Ordinary, Yet Tragic, Sins of the Church
About the Guest
If all sin is ungodliness, why does the church tolerate gossip, slander, and pride? Jerry Bridges, author of Respectable Sins, brings this issue into the light.
Jerry BridgesJerry Bridges was a longtime staff member of the Navigators and served with their collegiate ministry. In addition to his international speaking ministry, he authored numerous books and devotionals; among them The Pursuit of Holiness, which has sold well over a million copies, and the award-winning The Discipline of Grace and I Will Follow You, O God. Jerry Bridges died on March 6, 2016. He was 86 years old.
If all sin is ungodliness, why does the church tolerate gossip, slander, and pride? Jerry Bridges, author of Respectable Sins, brings this issue into the light.
Ordinary, Yet Tragic, Sins of the Church
Bob: Conservative Bible-believing, evangelical Christians don’t have a very good reputation in our culture today. Here is author and speaker, Jerry Bridges.
Jerry: Eighty-five percent of that age group, outside of the church, considers us hypocritical and judgmental; and you would expect that. But the scary thing is, about 50 percent of those people, within the church, think the same thing. They say we’re hypocritical / we’re judgmental—we’re not authentic.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, February 19th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Maybe, one of the reasons people don’t have a good impression of Christians today is because of how we’re living—some of our so-called respectable sins. That’s what we’re going to talk about today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.
Dennis: I want to put our guest on the spot.
Bob: Right off the bat here?
Dennis: I do. I want to put him on the spot. He’s a very gifted writer/speaker. He’s now been on FamilyLife Today a number of times. So, he’s a good friend—I’m not afraid of offending him too much.
Jerry: But you make me afraid. [Laughter]
Dennis: Dr. Jerry Bridges joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Jerry, welcome back.
Jerry: Thank you.
Dennis: Now that I’ve put you on notice here, you said—now, this is cool, Bob—he shared with us earlier, before we came in the studio, that he and his wife Jane listen to FamilyLife Today every—you heard him—
Bob: I heard him say—
Dennis: —every morning.
Bob: Of course, I know how infrequently he’s in town. So—
Dennis: Yes, there you go. So, this may not be a fair question; but you listen to our broadcast. First of all, thank you for doing that.
We know you have a lot of choices of what you could listen to, but you choose to do that with your bride—and glad you do that.
Jerry: Thank you. It’s a very worthwhile program—it’s very popular.
Dennis: I appreciate that. Tell us one that you’ve listened to recently that you really got a lot out of.
Bob: One that stands out for you.
Dennis: Here is where I wanted to put you on the spot. His eyes are darting back and forth. He now knows where I was going with all this.
Jerry: Okay. Actually, I—you know, usually we are having breakfast during that time. I’m in the kitchen. I’m listening to the broadcast and eating my cereal or whatever. So, I can’t say that one program was life-changing for me; but I’d say the cumulative effect, listening day after day—and I think the same way when I go to church. We have a great pastor. But, you know, once in a while—“That’s a bell-ringer. Boy, that really spoke to me,”—but I think more often it’s the cumulative effect, week after week.
Dennis: It’s listening to the stories, getting God’s perspective—
Dennis: —of circumstances and reflecting on that as to how you might take that away in your own marriage and your own relationship with God.
Bob: Can I put him on the spot too?
Dennis: Well, go ahead, Bob, since—feel free. Be my guest!
Bob: Since we’re talking about the issue of what you call respectable sins in a book that you’ve written by that title—the sins we tolerate / the practices that we kind of accept as okay and not really that serious—do you think, among American evangelicals, we have a couple of besetting, tolerable, respectable sins? Are there a few that stand out?—that you would say,—
Bob: —“These are the ones that we gravitate toward,”
Jerry: Well, I would say gossip.
Dennis: What’s the definition of gossip?
Jerry: Well, gossip is spreading word about other people—it’s like, “Joe and Sally are thinking about getting a divorce,”—these kinds of things. Oftentimes, it’s malicious gossip because people are trying to divide, within the church, for example. Paul said to speak evil of no man.
I was asked to read a book to consider endorsing. Actually, the man had some good things to say—but sprinkled through that, he was very critical of some other people. I just wrote him and I said, “I cannot endorse this book because I’ve been trying to practice to speak evil of no one. And those criticisms added nothing to the message of the book.”
