November 29, 2020

Sundays with Michael Spencer: June 28, 2015

A Pair of Leather Clogs, van Gogh

A Pair of Leather Clogs, van Gogh

Paul made a lot of sin lists. You know, lists of sins.

If you’re a preacher or teacher, you’ve probably used Paul’s sin lists a few times as the raw material for a talk or sermon. You’ve walked through the list, one sin at a time and said a little something about each one. It may not have been the most interesting talk you ever did, but it took up some time and sin is always relevant, right?

Those lists can be pretty spectacular.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:28-32)

Comprehensive, that’s for sure.

But if the apostle were writing an epistle for the Christians like me and those I know, it would be good to get to some specifics that are really aren’t going to make the papers for sensational sins. No, the sins we need to be confronted about in my life and community are the sins that Christians have incorporated into their normal lives with unremorseful regularity. They won’t get you in jail. In fact, you can be up to your ears in these sins while you are doing all kinds of church work and professional ministry.

These are the sins we have quietly voted to accept. They’re OK. They have an exemption. They are either compatible with some version of what we think it means to be a Christian, or they are just so essential to the way we’ve decided to operate that we can’t really see them as wrong.

So I’m not an apostle, and I’m not the author of anything close to scripture. But I am a sinner, and I know my sins well enough to recognize them in Christian community, ministries and relationships.

1. Not keeping promises. Also known as a lack of integrity. You say you’ll do something. You promise to show up and do it, but you don’t. You find ways to avoid doing what you promised to do and you eventually find a way to quit. That usually needs a little God-talk to make it go down easier.

What about the promises you made your spouse? Are you keeping them? Your congregation? Your children? What about simple promises made in commerce or employment? In business and friendships? What about promises of service, generosity, support or leadership?

2. Lying. All shapes. All sizes. All kinds. All the time. Christians are exaggerators, prevaricators and simple liars. They lie and they excuse lying. They fault others for not believing the truth and they readily lie as quickly as anyone I’ve ever seen. Because it’s so much a part of the kind of communication that’s acceptable in Christian leadership, its rarely called out from the pulpit.

Lying is self-protection. It is the opposite of faith. We do it naturally and easily, and we are often afraid to do without it. We need others to believe the little lies we live on, and when they do, all is well. When they don’t….we become terrified that we’re going to be accountable, and then some of those spectacular sins in Romans 1 appear far more possible.

3. A lack of integrity. I’ve written on this before. I came to the point as an adult Christian that I couldn’t stand to look at myself on this issue. My moral character had holes in it. I manipulated all sorts of things to keep myself self from conviction. I was about 30% of what I appeared to be. I was miserable in my own skin. I hated to look myself in the eyes.

I repented of this life and I went on a journey to reclaim integrity. It’s not been easy…..mainly because being a person of integrity puts you into conflict with a large section of the Christian community.

Who honestly cares if my church lies about its membership numbers? Who cares if the story I just told came from a Google search? Who cares if I claim to have read a book when actually my assistants read it? Who cares if I do what my job description says I do? Who cares if I actually make those pastoral visits? Who cares if I take home office supplies?

This list can go on and on and on.

4. Cruel speech about those with whom we differ. I’ve say at lunch tables with fellow Christians who suggested we put gays on an island and bomb it. I’ve heard every lie about Obama out there repeated (and forwarded) by Christian people. I’ve heard Democrats called dozens of cruel and ridiculing names.

I’ve heard all of this excused as “Well listen to what they say about us,” as if Jesus explicitly taught us to retaliate when treated unfairly.

And what is the record of this sin as directed toward other believers with whom we have some minor disagreement or conflict? What have we given ourselves permission to say and do?

5. No grace for ordinary failure. Why is it the Christian who will predictably enforce the smallest rule to the nth degree, with no thought of mercy? Why do people who love “Amazing Grace” act as if grace is the opposite of everything we believe in when it comes to dealing with people?

Why do so many of us use guilt and manipulation, and then call it “grace?” It’s not. Why do we believe that Jesus’ stories about servants who were forgiven but refused to forgive don’t apply to us?

Why will it be the Christian kid whose parents expect perfection from him? Why is it the Christian student whose life has been micromanaged to the point of being “cruel and unusual?”

• • •

Yes, it’s a short list. I need to say some other things about other sins, and especially talk to those of us who are leaders. These are common in my life, in many lives and in many Christian communities. They are boring, because they are everywhere.

They are the sins that erode holiness, poison obedience, dilute character, produce phoniness and weaken communty.

If you are a young Christian, consider this: If you can walk away from these sins, you’ll be markedly different from many other Christians, and those who have had typical experiences will know you are different.

Or even better, make up your own list that fits you and your character. Start close to home, and see if you have a list of “sins for exemption” that needs to be thrown away.


