Monday, November 2, 2009

Book Review: Respectable Sins

Respectable Sins cover

Respectable Sins
by Jerry Bridges

Hardback: 192 pages
Publisher: NavPress
First Released: 2007

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Back Cover Description:
What ever happened to sin?

Have Christians become so preoccupied with the major sins of our society that we have lost sight of our need to deal with our own more subtle sins? Jerry Bridges returns to his trademark theme of holiness and addresses a dozen clusters of specific "acceptable" sin that we tend to tolerate in ourselves--such as jealousy, anger, pride, unthankfulness, and judgmentalism. Jerry writes not from a height of spiritual accomplishment but from the trenches of his own battles with sin. In his admonitions, Jerry offers a message of hope in the profound mercy of the gospel and the transforming grace of God as the means to overcome our subtle sins.

Respectable Sins frequently referred to Scripture and pointed the reader to God for help. I appreciated that it stressed the seriousness of all sin ("small" and "large") and it pointed out that wrong attitudes are serious, too.

Since the sins listed on the back cover are all ones of attitude (jealousy, anger, pride, unthankfulness, judgmentalism), I assumed the point of the book was about attitudes--how the Bible teaches that we might get our behavior outwardly correct, but as long as our attitudes are wrong then our wrong behavior will keep slipping through despite our best efforts. Thus, we need to have changed attitudes in order to have permanently changed behaviors.

However, the author didn't clearly point this out and treated attitudes the same way as behavior--this is a wrong attitude that makes us act in these ways; don't act this way, but act this way; ask God for help. Most of each chapter was focused on how we act--behavior--rather than staying focused on the root of the problem (the heart/attitudes) and the solution (Christ). Some chapters were better with this than others.

I had problems with chapters 3-6. The author previously stated that those who have accepted Christ as their Savior are now saints and that God sees Jesus' righteousness when He looks at us. Great! But then he stressed multiple times that our identity is really still "a great sinner" and that we are constantly sinning and can do nothing without selfish motives.

Um. Christ's work means my identity is no longer SINNER even if I sin. Also, I'm not constantly sinning and I can do things with no selfish motives--and all the credit, praise, and glory for this goes to God. If this isn't happening, I have to wonder if the person is allowing God to work in their life.

The author also stated that our progress on changing can be very slow, so much so that it appears no progress is being made. This isn't how it has to be. Generally, the Holy Spirit convicts me of sin, I fall on my knees in sincere repentance, and I pray "Lord, I know this attitude is not pleasing to you, but I acknowledge my inability to change it. I surrender. Please take Lordship over this part of my heart. Give me your heart / an attitude pleasing to you about this situation." I'm delighted to find that my attitude has truly and lastingly changed within minutes to hours of saying this prayer. (Though sometimes I also have to add "help me to see this sin the way you do so that I can sincerely reject this attitude and want to change.") It's then easy and joyful to behave correctly--not to mention restful since I don't have the burden of making this impossible change on my own.

Which brings me to a statement the author made on page 49:

...while depending on the Holy Spirit, we must at the same time recognize our responsibility to diligently pursue all practical steps for dealing with our sins....Here the wisdom of some of the older writers will help us: "Work as if it all depends on you, and yet trust as if you did not work at all."

I agree that we play a role--sincere repentance and surrender, asking God to transform our attitudes, and not repeating actions we know are going to put us in the way of temptation. However, I don't agree that we should act as if anything depended on us. The whole point is that it doesn't. Besides, since when does God share the glory? If we can claim credit for getting ourselves part of the way to perfection, then we're stealing some of the credit and glory that belongs only to God.

Obviously, I have mixed feelings about this book. Parts were good, and I'm sure there are people who would find it convicting. However, I think that books like Because He Loves Me by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick, Believing God by Beth Moore, and Eyes Wide Open by Jud Wilhite do a much better job at explaining how to become free of these sins.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.


Read chapter one.

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