Dennis: Do you mind sharing with our listeners who that was? [Laughter]
Bob: You tempt him! [Laughter]
Dennis: You know, but that’s how it happens. It’s exactly how it happens; isn’t it?
Jerry: It is.
Dennis: Our curiosity gets the best of us—we ask the question, “Well, who was that?” and it does no good.
Jerry: That’s right.
Dennis: You did the right thing by writing that individual person. That’s what needs to take place.
Bob: Well, and as you were describing that, I was thinking back to something I became convicted of—this was a couple of months ago. We were actually studying through a book that NavPress had reprinted, from 100 years ago—a book called The Seven Deadly Sins by an English pastor, James Stalker. He had written on each of the classical seven deadly sins.
Bob: As we studied through them, God convicted me of the fact that I was delighting in listening to bad reports—that I was having friends who were coming to me and telling me about a bad situation in a particular setting. They were going, “This is terrible”; and my soul was finding delight in hearing those bad reports.
Jerry: Because that makes us feel good about ourselves.
Bob: And I had to sit down with a friend and just confess, “This is what’s been going on with me.” As much as my curiosity wanted to hear some of those things, I had to say, “I just can't hear them anymore,” because it was not healthy. It wasn’t good for my own soul.
Dennis: Jerry, if a person struggles with gossip—with their tongue flapping a little bit too much—what should they do?
Jerry: First of all, they have to acknowledge that this is a problem. So many people just gossip, and they’re not aware that it’s—I mean, they just do it automatically. It’s a characteristic of their life—it’s a habit pattern. They can gossip, I think, without even being aware of it. They really need somebody to call them on that—to call attention to it and to say, “That’s gossip.”
I hope that I did this man—that I referred to—this writer—a service by just pointing out to him that he was speaking evil of people unnecessarily.
It didn’t add a thing to his book.
Dennis: You know, to that point, Jerry—and I just want to underline that because I had a friend, who came to me and basically said: “Dennis”—and he didn’t say it this bluntly, but I got the message—“Dennis, you’re complaining. You are simply griping, and grousing, and complaining about these circumstances that you’re dealing with here. Quit bellyaching and deal with it.” And he didn’t say it—but I kept hearing the rest of the sentence—“…and respond to life as God brings it to you every day with faith in Him that God knows what He is doing because He’s a good God. He’s sifting everything that comes my way.”
And so, we may not personally struggle with gossip, but we may have a relationship with a friend or a family member who has this—
—as what Bob called—besetting sin. We do them a favor if we go to them and say: “You know, I’ve been listening to you. I think you just ought to maybe consider this—maybe pray about this: ‘Do you really, perhaps, enjoy passing on bad things about people and gossiping?’” At that point, leave it with them to consider. I don’t think there’s enough of that that takes place within the Christian community.
Bob: I have to ask you, though, because you referred to somebody saying, “Joe and Sally—did you hear that Joe and Sally are thinking about getting a divorce?” Isn’t there an appropriate context in which I would share that with a brother or a sister in Christ, and it’s not gossip?"
Jerry: Yes, if we have a redemptive purpose in doing that. In other words, sometimes people can veil their gossip by saying, “I just wanted to tell you this for prayer”; but prayer hasn’t happened. But I would say to those people: “Okay, let’s get down on our knees, right now, and pray about that.
“Is my concern really about Joe and Sally? Am I pouring out my heart to God in grief over what’s happening in their marriage, or do I just want to share bad things because it makes me feel good because I’m not in that situation?”
Dennis: Jerry, let’s finish up talking, then, about the person who is struggling with gossip. You said, first of all, they need to come to grips that they may have a problem or do have a problem with it. They can do that on their own / maybe, someone confronts them. What do they do after they know they have a problem with it?
Jerry: They have to confess it. Then, they have to take that sin to the cross and leave it at the cross—that Jesus’ blood has cleansed them from that. And then, come away—the old Puritan, John Owen, said: “Every day, you face your sin. You take it to the cross, and you come away with Christ’s righteousness.” That’s what we have to do.
Then, if the person is really convicted of their sin—and they see that it’s forgiven and that God accepts them as righteous in Christ—then, they are going to say: “God, I don’t ever want to do that anymore. Now, Holy Spirit, would you make me more sensitive to the occasions when I am about to gossip?” Sometimes, a person will have to—to use our metaphor—bite her tongue or bite his tongue—I’ve had to do that. I’m about to say something—and I say, “No, I can’t say that.”
