By: Junina and Rachel Atmadja
The seriousness of sin has become a rare concept in this present time. In a culture that has all but eliminated the word sin from its vocabulary; Christians are also losing sensitivity to sin. A Christian who is sensitive to sin recognizes sin for what it is: missing God’s standard of holiness. There are no such things as small sins and large sins because in God’s eyes sin is sin. This article will explore the symptoms of being desensitized to sin. It is our hope that by recognizing these signs we will be better equipped to guard our hearts and remain sensitive to sin. We will first touch on the connection between having sensitivity to sin and having the desire to pursue Godly holiness. We will then delve into the inward and outward symptoms of losing sensitivity to sin.
We must have the desire to pursue God’s holiness before we can regain sensitivity to sin. We were created to be loved by God and to love Him in return. He created us not to live apart from His love but to be partakers of His Holiness (Romans 5:8, 1 John 4: 13-21). God calls us to live a life of holiness (1 Thes. 4: 7-8); and only God can restore our desire to be holy. We can not rely on our strength to pursue holiness; we must pray for the Holy Spirit to instill in us the desire and strength to live up to God’s standard of holiness.
To pursue holiness is to live a life of constant repentance from sin. One can not repent from sin unless one takes sin seriously. In Ephesians 4, Paul outlines four characteristics of the Gentiles (non-believer) that have hardened their hearts towards God. The hardness of heart that Paul spoke of refers to a non-believer’s inability to recognize the truth that is in Christ. Although Paul was speaking primarily of non-believers; Christians should not delude themselves into thinking that only unbelievers can develop a “hardness of heart” towards the truth that is in Christ.
By examining the characteristics of people who are outside of Christ; we can reflect on whether we display milder symptoms of these thought patterns in our lives. The descriptions of these four characteristics are summarized from John MacArthur’s Bible commentary of Ephesians 4.
Thought Pattern: Futility of Mind
Persons with futile minds are unable to reach a Godly understanding of what is morally right and wrong because God is not their moral compass.
“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (ESV, 1 Cor. 2: 14)
Self Reflection: Do I look to God as my moral standard? Or do I rely on my own understanding of what is right and wrong?
Although I call myself a Christian, am I ashamed of the gospel? Do I truly believe that the gospel is “God’s power for the salvation of everyone who believes (Rom 1: 16)?”
Thought Pattern: Alienated from the life of God
Persons alienated from the life of God live in willing ignorance of God that leads to spiritual blindness.
“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (ESV, Romans 1: 21)
Self Reflection: Do I suppress my knowledge of God’s standard of sin? Do I keep myself ignorant of God’s Word as an excuse to keep sinning? Do I despise the goodness of God that leads me to repentance by rejecting His offer of forgiveness?
Thought Pattern: Being past feeling
Persons who are past feeling become morally insensitive. They become more and more indifferent regarding spiritual and moral matters.
“Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” (ESV, Romans 1: 32)
Self Reflection: Do I take God’s forgiveness lightly? Do I suppress my guilt after committing a sin by rationalizing that everybody does it or that no one is perfect? Am I indifferent towards moral and spiritual matters?
Thought Pattern: Behaviorally Depraved
Behaviorally depraved persons progressively lose moral restraint, especially in the area of sexual sins, impurity, and greed.
“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.” (ESV, Romans 1: 28)
Self Reflection: Do I approve of those who practice sexual immorality, impurity, and greed? Do I sense the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit when I am about to commit sin? Am I becoming numb to the swearing and corrupt words spoken by friends or coworkers?
One’s mindset affects one’s outward behavior. So far we have examined the inward symptoms of desensitization to sin. Let us now examine the outward symptoms that Paul sees in persons who do not acknowledge the seriousness of their sins:
Outward Signs: Idolatrous (5:5)
To practice idolatry is to give one’s allegiance to anything or anyone other than God. Many times we do not realize how serious it is to have divided loyalties; it is equivalent of placing someone or something on an equal level with God
Self Reflection: Does God have my undivided allegiance? If not, whom or what am I most loyal to and why? Easter
Outward Signs: Covetous (5:3)
To be covetous is to be jealous of others’ possessions. Essentially a covetous person is not content with what he has and his behavior tells God that God’s blessings were not enough for him.
Self Reflection: Am I content with what God has given me? Or do I compare my blessings to others’ blessings? Do I believe that God knows what is best for me?
Outward Signs: Bitter (4:31-32)
Bitterness is the primary characteristic of a person who has not been born again as a new creation in Christ. (Rom 3: 10-14). It is often the beginning of wrath, anger, and clamor, slander, and malice. John MacArthur describes bitterness as a “smoldering resentment.” MacArthur then goes on to define wrath as having to do with rage (the passion of the moment), and clamor as the cry of strife out of control.
Self Reflection: Do I wish ill on the people who have treated me poorly or unjustly? Do I look to circumstances and other people in order to assign blame for the situation that I am in? Do I feel entitled to receive something from others to the point that I become angry if others do not give me what I “deserve”?
Outward Signs: Angry (4:26-27)
Although there are righteous anger that Christians should have towards things like sin; allowing anger to be prolonged may degenerate into bitterness and lead to other sins.
Self Reflection: Do I hold on to feelings of anger to the point of holding a grudge? What can I do to let go of the anger?
Outward Signs: Speech (4:29)
Corrupt speeches are words that tear down rather than edify the Body of Christ.
Taking God’s name in vain is considered corrupt speech as His Name is holy. Paul gave several examples; such as crude joking, lewdness, and slander (speaking falsely of others).
Self Reflection: Do I tear down or build others up with my words? Am I numb to the serious sin of taking God’s name in vain?
Essentially, to sin is to grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph 4: 30). We grieve the Holy Spirit when we do not repent from the old life and refuse to put on the new life. Being sensitive to the seriousness of sin is connected to one’s desire to pursue and maintain God’s holy standard above one’s own standard. To take sin lightly is an alarming indication of a greater spiritual problem of not taking God’s Holiness seriously. If one makes light of sin, then the forgiveness of God is also taken lightly. To truly repent is to have a deep sorrow over one’s sins. However, many Christians often ask God for forgiveness out of fear of punishment rather than deep sorrow over our sins. Paul exhorted the Ephesians to be “kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving (Eph. 4: 32).” These characteristics stem from valuing the forgiveness of God. Understanding the depth and magnitude of the forgiveness of God comes from understanding just how serious our sins were and what it costs the Son of God to obtain our righteousness before God.