Secret Sins (Recognizing Them)

Bible Book: Selected Passages 
Subject: Sin, The Problem of; Honesty with Oneself

Secret Sins (Recognizing Them)

(Galatians 5:16-23; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7

Fifteen hundred people died when the Titanic struck the hidden part of an iceberg in 1912. Now, the part of an iceberg that shows is beautiful, but that's only about a tenth. The rest is below the surface of the water. That's what's dangerous.

Like an iceberg, the part of our lives that shows may be beautiful, but that's only about a tenth. The rest is below the surface. That's what's dangerous. The nine-tenths that's unseen can wreck our lives. Our outward interactions revolve around news and work and socially acceptable events, but that's just the tip or visible part. Our "real" self remains below the surface wrestling with deep feelings and secret thoughts and strange urges. These include envy, lust, jealousy, greed, fear and resentment.

It's encouraging to know that the Apostle Paul struggled with these problems, just as we do. He said, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:15, 19, 22-24).

Are you living with a secret inner life that's significantly different from your outer life? Would you be embarrassed if your friends knew everything that went on inside your mind?  Would your mate want a divorce if your thoughts were audible?

Well, all of us have secret lives below the surface. But the Psalmist said, "God . . . knows the secrets of the heart" (Psa. 44:21)

Some of us have fantasies about becoming wealthy and powerful.  Others harbor schemes for getting revenge on enemies. Every sort of iniquity and perversion exists beneath the surface.  Jeremiah said, "The heart is deceitful above all things . . ." (Jer. 17:9).

Like icebergs, our behavior is visible, but much, much more is below the waterline. Our thoughts, feelings, motives, urges, memories, longings, and attitudes are all hidden from view.  Unless we become aware of how destructive these things can be, we'll not be able to eliminate them from our lives.

One theologian designates 4 types of sins:

I. There Are High Awareness/High Visibility Sins.

These are the sins that we know about and everybody else knows about. They usually involve speech or action. Such things as murder, theft, drunkenness and cursing are public and obvious.  These sins aren't common among Christians, because of their visibility. One preacher explained it this way. He said, "Most of us would rather hate our neighbors, than be seen in a bar.  The reason is not spiritual. It has less to do with what Jesus might think about us than what our friends might think about us."

Peer pressure keeps us in line. We do certain things and avoid certain things because of what others might think. But Jesus condemned this kind of hypocrisy. He said, "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven" (Matt. 6:1).

II There Are High Awareness/Low Visibility Sins.

These are the sins that we know about, but others do not know about. They usually involve thoughts and desires. Such things as resentment, envy, covetousness and lust can be hidden and denied. They are unseen, so we don't have to admit them.

One man said, "Three of us were eating at a sidewalk café, when a beautiful woman walked by. Many heads turned as she passed, including the two men I was with. I watched their eyes follow her, but not a word was spoken as we headed back to the office.

I found myself in a dilemma. I was indignant over the obvious lust of these two, but at the same time I was well aware that the only difference between us was that I had been more careful in controlling my eye movements. Because Christians are not supposed to lust, I concealed my thoughts. Still, I knew pretending not to notice was counterfeit. I knew I was leading a secret life different from the image I projected.

Then, I wondered why I was more concerned over people's opinion than God's opinion. Jeremiah said, " 'Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?' declares the Lord" (Jeremiah 23:24a).

III. There Are Low Awareness/High Visibility Sins.

These are the sins that we deny, but those around us see clearly. They usually involve speech and actions. Such things as self-righteousness, gossip, manipulation and negativism are obvious to our associates, but not to us. We justify these as normal and necessary. They are the blind spots Solomon meant when he said, "He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy" (Proverbs 28:13).

In fact, we seldom connect our religious faith to our personal habits. We don't label judgmental attitudes; questionable business methods; and social manipulation as sins. In fact, most churches emphasize the outer "religious" life and ignore the inner "spiritual" life. But, when the world sees our unpleasant dispositions and aggravating habits, it says, "If that's Christianity, I don't want it."

One writer said, "I had to discover that my shrewd tactics were inside sins. I was so busy "succeeding" that I couldn't empathize with others. Indeed, I felt superior to others."

