Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges

Book review
Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges

The title of Jerry Bridge’s new book – Respectable Sins — pops with sarcasm. While confronting many obvious and blatant sins in culture – abortion, corporate corruption, homosexuality, bullying and physical abuse – the Church frequently misses the sins running rampant within its walls.

“The motivation for this book stems from a growing conviction that those of us whom I call conservative evangelicals may have become so preoccupied with some of the major sins of society around us that we have lost sight of the need to deal with our own more ‘refined’ or subtle sins” (p. 9).

Later in Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate (NavPress: 2007) Bridges makes this shocking statement: “In our human values of civil laws, we draw a huge distinction between an otherwise ‘law-abiding citizen’ who gets an occasional traffic ticket and a person who lives a ‘lawless’ life in contempt and utter disregard for all laws. But the Bible does not seem to make that distinction. Rather, it simply says sin – that is, all sin without distinction – is lawlessness” (p. 20).

Bridges begins the book with an excellent chapter on defining sainthood in light of the messed-up Corinthians being considered “saints” (see 2 Cor. 1:1). We are called to live as the “saints” we have been declared in Christ. The second chapter — “The Disappearance of Sin” — paints a strong argument that the Church is having a hard time defining and seeing her own sins. The third chapter – “The Malignancy of Sin” – sets out to reveal that sin is not merely what we do but who we are. Our sinful actions spring from our sinful heart. Sin is a “principle or moral force in our heart, our inner being” (p. 24). Bridges then gets into the Gospel as our hope. We can face and overcome sin because of the Cross and the powerful working of the Holy Spirit.

Bridges has dressed the reader for warfare.

The “Respectable Sins”

So what sins are “respectable sins”? Bridges’ chapters include the following topics:

  • general ungodliness defined as a sinful attitude towards God
  • anxieties and frustrations
  • discontentment
  • unthankfulness
  • pridefulness revealed specifically in self-righteousness, even in a pursuit of theological accuracy, in prideful motives behind our achievements and revealed in a spirit of independence
  • selfishness with our interests, time, money and inconsiderableness
  • lack of self-control in eating, drinking and temperament, finances, entertainment and shopping
  • impatience and irritability
  • anger, even anger towards God, and the underlying roots of anger in resentment, bitterness, enmity, hostility and holding grudges
  • judgmentalism and a critical spirit over differing convictions and doctrinal disagreements
  • envy, jealousy, competitiveness and being controlling
  • the sins of the tongue like gossip, slander, lying, harsh words, sarcasm, insults and ridicule
  • worldliness shown financially, by our idolatry and in “vicarious immorality,” that is, the enjoyment of watching or reading the sinfulness of others.

And Bridges says his list was whittled down for print!

Conclusion

Bridges’ new work fills an important gap. There are excellent theoretical and architectural works to help church leaders conceive the mission of pastoral ministry and fellowship groups (Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul David Tripp is one great one). But Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate (NavPress: 2007) may be the best yet in giving churches an easy-to-read book that has great potential in small group settings as believers help one another identify — and then mortify — the “respectable” sins of the heart. And only one who has proven himself faithful to the message of the Cross, like Bridges, is suited to lead us deep into the caves and caverns where sin lives in our hearts. A useful and excellent book worthy of consideration in the 2007 TSS Book of the Year contest.

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Title: Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate
Author: Jerry Bridges
Reading level: 1.75/5.0 > easy
Boards: hardcover, embossed
Pages: 187
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: yes
Binding: glue
Paper: white and clean
Topical index: no (unnecessary)
Scriptural index: no (would have been very useful)
Text: perfect type
Publisher: NavPress
Year: 2007
Price USD: $18.99 retail; $13.99 MonergismBooks
ISBNs: 9781600061400, 1600061400

23 thoughts on “Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges

  1. does Bridges deal with the mortification of the sin, or simply in identifying these “respectable” sins? just curious.

  2. “Sin is not merely what we do but who we are. Our sinful actions spring from our sinful heart. Sin is a ‘principle or moral force in our heart, our inner being’ (p. 24).”

    I really appreciate Bridges emphasis on holiness. He is a breath of fresh air! Nevertheless, I take serious issue with this quote. Romans 6:6 states, “knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.” In other words, the old man is dead. We really are a “new creation” and a “new man.” Now, let me quickly say that the Perfectionist have done a terrible injustice to the church with their teaching. They are utterly false. On the other hand, stating that a true Christian has a “sinful heart” directly contradicts the promise concerning the New Covenant (for instance, see Ezekiel 36:26). Our heart, as a Christian is “created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” Nevertheless, our contention lies with “the body of sin.” Sin hijacks the flesh, and therein lies our battle.