Jerry: And so, I believe, if a person is really sincere in wanting the Holy Spirit to help them—that He will. But I think it’s good, also, to commit to memorization—and this is where my Navigator background comes in—key passages of Scripture that help. I would say, in this particular situation,—
—Ephesians 4:29: “Let no crooked speech come out of your mouth but only that which is helpful for building others up,”—that, along with the verse in Titus 3, “Speak evil of no one.”
I think another big one is moral pride. That is: “We’re better than these people out here because we’re not doing the big sins,” or even—“Well, I don’t gossip like he does,” or something like that. We can begin to feel good about ourselves and fail to see that we have other issues.
Another one is—not only moral pride—but also, I would call it doctrinal or theological pride. Everybody feels like his theology is the right one, and none of us have it all down straight.
It’s not that we need to be wishy-washy about our theological convictions, but we do need to hold those convictions in humility and treat people with different convictions with respect.
Bob: I want to ask you about both of those. If we have moral pride, then, the challenge of that—the problem with that—is we’re going to find ourselves alienated from the very people that God’s called us to share good news with—
Bob: —because, if we see ourselves as superior, they are going to know that we see ourselves as superior. It puts a division between us.
I remember hearing Pastor Tim Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, one time, talk about Christians being involved in the city. He said one of the reasons why Christians need to be involved in big cities is because we have the humility to say we can learn from the city. When he said that, I thought, “I don’t know what I can learn from the city.”
Right there, I was caught with, “Oh my, I have a heart of moral superiority / spiritual superiority.” I was caught up in that.
I do think that, as evangelicals, we tend to see ourselves as morally and spiritually superior to those around us—rather than seeing ourselves as sinners in need of the grace of God, just like those among whom we co-labor; right?
Jerry: Exactly, yes. We can learn from everyone. I mean, nobody has it all down pat.
Dennis: You know, there’s a book out called Unchristian, which is a reflection of attitudes about this generation of 20, 30—maybe early 40s—those young adults who are in this culture and their opinions of Christians. What I think we’re talking about here is touching on what they talked about in the book, and that is that there is a whole generation of young people today that want to see an authentic life.
Dennis: It’s as you refer to, Jerry, of humility and a right evaluation of who we are—
Dennis: —that we don’t have it all together—that we do have socks hanging out of the suitcase and our lives aren’t perfect. It’s not that we have an answer for everybody’s problem—but that we want to engage a generation that needs Christ / needs the Scriptures more than—well, they need it as much as any generation has ever needed it—but, if we don’t have that authenticity, they are not going to be able to hear us.
Jerry: Yes. And, you know, Dennis, the scary thing about some of the statistics in that book—and I’ve read most of the book / I kind of read through it—but 85 percent of that age group, outside of the church, consider us hypocritical and judgmental.
Jerry: And you would expect that; but the scary thing is—
—about 50 percent of the people, within the church, think the same thing. They see us—I mean, they know us—and they say we’re hypocritical / we’re judgmental—we are not authentic.
Bob: And most of us hear that; and we go: “Well, no! No, we’re not.” And, you know, if enough people start saying, “Well, maybe you are,” maybe you ought to stop and say, “Maybe I am.” Instead of just being defensive about it, maybe, we ought to be aware; and maybe there is something to their criticism.
Dennis: There are two aspects of hypocrisy that I just want to mention here. One is that any follower of Jesus Christ is going to be a hypocrite—
Dennis: —because we’re following the God-Man, the Perfect One, the One who never had any guile, who responded perfectly in every circumstance; and, yes, at that point, I follow Him.
I don’t do it perfectly. Therefore, I am a hypocrite. But that’s not what rubs people the wrong way in this culture. It’s when we say we follow Him and we make ourselves out to be that perfect person—as though we don’t have any besetting sins, or things that we’re struggling with, and haven’t really talked about something we’ve confessed to God.
And so, a key question for all of us is: “When was the last time you just confessed a sin?”—just went to God and said: “Father, forgive me for that attitude. Forgive me for the gossip. Forgive me for my anger/my frustration. I was not acknowledging You as being in charge of everything that’s happening around my life.” And then, be willing to share that, from an authentic standpoint, of how you are in the process of following Christ in your imperfection and not giving up because I think that’s the hope this generation needs—
—is that we’re all a bunch of broken people in need of a Savior.
