I recently began reading a book that someone recommended to me once. The author is not a Lutheran, nor does he use Lutheran terms or categories, but the content is very Lutheran in many ways. His basic idea is that many in evangelical Christianity have developed a tendency to focus on all the obvious sins, most of which they themselves are not committing. Sin has become something that only non-Christians commit. So Bridges discusses our “respectable sins”, sins that Christians tend to tolerate in themselves, and don’t often consider to be utterly sinful. For example, pride, self-pity, anger, impatience, and irritability are often seen as flaws, but not as sins against God.
Bridges, though not a Lutheran, has a very Lutheran view of sanctification. The guilt of sin has been completely removed by the Gospel. But the remnants of sin remain in the Christian heart and flesh. We do grow in holiness, but it is not complete in this life. “We will never reach perfection in this life, but we will see progress.” Bridges may at times betray a limited view of the atonement (Christ died for believers), but he does say, “God does not forgive because He wants to be lenient with us. He forgives because his justice as been satisfied.” Nice!
An important point that Bridges makes is that “we can face our ‘respectable’ sins only when we know they are forgiven.” Trying to overcome sin and temptation becomes “drudgery” when we seek to do this by focusing on the Law only. But the Christian who begins with the conviction that he his sins are forgiven, that he is a redeemed child of God, has a better chance of success in overcoming both so-called respectable sins and the more obvious sins.
“Duty without desire soon turns to drudgery…It is the Gospel that puts desire into our duty. It is the gospel that stokes the fire of our motivation to deal with our respectable and subtle sins. It is the gospel that motivates us to seek to be in our daily experience what we are in our standing before God.”
I appreciate what I have read so far. One of the things that has become apparent to me throughout my years in the Ministry is that by and large people in the congregation know they are sinners, but they have a hard time identifying their sins. We all do to some extent. Bridges book, I think, will be a useful tool as I preach (both to myself and to my hearers) and as I deal with people on an individual basis because it will help me better to identify and recognize sin as sin. This will ultimately serve the Gospel, for when we see our sins as truly sinful in the eyes of God, especially the sins that we tend to tolerate within ourselves, then we will God-willing hunger and thirst for the free forgiveness that is in Christ.