Earlier, I posted a bit on Jerry Bridges’ book, Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2007). Since then, I’ve finished reading it, and still confidently recommend it. As a reminder, he uses Scripture to point out and expose some sins that we’re used to, that we grow comfortable with, or as the title says, sins that we tolerate. Such daily attitudes of ours like anger, discontentment, worry, selfishness, envy, and so on, Bridges explains, are sins we must deal with. (Warning: you’d probably rather have a root canal than read certain sections of this book! Learning about sins you love hurts.) As Bridges usually does, he constantly reminds the reader of the gospel and forgiveness, along with the Spirit’s power and need for prayer in Christian growth.
I’ve found it helpful to incorporate these things into the liturgy of the church I pastor. Usually, following the biblical pattern, we hear God’s law, confess/repent of our sins in prayer and song, and then I remind the people of grace, forgiveness, and mercy in Jesus Christ (the gospel). Sometimes I use one or all of the ten commandments for the law, other times I use Jesus’ summary of the law in Matthew 22. However, since reading Bridges’ book, I’ve been using the law in a very particular way, to expose these sins that we tolerate.
Example: We can quite easily deflect general commands: do not murder (6th Commandment), but it is impossible (if we’re honest with ourselves!) to deflect specific commands: put away all anger (Col. 3.8). As Bridges states it, “In facing up to our anger, we need to realize that no one else causes us to be angry. Someone else’s words or actions may become the occasion of our anger, but the cause lies deep within us – usually our pride, or selfishness, or desire to control. The cause always lies within our hearts” (p. 123-4). Our anger displays our sinful pride (we are angry at people who attack our character); our anger displays our selfishness (we get angry when things don’t go our way); our anger displays our sinful attitude towards God (our anger makes us forget that God is sovereign over intimate details of our lives).
To put it bluntly, when we’re angry with our kids, or angry with the other accountant in the office, or angry because we had a bad day, we are sinning. We need to acknowledge this sin and confess it to God, running to Christ for forgiveness and mercy.
I’ll end with Bridges’ conclusion of his chapter on anger. “I believe that many Christians live in denial about their anger. They consciously experience the flare-up of negative thoughts and emotions toward someone who has displeased them, but they do not identify this as anger, especially as sinful anger. They focus on the other person’s wrongdoing and justify their own reaction. They do not see their sin. Consequently, their anger is ‘acceptable’ to them. They sense no need to deal with it” (p. 128). Indeed, we need the law’s reminder, do not be angry, to open our eyes to see sin and our need for deliverance.