The Deceitfulness of Sin
Recognizing the hidden sins of our heart.
“Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13)
I was recently reading John Newton’s letter “Blemishes in Christian Character.” In this letter, Newton focuses on the hidden sins of the human heart; the sins that we simply tend to overlook or tolerate in ourselves, but which are there nevertheless.
Newton believed that Christians were largely successful at avoiding the more obvious and overt sins (like murder, adultery, stealing, etc.), but it was these more subtle sins within the heart that tend to linger in us and cause us to sin against others. These are the sins which don’t seem like a big deal to us, but which often cause others a great deal of pain.
Newton’s letter sheds light on a profound teaching in Scripture concerning sin, which is that sin is, by nature, “deceitful.” That is, the knowledge of sin simply often eludes us. While we may spend a great deal of time in reflection, there are times when we cannot see our sins clearly for ourselves. But if that is true, how can we learn to detect these subtle sins?
One of the great lessons that Newton teaches in his letter is that our hidden sins are often found in the shadow of the things we most celebrate about ourselves. Think of yourself to be a good leader? You may also be an arrogant-micromanager who must always have their own way. See yourself as a more gentle and relational person? You could actually be a codependent who needs the approval of others in order to feel like you have worth. Believe yourself to be a passionate, entrepreneurial-type? You might actually be a very impulsive person who doesn’t really consider the advice or wisdom of others.
In other words, our most fatal flaws often are tucked-away within the things we pride ourselves on the most. Newton says that if we are to discover where our deepest sins actually come from, then we must humble ourselves enough in order to recognize our blindspots. But how can we begin this process?
The biblical answer, in short, is that we need an intimate community around us in order to help us really see our blemishes. That’s why the other part of the Hebrews 3:13 passage above commands Christians to “exhort one another every day… that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
Because sin is deceitful, we need others to help us see where it has taken root in our lives. It is only when we have others speaking directly, knowingly, and constructively, into our lives that we are able to really see the deceitfulness of sin.
So how can you begin to detect the hidden sins in your heart today? First, reflect on the things you take pride in and ask yourself if there are ways that those things lead you to hurt others. But then, secondly, ask yourself if you have any sort of Hebrews 3:13 community around you. Are there people in your life whom you let speak directly into your heart? If you are to guard your heart from becoming hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, this kind of intimate community is absolutely crucial. You cannot go at it alone.
Adam Smith is a Ministry Resident with Ministry to State in Washington, D.C.