  1. You know… I have encountered in myself, and in others, examples of all of these. Must admit, being around fellow Christians can be crushing. And then of course internalize that and I become crushed in my own skin. Not fun.

    Definitely much to think and reflect on.

  2. Sadly, all five of these examples bring immediately to mind at least one distinct experience I’ve had (usually several) with a pastor or ministry leader over the span of a few years in the small town where I live….specific promises broken, been lied to and lied about, forced to take the blame for their failures of integrity, been given unflattering labels, was held to an unattainably high standard of behavior and constantly criticized when I didn’t meet it…I’m not saying that I myself don’t do any of these things (I do, far more times than I’m comfortable with), but wild horses cannot drag me back into church, and I’m not surprised at how no one listens anymore when church leaders try to talk about sin. I don’t know exactly when Michael Spencer wrote this, but it had to have been years ago, and my heart aches for the erosion of holiness and weakening of the community that’s happened to the church since then.

  3. “4. Cruel speech about those with whom we differ. I’ve say at lunch tables with fellow Christians who suggested we put gays on an island and bomb it. I’ve heard every lie about Obama out there repeated (and forwarded) by Christian people. I’ve heard Democrats called dozens of cruel and ridiculing names.”

    Or the vitriol spewed at John MacArthur, Al Mohler, Mark Dever, John Piper or C.J. Mahaney. The hatred expressed towards them by many people whom present as Christians is simply amazing.

    • Semi-fair point. But it’s really difficult to keep quiet when you’re a blog-site focused on the unhealthiness of religiosity and churchianity and then you see it in the likes of those folks, folks who have a large audience and seem to be preaching a gospel that’s not very Jesus-shaped.

    • Look at #4, Seneca, concerning “but look what they say about (our) folks.”

    • Clay Crouch says

      You know, senecagriggs, I’ve noticed you seldom, if ever, actually engage in a dialogue. This space works best as a conversation, not just lobbing one-liners. As to the list of men you cited as “objects of ridicule”, if you want to be their apologist, you’ll need to do some heavy lifting (and thinking) to make your case that they are and have been a benefit to the church at large. Hope you do.

    • I haven’t seen “cruel speech” about the guys you list (although I have have seen some cruel speech coming from them).
      But I have seen their harmful teachings and practices (including their failures of integrity) exposed.
      Is that what you mean?

  4. It seems like numbers 1-3 are all the same sin. In fact, #1 is described as #3. Cruel speech can also be described as judgmentalism (judge not, that ye be not judged…). And “no grace” is probably the most pernicious because it takes amazing hypocrisy or a totally blind eye to accomplish.

    Yup, I see them, and I see them in me…

    • “It seems like numbers 1-3 are all the same sin.”

      Perhaps they all fit into the category of Hypocrisy. I thank God I am not like those people.

    • Yeah, that’s kinda how I read it. #1 and #2 could probably fit under #3, which I kinda read as “Lack of trustworthiness.”

      Am I a person who can be trusted? Or am I so focused on me/myself/I that I do things that stretch the truth, drift way into the gray area, etc etc?

  5. As Michael suggested, we could all make our own list. It’s about our natural, default position. The ‘body of sin’. The false self. It’s not the particular sins per se. They’re easy to spot and point the finger at. It’s the insidious and hidden nature that naturally trends into a universe of callousness completely at odds with the ‘Christ in us, the hope of glory’ (sometimes called the True self). Whatever you call it, it’s the body of work, not the particular iteration. Thus it calls for a radical approach to the spirit of the world in us as opposed to simple behavior modification to remedy particular sins. In other words, it’s a life commitment.

  6. As I posted in a comment on FB recently, has a pastor ever been “disqualified” for “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, or envy?” I know we are not all pastors, but let’s just start there. Then we can ask the same of Deacons, Elders, and even members.

  7. Mourning Dove says

    Probably one of the best posts ever. Timely, challenging, a must share.

    Thank you.

  8. If you live on the West Coast, see if you can get your hands on Firestone Easy Jack. It’s a session IPA, with only 4.5% abv but with lots of hoppy citrus and nutty flavors. Stone also has a good session IPA that may be easier to find.

    As far as wine goes, summer is the season for dry rosé. Don’t laugh. Americans have finally learned that pink wines don’t have to be sweet and syrupy. White Zinfandel has finally gone out of style, and California wineries are making dry rosés in the French style. But I still prefer the French versions. Look for something out of the Cote du Provence region – they’re made out of mostly Grenache and they’re light and crisp, but have some structure to them. If you want something a little bolder, go with something from the Tavel region, which may have some Cinsault, Mourvedre, and Syrah in them, and they’ll be a little bolder and darker. Have it with some brie on the patio.

  9. Whoops, sorry. Meant to attach this to the previous post. But still. Alcohol works with every post.