Bob: Jerry, I was in a church, not long ago, where a part of their practice is a corporate confession of sin. In this particular church, as they corporately confessed their sin, they said, “Father, we have sinned against You in thought, and in word, and in deed by things we have done and by things we've left undone.” I thought: “That's a pretty good confession of sin. I usually think about deeds—things I’ve done that were bad—but there are things I have not done that are sinful. There are things I’ve thought that are sinful.
We usually let ourselves off the hook on that kind of stuff, and that’s a part of what you're trying to say in Respectable Sins. It’s time to quit letting ourselves off the hook for things that God says we should be on the hook for.
Jerry: Right. Yes, and if we really believe the gospel—if we really believe that Christ died for our sins—then, we can be honest—we can face up to those sins.
That’s why I would say the most important chapter in this book is the fourth chapter on the gospel.
Dennis: And just to end this message, practically, I want to end it the way we started it—putting you on the spot. I am kind of liking this, Jerry.
Jerry: Okay. I thought you said you weren’t going to do this. [Laughter]
Bob: You sinned with your tongue!
Dennis: Did I say that? I take it back! I’m going to do it again.
Here is my question for you, Jerry—because I think, to the point of authenticity—people would look at you: You’ve walked with Christ for six decades. You’ve been in ministry with Navigators for more than 53 years. You’ve written all these great books. Maybe, your theology isn’t airtight, but you don’t have many socks hanging out of the suitcase—it doesn’t seem. What I want you to share with them is in your relationship with your wife Jane.
Where do you see all this colliding and where do you have to practice this same kind of humility, and authenticity, and faith in your relationship with her?
Jerry: I would say in two areas that stand out to me. First of all is selfishness. You know, I work at home; and she’s there—and so, I’m available. I think: “These are office hours / these are work hours. You shouldn’t intrude on me.”
Dennis: Did you call Barbara before you said that? [Laughter] Okay, what’s the second one?
Jerry: Okay, the second one is patience. My wife has—well, I like to live life with a margin, just in every area. I like to have a few dollars in the bank account. I like to leave for the airport in plenty of time that I don’t have to rush.
Dennis: You’re saying Jane kind of likes a little adventure around some of these things?
Jerry: She has the incredible ability to time it just right. [Laughter]
Bob: That was so charitably said. [Laughter]
Jerry: I mean—it really does. We’ve never missed a flight or anything like that. Well—like yesterday morning—she’s going to another city while I am here. And so, I was taking her. I thought, “Jane—somebody else.” She was going to ride with somebody else to the airport. They wanted her at their house by 6:30. It’s 6:25 and I’m kind of—but we get there and—guess what? We’re the first one. I mean, even the host, who is going to drive us, is not ready yet! [Laughter]
Dennis: You’re a good sport to take two tough questions at the beginning and the end of the broadcast. Thanks, Jerry.
Bob: Well, and I think, too, you just modeled for us what humility ought to look like and how all of us have these areas in our lives where we just kind of dust them away and say, “That’s not that big a deal—just how I am.”
We have this tendency to want to excuse these, so called, respectable sins. I think what you’ve demonstrated for us here is how we have to remain vigilant in our battle with the issue of indwelling, remaining sin in our lives.
And I hope our listeners will get a copy of your book. It’s called Respectable Sins. I just talked to somebody, recently, who said they got this book down again from their bookshelf and reread it. I thought, “Well, you’re a glutton for punishment to go back through this a second time!” but they were just talking about—it’s convicting—but it’s also helpful to remind us of these areas that we do tend to minimize or to excuse.
The title of the book, again, is Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges. It’s a book that we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com to request a copy of the book.
Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner that says, “GO DEEPER.” That’ll take you right to where you can order a copy of Jerry’s book from us, online. Or you can call 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.” Ask about the book, Respectable Sins. We’ll make arrangements to get a copy sent to you.
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So, again, “Thank you,” to those of you who have already agreed to pitch in regularly to help us out, here at FamilyLife Today. We appreciate your support in helping underwrite the cost of producing and syndicating this daily radio program.
And we hope you can join us back tomorrow. Jerry Bridges will be here with us again. We’re going to talk more about respectable sins, including the sin of intemperance. I’m not talking about drinking—although that could be an issue of intemperance—but we’re talking about lacking self-control in a variety of areas. We’ll talk about that respectable sin tomorrow. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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