Jesus hit this kind of behavior very hard. He said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them . . . Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve . . ." (Matthew 20:25-28).

The Pharisees got angry about what Jesus said, because they were in such denial that they didn't even know they were doing those things. Paul had some advice on this type of sin. He said, "We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God" (II Cor. 4:2).

IV. Finally, There Are Low Awareness/Low Visibility Sins.

These are the sins that we don't know about and nobody else knows about. They may involve thoughts, desires, speech or action; but they simply aren't recognized and labeled as sins.  Such things as pride, intolerance and greed are accepted in society as normal and even profitable. Unless we develop a sensitive conscience, we'll never discover these sins. John said, "This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything" (I John 3:19-20).

We constantly rationalize and justify our behavior. We constantly interpret situations to show ourselves in the best light. For instance, when Joe decided to buy a new car, he said it was because the gas mileage on the old one wasn't very good.  But that new car Joe bought depreciated $3,000 the first year, and only saved him $200 in gas! What Joe really wanted was not better mileage, but more prestige. We need to be honest about our motives.

Keith Miller told of such an incident in his life. He said, "One morning at breakfast I was trying to justify taking on another speaking commitment, in spite of having promised my wife I would spend more time with the family. Conducting my defense, I said, "Listen, I owe this guy. He came to speak for us at a conference last year. It's an obligation.” As I looked around the table, I saw both sad and angry looks. Suddenly I felt very uncomfortable. Although what I had said was sort of true, I realized two things:

First, my real 'priority obligation' should have been giving attention to my family.
Second, I became aware that the real reason I'd accepted the speaking engagement was not to keep an old promise; but because it would further my career and bolster my ego.

I immediately buried this brief realization of deceit and instead recalled telling my friend I owed him one. This satisfied me that I had been honest. I hurried to work, but the awareness that I had lied was gone.

We have a remarkable capacity to fool ourselves. Our self-image is so important to us that we will believe almost any reasonable explanation for our failures, as long as we end up looking good. Unfortunately, the church often encourages this kind of hypocrisy. We'd rather our people commit low visibility sins than high visibility sins. We prefer compliant, non-troublesome church members, even when pride, resentment, depression and frustration lie just beneath the surface.

Imagine you're the minister. Would you rather have members of your congregation who occasionally showed their intemperance by getting drunk or have the same number of people who are greedy? Would you rather have a rebellious adolescent who takes his anger out on God or a faithful adolescent who keeps her feelings inside and suffers from depression? Would you rather have a deacon who is guilty of an extra-marital affair, or a deacon who hides his pornographic perversions and sings a solo every Sunday morning? Obviously, most of us would much prefer the more outwardly acceptable behavior.

But, God isn't content with this superficial morality. He wants to root out the inner thoughts that lie behind the overt acts.  Paul dealt with secret sins. He said, "Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.  Everything exposed by the light becomes visible" (Ephesians 5:11, 13).

It's significant that the Pharisees had false personalities that looked good on the outside. Indeed, they had none of the high visible sins, yet Jesus said, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (Matthew 23:25-28, KJV).


So, what area of life makes you struggle? Where are your weak spots? Which type of sin gives you the most trouble?

1. Do you keep doing things that you know are wrong and everybody else sees and knows about? Unless you know, you're not going to be able to do anything about it.

2. Do you continue to have feelings and thoughts that you know are wrong, but others can't see; so you don't have to deal with them?

3. Do you have certain blind spots in your life that others may mention or criticize, but you deny or justify as normal and necessary?

4. Do you have any of those unrecognized, socially acceptable sins that no one could really blame you for, yet Jesus forbade?

Suppose a business advertised that they could take an absolutely accurate photograph of a person's heart and soul. This picture would clearly reveal every motive, every secret and every fantasy. How many people would be willing to risk it? Let's be honest about our weaknesses and problems. It's not sinners that discredit the church. It's sinners who claim they're not sinners that discredit the church. But all sins are harmful.  They hurt us, they hurt others, and they hurt the cause of Christ.

We need to become aware of our sins so we can remove them from our lives.