September 21, 2015

Private Sin, Public Fallout

by Clint Archer

atomicWhen an explosion occurred on April 26, 1986 at the Ukrainian Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, the first reaction of Soviet authorities seemed to indicate more concern with avoiding the spread of anxiety than the spread of radiation.

The Minister of Internal Affairs gave a telephonic report of current affairs in the Ukraine to his superior, and only at the end of the conversation casually mentioned an explosion at the plant. When he was asked how the people in the nearby town were doing, he replied “some are celebrating a wedding, others are gardening, and others are fishing in the Pripyat River.” A few hours later, however, the denizens of Pripyat experienced widespread symptoms of radiation poisoning, including uncontrollable coughing fits, vomiting, and headaches.

The aphorism “what someone doesn’t know can’t hurt them” has been debunked so many times and in so many ways that it is stupefying to me that people still use it.

An inescapable characteristic of the sin of believers is that it always affects other people. Since all believers are part of a community—the Body—even the most personal of sins always spawns devastating public fallout.

Eph 4:4-5 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism…

When you settle into unrepentant sin, it affects us all. How?

First, your sin has a corroding effect on your godliness, it is a drain on your Spirit filled-ness, and has a searing effect on your conscience. So, unrepentant sin (even hidden sin) renders you useless for spiritual work. This becomes the problem of the Body of Christ and it is the local church your insidious impotence affects most immediately.handgrenade luggage

Kent Hughes:

How do these sins affect other believers? So called hidden sins lead to a deterioration of character reducing the ring of truth and the reality of what we do and say. …God does not bless the life in which there is hidden sin.”

Second, the presence of sin, when it is discovered tarnishes the reputation of Christ and the local church in the community. And, contrary to the self-deceiving opiate of reassurance with which the culprit soothes himself, sin almost always leaks out of the most committed efforts for containment. Just ask Achan (Josh 7). Or Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). And about 39 million AshleyMadison(dot)com clients.

Third, the presence of the sin, if known and tolerated in the body, leads others to sin. In congregations where loving, restorative church discipline is not employed to excise the cancer of sin, that leniency activates metastasis, where sin spreads to others in the church.

Paul rebuked the Corinthians for mollycoddling sexual sin in their midst.

fox caught1 Cor 5:1-7 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. … you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.

Leaven, as every baker and Bible student knows, is a microscopic ingredient that only requires a tiny pinch to spread and multiply and permeate a whole huge lump of dough. Likewise, one sin that is fertilized by apathy and thus allowed to thrive in a church will inevitably contaminate the whole body eventually. Healthy members will end up withdrawing from the church, leaving it with no one but those indulgent of the pollution.

So, if there is one nugget you take or tweet from this meditation, it ought to be a charge from the inimitable Puritan, Richard Baxter:

Treat sin as it will treat you; spare it not for it will not spare you; it is your murderer, and the murderer of the world; treat it therefore as a murderer should be treated. Kill it before it kills you.”


Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.