. Only then would I be able to walk in the freedom of having my sins cleansed.
ONLY GOD — IN HIS GRACE AND LOVE — CAN MAKE US AWARE OF OUR SIN.
In our world, the idea that we are sinful is scoffed at and held in contempt — and this attitude sneaks into the lives of Christians too. We rationalize and justify our actions; we question and doubt the truth of God’s Word. Especially in a post-modern generation where truth is considered relative and open to interpretation, sin can seem like an out-of-date notion. But this cannot be the Christian’s stance. The illusion the enemy creates to deceive us is that we are free to do what we want … without consequence.
Even starting in Genesis, Satan comes to Eve, described as “…the shrewdest of all…” and starts to put the question in Eve’s mind, “Did God really say…” (Gen. 3:1 NLT). This most subtle line of questioning goes to the heart of the matter on authority. The enemy wanted Eve — and all humans since — to believe that authority lies with us. Under this illusion we feel “free,” but when God reveals the bondage of sin, we see that our “freedom” to act out our fleshly desires actually kept us enslaved. This is one of the enemy’s shrewd means for hiding sin in plain sight, and it keeps Christians from having a sensitive spirit to sin in our lives. We know it’s real, but we give it a false name. And so it becomes hidden. It’s hidden in relationships, and families, and churches, and workplaces. The list goes on and on.
So once God has revealed our sin to us, what should we do next?
Getting Wretched & Getting Up Again
The Bible states so clearly what it takes to be set free from sin. Confess it and then forsake it. We are told specifically to “…be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (Jas. 4:9-10 ESV, emphasis added).
When the Bible says to “be wretched,” it literally means to become miserable — or more importantly to recognize our own misery. Okay, don’t get me wrong, “sin” … “misery” … I know these are not tickle-the-ear kind of words. Sin is not a word I especially like repeating over and over again, but the Bible refers to it more than 400 times. That’s a lot, and it’s obviously an important matter to God.
I admit, I like to feel happy and contented. Most of us do. We aren’t generally looking for reasons to become miserable. In fact, quite the opposite. But that afternoon, in my home, I was miserable. I was upset with my attitude toward my husband, with the way I so deftly deflected my sin and avoided dealing with the hard places of my heart. Sure, the incident with my husband didn’t seem like a big deal, but what it revealed in my life certainly was.
And as I took my misery to the Lord, He met me. At first it was very uncomfortable to sort through the mess in my spiritual life — the same way I didn’t like finding out the extent of my mess in our home. Each item that God revealed to me, I wanted to turn away from, but instead found myself agreeing with His conviction and saying, “Yes, this sin is mine, Lord. Please help me be free from it!”
Mourning, weeping, and being wretched over our sin is frankly a bit uncomfortable. Our flesh doesn’t want to be humbled. But it’s a beautiful and necessary part of having an untainted relationship with God.
Alright, you might say, how can it possibly be beautiful? Well first, it has nothing to do with us, or anything we might have to offer.
But the beautiful part is that the Lord is “near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit” (Ps. 34:18). Christ is WITH us as we humble ourselves. It’s not some test we have to pass, and when we succeed He meets us on the other side and says, “Great job, you made it!” No! Not even close. He literally does the work, shows us our sin, then meets us in our deepest grief and misery over our sin. Then He lifts us up out of that pit of mess and filth, exchanges our ashes for His beauty, and gives joy for mourning and praise for heaviness (see Isaiah 61:3). He gets us out of our wretched state and gets us back up onto solid ground!
CHRIST IS WITH US AS WE HUMBLE OURSELVES.
That afternoon, my messy home suddenly turned into a sanctuary where I poured out my heart and asked for forgiveness. I asked the Lord for a new attitude, a new and more Christ-like way of speaking and acting. My husband and I went on a walk together later that day where I was able to ask for his forgiveness and share some of my tendencies to ignore or justify things in my life that were sinful. I shared about my time with the Lord that afternoon, and it led to a very fruitful and encouraging conversation in our marriage.
The verse I quoted previously from James actually starts with this comforting truth: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (Jas. 4:8). Where the enemy’s lie is that “your sin is common, and it doesn’t matter,” nothing could keep us farther from the most precious fellowship with our Savior. It matters. And He cares. As much as we might long for an untainted relationship with Him — He longs for it even more deeply.