It seems we’ve created a sliding scale where gossip, jealousy, and selfishness comfortably exist within the church. How can we confront the sins we like to tolerate and how can we encourage our students to do the same?
Eric Miller talks with Dr. Tiberius Rata, associate dean of the School of Ministry Studies and professor of Old Testament Studies at Grace College and Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana, about how we can help our students confront the sins we like to tolerate. Tiberius has been a regular breakout session speaker at Momentum Youth Conference on this topic.

Much of what Tiberius talks about is from the book Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges.

What are respectable sins and is there a list?

In college, Tiberius read the book Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges and saw how the Holy Spirit convicts of sin. Sin is any lack of conformity to the moral character of God. Sometimes we think sin is what we do, but sometimes sin is what we don’t do. Bridges talks about the fact that sin is what we like to tolerate. We like to talk about sins of abortion, homosexulaity, and murder. But slander and gossip are sins. The Bible says that the wages of sin is death. First we need to identify sin. John 16:8, when the Holy Spirit comes He will convict the world of sin. John writes, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” Of course we have to turn and repent from our sin. Bridges states in his book that we don’t mention the word ‘sin’ so we don’t offend someone. It’s important that we identify our sin and deal with it.

Why is it so easy for us to justify our sins?

After Adam and Eve sinned the first thing they did was try to hide. Hiding is the first consequence, then they pointed fingers at each other. Hiding and failure to accept  responsibility is one of the first consequences. The reason we justify our sin or blame our parents is because it’s a direct consequence of sin. The Word of God and the Spirit convict us of sin. The purpose isn’t to make us miserable, but sometimes we need to feel miserable to be convicted.
The sin of pride is what Tiberius deals with the most. It’s a fight he is always in. Jesus shows the extreme of one who is proud and one who is humble. The Bible condemns pride as evil. In 1 Samuel 15:23, Samuel confronts Saul saying that pride is just as bad as idolatry. One of the key characteristics of Satan is pride.
In the book Humility by Andrew Murray, Murray gives ways to identify pride. If you see yourself as too good to perform certain tasks or if you fail to ask for help, that’s pride. If you’re consistently critical, that’s also pride. Do what the Bible says: repent, confess, and turn from sin. The Christian life is a battlefield.

What can we do to identify sins we’re overlooking?

Listen to people we love and respect. In the book Humility, the author says to ask the world and to ask your spouse. But only ask your spouse if you want to hear the truth. God gave people in your life wisdom and they see things we don’t see. If you’re a teacher, ask your students. It’s humbling, in Tiberius’ case, because students are honest in their evaluations. It’s important to ask people you love and respect. Read the word of God.

What’s really the big deal? Doesn’t everybody do them?

Lack of self control is another sin we love to tolerate. It’s no big deal if I eat or drink too much. You might think it only affects yourself. But it affects your family and your pocketbook. You may think, “What’s the big deal if I spend too much money?”  Actually, it’s not your money, it’s God’s money. If you use money on frivolous things, it will affect your family. All these sins we tolerate affect our relationship with God.
Teenagers may ask what it hurts to spend the whole day watching movies or playing video games. The Bible talks about slothfulness. The wise person is industrious. All these things that we say don’t affect us, do affect us.
Another example is anger that’s all around us. Even in the church. You might say it’s righteous anger. Jesus had righteous anger, but most of our anger is pretty selfish. Bridges says there’s no such thing as having righteous anger. We get anger when we don’t get our way. When someone mistreats us. We get angry in response to someone else’s anger. Oftentimes, we lose our testimony when we respond in anger.
Bridges goes on to say that it’s not okay to be angry at God. “In my judgment that is sheer blasphemy,” says Bridges. “Anger accuses God of wrong-doing or in some way treating us unfairly.” When Tiberius brings this up to his students, he gets the greatest pushback. Tiberius feels our response should be, “God, I know that you love me and that your ways are beyond my understanding. Help me, by the power of your Holy Spirit, to not be angry at you.”

Are there different levels of sin?

Technically speaking, the Bible says that some sins are worse than others. When it comes to sin, all sin leads to death. But the truth is that 1 Corinthians says that the sin done in the flesh is different. Adultery has a different consequence than gossip. Both lead to death, but adultery will lead to death sooner. The sin of alcoholism can lead to death sooner than other sins. But they are all sin. If we think about sin as stinking in the nostrils of God or what sent Jesus to the cross, then we’ll think about sin differently. It’s a ripple effect. It’s a cancer that if not removed, will do damage. Martin Luther says we should not see how close we can get to the edge, but how far we can get away from sin.
When Tiberius was learning how to share the gospel he learned discipleship evangelism. All of us fall short. It doesn’t matter how far you can jump over the Grand Canyon, you’ll still fall short. When we accept Christ, we have the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit starts the life-long process of sanctification. It’s a constant battle, but God gives us the strength.

What are steps people can take to walk through repentance?

The first thing is to identify the sin. The Holy Spirit will show the sin through the Bible or advice from others. A woman from Tiberius’ church came to him and said she noticed bitterness in his life. She explained that he had a quick answer to what everyone had to say. In the days after that the Holy Spirit spoke to Tiberius and he realized that it was true. He confessed and repented. Tiberius is very grateful for godly people in his life. Be in the Word and spend time with godly people who love and want what’s best for you.
Walk with the wise. The people you associate with are very important.
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Read good books besides the Bible. The Pursuit of Holiness, Humility, The Practice of Godliness, Sacred Pathways, Respectable Sins, are all good books to read.

What do we do if we have a friend who doesn’t see the big deal?

The toughest challenge is to speak the truth in love. If you see them living in a particular sin, it’s not loving to let people sin. You don’t have to quote Romans 3:23 to them. Sometimes family members don’t want to hear your knowledge of scripture. You can still speak the truth of scripture into their lives. Sometimes you can tell them a story from your own life. One thing you don’t want to do is sound judgmental. Keep loving them and speak the truth in love. Remember that you’re not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts. Our job is to be a witness not a lawyer.