    Blessings,
    Mason

  3. Thanks Mason, you bring up a good discussion. The point Bridges is getting at is simply this: Sin is not merely the actions (like lying or yelling in anger) but sin is a principle or law within us that causes the outward manifestations of sin (Rom. 7). From this perspective, sin is woven into the fabric of who we are, sin dwells within us. For example, all our sinful speech comes from sin in the heart. Here is a previous post for more information. The specifics of the Romans 6/Romans 7 debate is beyond my learning. Blessings! Tony

  4. I would say in the context the “new creation” relates to the fact that we no longer live for ourselves, but the glory of God (v. 15) and regarding our reconciliation to God by justification (vv. 18ff). Our relationship to God and worldview have radically changed I think is the contextual emphasis of “new man”. Tony

  5. Tony – I agree. Justification is definitely an aspect of the new creation. And, as you pointed out, we “no longer live for ourselves, but the glory of God” – this also must be tied in with being a new creation. The context of the statement in v15 seems connected to regeneration. For instance, Paul states in 14 that “one died for all, therefore all died.” This is the exact language Paul uses in Romans 6 to show why a Christian will not continue in sin.

    What are your thoughts on Ezekiel 36:26? What does it mean that the Christian has had their “heart of stone” removed? What does it mean that we have a “new heart” which is a “heart of flesh”? Is there anything at the core of the Christian, ontologically speaking, that is different now that he/she is a Christian?

  6. I’m afraid a discussion on Rom. 6 vs. Rom. 7 and the ontological changes from regeneration are discussions I don’t have time to research at this time. The point is that our personal sin originates from within us, the active “law” of sin remains and Scripture makes this clear. Thanks for the comments, Mason! Tony

  7. Thanks for the review. He’s a personal favorite of mine. I’ve heard him speak several times and for such a little man, he packs a powerful punch.

  8. Tony,
    I was just checking out your blog. Sorry my comment is coming late. I was reading your comments back and forth with Mason and have to say I agree with Mason. I know you said you don’t have time to discuss Rom.6 vs. Rom. 7 but I think your comment that “…the active ‘law’ of sin remains and Scripture makes this clear” couldn’t be further from the truth. Actually Rom.8:2 says, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ from the law of sin and death.” There are so many clear promises in the Old Testament about what Christ would do in the future when He came. Likewise, there are so many clear statements in the New Testament that speak to what He has accomplished through the cross for us now. The doctrine of indwelling or remaining sin really does empty the cross of its power.
    Aaron

  9. Would that this be true, Aaron!

    The Bible tells us sin latches on us like a leach [Heb. 12:1 — “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us”] and there is tension between the flesh and the Spirit even to prevent the good intention we set out with [Gal. 5:17 — “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”].

    This great tension concludes the 7th chapter of Romans. Notice this is in the context of deliverance: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”

    It is true in all sin that it originates within us. All gossip, half-truths, anger, discontent, love of comforts, etc. all originate from within our hearts. James makes this case (1:13-14) and Jesus, too (Matthew 15:17-20). We cannot say that we are sinless because “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8). This sin arises from within us.

    Indwelling sin is no fiction. It’s God’s grace that our eyes can be opened to the waging war and be dressed for the battle because this is a war the spiritually blind never see nor feel in their soul. Praise God that the Cross has purchased all our sanctification so we battle in His strength and now we can obey the command: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions” (Rom. 6:12).

    Blessings, Aaron! Tony

  10. Tony,

    The “therefore” in the last verse you quoted (Rom. 6:12) is inseparably linked to preceding context which teaches the ontological change effected upon conversion. For the Christian, whether the sin originates from the flesh or from the heart is a major issue. Our thoughts on this will shape our thoughts on sanctification. The promise of the New Covenant is that God will give “a new heart”.

    On another note, for a excellent defense that the man in Romans 7 is not Paul at the time of writing, see Robert Reymond’s appendix in his systematic theology.

    Blessings,
    Mason

  11. Tony,

    Thanks for your thoughts – I would point out that the context of Matthew 15 is unregenerate religious leaders.

    What is Paul arguing for in Romans 5:20-6:2? If no part of salvation includes an ontological change of the heart, how would Paul’s logic follow throughout Romans 6?

  12. Certainly there is great ontological change in regeneration. Indwelling sin remains, though, which explains why our ontological self needs continued renewal (2 Cor. 4:16).

  13. The context is key to understand 2 Cor. 4:16.

    In 4:4, Paul sets forth how God-haters (4)become God-lovers (6) – God shines the light of Christ into their *hearts* and converts them. This is clearly regeneration imagery. The result: we have this *treasure* in earthen vessels. What is this treasure? The very life of Christ. Scripture sometimes call it a new heart, union with Christ, dying and being raised with Christ, etc. Nevertheless, at the deepest level, we have been ontologically united to Christ. The essential source of our life is “holiness” and “righteousness” (Eph 4). This is our treasure in earthen vessels.

