Repent of your respectable sins

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
A couple of weeks ago, I saw a headline that elicited a loud “YES!” from me. The article was called “Respectable sins in Christian ministry” by Jen Oshman on The Gospel Coalition website. Without even reading the article, the title had already convicted and challenged me.

During my 17 years as pastor of NewLife, I have sadly seen many pastors, from megachurch superstars to local colleagues, be asked to leave their position. The usual culprits include sexual misconduct, financial shenanigans, or leading the church in a domineering and abusive manner. Sex, money, and power:  the three issues that we have decided disqualify a pastor from ministry when handled in an ungodly manner. From the beginning of my time in ministry, I have always made sure that I have personal accountability in place, so that I am regularly talking through any temptations or struggles in these areas with a trusted friend. I believe that this decision, and the help of my friends, has helped to keep me right with God and still in full-time ministry.

However, as blatant as those sins may be, there are many more subtle temptations – “respectable sins” – that can also derail a life, a family, or a church if we are not vigilant. Here are a few that come to mind:

Self-reliance – John 15:5 - “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
We all have God-given talents and abilities. And as we grow up, we can be tempted to rely on our abilities and depend less on prayer and the power of God to make up for our weakness. We may appear competent, but that competence can lead to a spiritual ineffectiveness if we are essentially telling God that we no longer need His help.

Lack of courage – 2 Timothy 1:7 - For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
Life is hard, and we will encounter many situations that will present us with the choice to either confront an issue with courage or shrink back in fear. Like Joshua, we are called to “be strong and courageous… for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). An ungodly fear of man can lead to compromise, division, and spiritual atrophy.

Lack of contentment - Luke 12:15 - Then Jesus said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
As followers of Jesus, we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:38), with a love that is not just words but also involves sharing material possessions with those in need (1 John 3:16-18). But if we are gripped with an ungodly desire for more, newer, and better, then we can not live with the generosity demanded by the gospel.

Pleasure-seeking - Ecclesiastes 2:1–2 - I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?”
There is a place for Sabbath-rest, and there is a time for fun. But we are also called to “always give [ourselves] fully to the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58) and to “work… with all your heart, as working for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23). We must be careful that we not giving hours of our lives to Netflix, YouTube, and Instagram while giving the leftovers to serving God and loving others.

Just because a sin is not “disqualifying,” not on par with the sins of sex, money, and power, does not mean that it is not deadly. Ask God to reveal to you what subtle, “respectable” sins are threatening your life, relationships, and church today.
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