Ways to Talk about Sin
Sin becomes public in three different ways: someone confesses it, we see it, or we are told about it. Each of these suggests different responses. For example, a person who confesses is already in the battle against sin. But a person who is found out might not have entered the battle yet. You will adjust your engagement according to the other person’s honesty and self-awareness. Following are some ways to enter into the discussion.
1. Say Something
The first words are the hardest. When you have no idea what to say, be honest:
“You have been on my heart. I have really appreciated your willingness to say that you struggle with porn, but I have been concerned that people might leave you alone. Could we talk about it?”
“Something you said the other day has really stuck with me. It was when you got angry at your wife. Could we talk about it?”
“I know you have been really busy with work and traveling more than usual. It got me thinking about how my own struggle with temptations can be more severe when there are fewer people around who know me. How have you been dealing with your temptations when you are on the road?”
If you have clear evidence of sinful actions, be specific. If you have concerns or questions, simply raise them without accusing. All this can be hard, but, if we are left with regrets, most of us regret not saying something.
2. “We” More Than “You”
A turning point in a man’s fight with illegal drugs occurred when his wife discovered that he was using again, and she responded, “What are we going to do?” In other words, “How will we fight this together?” In response to her husband’s sin, she moved closer. This began a process that included a clear plan, years of sobriety, and a growing relationship.
“We are in this together.” That might mean you don’t fully understand the nature of another’s sin, but you will be right next to him, with patience and kindness, in the battle. It can also mean that you do understand his sin because you too struggle with a variant of it. Whatever sin you see in others, a brief search usually reveals that you too are vulnerable to the same kind of sin. Your version might look different but comes from the same renegade desires.
3. Questions More Than Exhortations
As Jesus speaks with people who are caught in sin, he often asks questions. “Why are you thinking these things?” “Which is lawful on the Sabbath, to do good or evil?” (e.g., Mark 3:4). “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them?” (e.g., Luke 5:34). These questions often weave together two purposes. First, Jesus is inviting us to think about something. Sin tends to look less attractive when it is closely inspected. Second, Jesus is inviting us to a conversation. He is asking questions in order to get a response. “Come now, let us reason together” is a standard way the Lord approaches our sin.
Among the questions we might ask is, “How can I help?”
4. Sin Is Personal
Sin is always about God, whether we are aware of that or not. It is bent on independence. When we are angry, our anger is not consciously about God, but it is about God (James 4:1–4). Even our grumbling and complaining are about God. They say, “What have you done for me recently?” They hold God in contempt (Num. 14:11).
Clarity comes from knowing both our hearts and our Lord. We know that our sin is first against God, and we confess it, as we would in any relationship. We know that our Lord is quick to forgive.
We set out to know Jesus better. We must not have known and loved him as we thought we did. Perhaps we have thought that the Lord is a policeman looking for the slightest infraction, and we, in turn, have been looking for ways to get out from under the burden of one law after another. So we counter any resident myths with the accurate knowledge of Jesus, who loved us while we were his enemies, and we set out to enjoy both him and his divine hospitality. Anything else will end in meaninglessness, misery, and other forays into sin.
5. End Confession with “Thank You”
The Lord’s forgiveness might seem too good to be true. Our instinct is, after confession, to go into exile and reform ourselves so we will be acceptable to our Father.
But keep the story of the prodigal son in mind (Luke 15:11–24). Our Father is simply inclined to forgive. This distinguishes him from all invented gods and from all of humanity. He is eager to forgive at the slightest hint that we acknowledge our sin and guilt (Jer. 3:3).
Satan’s lie suggests that God is like a mere human and his grace and love are restricted and stingy. May we never be fooled by such lies. We are a people who were loved even when we opposed the Lord, we rest in Jesus’s completed sacrifice, we rely on the Spirit’s presence and power, and we can have hints of joy in everyday life.
We could summarize the process this way: after confession, end with “thank you.” When we say this, we have confronted both Satan’s lies and our own sense that grace is for other people but not for us.
Could you imagine a community in which we can confess our sins to one another, and we respond to such confessions and pleas with humility, gentleness, patience, and prayer?
And in the same way that a little bit of leaven makes bread rise, a little bit of sin left unchecked will grow.
Episode 156 | Dr. Michael Horton interviews Barbara Duguid on counseling, depression, and addiction.