    In Judges 7:16-22, Gideon and his 300 men held pitchers containing lit torches. When the pitchers were shattered the light was released. This is an illustration Paul’s argument in 2 Cor 4:7b, which is developed throughout of the rest of the chapter. These outward persecutions and trials are releasing this treasure, namely, the very life of Christ flowing from a new heart. “For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” Notice, the issue here is the manifestation of Christ in our mortal flesh (see Rom 6:6!) The treasure is already there. Nevertheless, the manifestation of this treasure is veiled by the mortal flesh. And this is why we don’t lose heart with persecutions, pressures, and hardships. Outwardly, physically speaking, we are wasting away. Inwardly, we are being conformed to the image of Christ. The more the treasure is released, the more we look and live like Jesus. We are becoming more conformed to the constant Source of our life – the resident Treasure. This passage does not follow if the Christian’s heart is sinful. The context has nothing to do with having a sinful heart. I believe the opposite is in view.

    What about the promise of Ezekiel 36:26? How can we still be an “old man” when (in the clearest, longest passage on the issue) in Romans 6:6 Paul states the old man is already dead? Note – Paul argues that the old man was killed in order that “the body of sin” might be rendered powerless. In other words, our contention is not with the old man (who was crucified), our contention is with “the body of sin”.

    Thanks for the interaction. It’s helpful to rethink through some of these passages.

    Mason

  14. I find this discussion very interesting. I wrote a post a while back talking about Hebrews 10 in relation to this topic that I thought you might find interesting. Not long ago I would have agreed with you Tony wholeheartedly, but the fruit of this doctrine of indwelling sin was not godly at all. I hope you don’t label all who may disagree with you on this through their understanding of Scripture as ‘spiritually blind’. Love to hear your comments on my post if you get a chance to read it. God Bless.

  15. Having a consciousness of personal sin is Old Covenant legalism? Look at Hebrews 3:12-15. We have a consciousness of sin and without this consciousness, we are oblivious to the hardening and deception of remaining sin. I find your post very dangerous here. We exhort one another daily against personal sin. … Also, the hint that preaching/teaching is now unnecessary in the NC is absurd in light of Romans 10. … It seems overall Julie that you lack an understanding between remaining sin and our justification — of being freed from all guilt before God through Christ and yet still struggling the hardening and deceiving effects of remaining sin that Hebrews so clearly warns of. There are many holes here Julie. I would encourage you to do more thinking.

    Patiently awaiting glorification … Tony

  16. Tony, I appreciate your concern. However, while I clearly do not understand all Scripture perfectly, I have spent much time studying and asking the Spirit to reveal the truth of his Word. And I have spent much time thinking, though I don’t think thinking is the answer to understanding God’s Word, hearing him clearly reveal truth through Scripture understood in context is. I’m not interested in coming up with a intellectually impressive or spiritual looking doctrine, so I don’t mind walking so-called dangerous ground as long as the ground is where God is calling me. Looking at Hebrews 3 is not concerning to me, as I don’t believe that I will never sin again as long as I live in a sinful world full of temptations and tempters, having a mind that remembers sinful pleasures that needs constant renewing. I would like to hear your understanding of what the ‘many wholes’ in my thinking. I would also like to hear your explanation of the Hebrews 10 passage talking about the old testament sacrifices as a reminder of sin as opposed to the sacrifice of Jesus. Our consciences have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus according to Hebrews and I’m not sure how you take that to mean that we should be always aware of our sinfulness. And being aware of sin in the way you are describing leads to a guilty conscience, and a sense of shame, not to mention depression, anger, jealousy, and falling away from the living God, all things I’ve experienced personally or watched happen in the lives of people I love.

  17. There are two fundamental errors in your thinking that need to be addressed, Julie.

    (1) You take very lightly the reality and power of indwelling sin. I asked for a response to Hebrews 3:12-15 which tells us that sin is so deceptive and it works to harden us and that we ourselves cannot see the depth of sin in our own lives and need the discernment and exhortations of loving friends. This is for believers in the New Covenant.

    (2) All guilt for sin has been washed away by the blood of Christ. If a Christian feels guilt for sin, this if not from God. Christ, on the Cross has taken away all our guilt and all the wrath deserved for our sin. This is why contending for a proper understanding of justification by faith alone in Christ alone is central to the Christian life. Being aware of personal sin only brings guilt to those who misunderstand the nature of the gospel. For those who do understand the gospel, there is hope, freedom, power, grace and joy in the midst of the war against the flesh.

    I think in seeking to have a clean conscience you have become unaware of personal sin and according to Heb. 3 you are endangering your own soul. And by not looking honestly at your own sin — to avoid guilt — shows a lacking understanding of the Cross. Both 1 + 2 must be held together and that is why I highly recommend Jerry Bridge’s, Respectable Sins. He understands this. Read it, Julie, for the sake of your soul.

    Tony

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