By Paul Tripp
I was a very angry man in the midst of destroying my life, marriage, and ministry.
But I didn’t know it.
It took my wife’s questions and the Lord’s work to bring me to humility and brokenness, to the necessary pain of grace. I now see I was denying a significant reality we in ministry must keep in front of us: the presence and power of remaining sin.
We are justified by God’s grace and forgiven. We have this instant grace of God. However, we are still in process. We’re being sanctified, for the presence of sin remains even as it is progressively eradicated.
Ministry training can make us think our giftedness and biblical literary means spiritual maturity, yet a seminary degree does not equal a spiritual maturity degree. We can have knowledge and still be immature. There’s not a day of our lives when we don’t lay down empirical evidence of remaining sin. None of us are grace graduates.
The author of Hebrews warns us about sin’s scary spiritual progression
“See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:12-13).
We used to be so sensitive. What we once knew can fade. Room opens up for more: the subtle patterns of sin. Anger, lust, materialism, greed. When we first came to Christ, we might not have let them into our lives. Now, they’ve become a pattern.
We’re faced with two responses: 1) admit our sin or 2) use our systems of self-justification that makes sin acceptable to our conscience. Everyone is a skilled self-swindler, activating internal lawyers to rise to our defense, arguing for our righteousness instead of running to the rescue of God’s grace. We’ve told ourselves we don’t need it.
We move from justifying our patterns of sin to unbelief. We back away from the clear indictment of the Word of God and conviction of the Holy Spirit. We make excuses. We decide that lust is appreciating God’s creation. Gossip becomes an extended prayer request. Our pastoral search for power and control is exercising God-given leadership.
We’ve moved from believing the truth of Scripture to believing what we tell ourselves.
- Turning Away
Clear acceptance of the Word of God used to be our anchor, but when the anchor is cut off, we go off to places we were not meant to be. We turn away and play games with conviction and with what the Word of God says so that it doesn’t indict us.
We’ve turned. Our hearts are hardened. The sin we once couldn’t have done, we now do, and it doesn’t plague us.
The author of Hebrews doesn’t just describe this progression but gives a call: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13).
Our sin first deceives us. We can see sin in others but are surprised when others point it out in us. The most significant aspect of spiritual blindness is that we’re blind to our own blindness.
Give up any thought that no one knows you better than you know yourself. It is impossible for you to know yourself as well as you think you do because sin blinds. Personal, spiritual insight is the result of community. Self-examination is a community project.
We need each other to see our sin. It is unsafe for anyone in ministry to live in isolation from the sanctifying ministries of the body of Christ.
Pastors are not an exception. Nowhere in the New Testament is a pastor not a member of the body of Christ. If Christ is the head, then everything else is just the body.
To help me remember I am a part of this body, I say three prayers before my feet even touch the floor each morning:
- God, I’m a person in desperate need of help today.
- I pray, that in your grace, you would send your helpers my way.
- Please, grant me the humility to receive the help that comes.
We must commit to a church culture of helping each other by having the humility of approachability and the courage of loving honesty. Our belief in the restorative cross of Christ allows us to be the most honest community because every exposed sin has been fully dealt with by Christ’s cross.
We’re too easily satisfied with self-justifying our sin. Thankfully, we serve a dissatisfied Redeemer who will not relent in the work of his grace until every microbe of sin has been removed from every child of His.
Adapted from Pipeline 2016: Developing Your Leadership Pipeline. To learn more about how to lead in discipleship, check out our free Ministry Grid courses Introduction to Leadership Pipeline and Leadership Pipeline Competency Overview.