The Deceitfulness of Sin

Posted by colin on September 2, 2011 under From the pastor | Comments are off for this article

We all know the scripture in Jeremiah which tells us that, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). We can all agree that this is true, but do we really believe it? If this statement is true then we should be far more suspicious of ourselves than we usually are. One area where our heart is likely to deceive us is in the area of sin. We all tend to have a much higher view of our own goodness than is deserved, and a much lower concern about our sinfulness than is warranted. This was brought home to me while reading a book entitled The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis.

Lewis identifies a number of ways in which we tend to deceive ourselves regarding our spiritual condition:

  1. We tend to define our goodness in terms of one or two attributes. For example, we think we are good because we see ourselves as being kind, and forget about all the other virtues we should be practicing. Even in this one area we are likely to deceive ourselves. As Lewis writes, “The real trouble is that ‘kindness’ is a quality fatally easy to attribute to ourselves on quite inadequate grounds. Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment.” We comfort ourselves that our ‘heart is in the right place’ and that we have feelings of kindness towards our fellow-man, even though we have not actually performed a single act of kindness towards anyone. And, of course, there are all the other Christian virtues that we leave unexamined.

  2. We have bought into the prevailing attitudes of our society where sinful behaviour is not seen as evil and something to be ashamed of. Behaviour which the Bible labels as sin is seen as normal and natural. There is no need to feel shame, guilt, or embarrassment over our sins.

  3. We deceive ourselves by comparing ourselves with others. Because in our estimation others are worse, we see ourselves as “good” by comparison – in spite of our faults. Of course, in making this comparison, we are likely to use very different standards of measurement. We evaluate others with a critical eye with little room for extenuating circumstances, but are very generous in our self-assessment, allowing ourselves plenty of leeway.

  4. We judge ourselves by our outward actions, and not by our inner motivations. We think of ourselves based on our conduct in front of other people when we are on our best behaviour, and not on our inner thoughts and motives. We commend ourselves for our good deeds but fail to question the selfish motivation that may have been behind it.

  5. We pass off our besetting sins as temporary lapses and our occasional loving acts as our normal practice. C.S. Lewis puts it this way: “We imply, and often believe, that habitual vices are exceptional single acts, and make the opposite mistake about our virtues – like the bad tennis player who calls his normal form his “bad days” and mistakes his rare successes for his normal.”

  6. We quickly forget our sinfulness. Once again, C.S. Lewis: “We have the strange illusion that mere time cancels sin. I have heard others, and I have heard myself, recounting cruelties and falsehoods committed in boyhood as if they were no concern of the present speaker’s, and even with laughter. But mere time does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of a sin. The guilt is washed out not by time but by repentance and the blood of Christ…”

  7. We take refuge in the fact that all mankind is in the same boat. If everyone else is as bad as the Bible declares, then somehow our behaviour must be excusable, and so we minimize the sinfulness of our actions.

C.S. Lewis notes, as have many others, that the holier a person becomes, the more fully aware he is of his sinfulness before a holy God. Even the apostle Paul, who as a Pharisee considered himself to be above reproach, later in life called himself “the chief of sinners.” A realistic assessment of our true state is an essential prerequisite to our hungering and thirsting after true righteousness – the righteousness that is in Christ and is received as a free gift from God through faith.

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