Apr 10 2012
The Myth of Private Sin

A friend of mine did smething really, really bad a couple years ago.  Real bad.  Not illegal bad, but...bad enough it's followed him, years later. It showed up on page two of a metro newspaper, a thousand miles away from where he did it.

I love this guy. He's fun, smart, and fairly new to Christian belief.  He's accepted responsibility for what he did, and he's had to live with it every day.  He told me the other day he was sorry even I was having to deal with it now. "I'm amazed how many people this has affected.  One stupid, wrong decision I made and it keeps affecting so many people.  My wife, my kids...it just keeps going."

And so it does.

We marveled at that, and, just stood there, quietly, just shaking our heads.  Amazing?  Yes.  But not really surprising.

The older I get, the more convinced I am there is no private sin.  They don't all wind up on page two, but the surface of the pond is never undisturbed by the pebble. The ripples move well beyond ourselves, and, in many cases they radiate through generations. 

Or, another recent example:  One day, you're a minister getting in a quick ego-stroking flirt, thinking you're in some kind of private soap opera...and soon, there are 300 people in a flourescent-lit room, on metal folding chairs, discussing what you did.  And they're cautioning each other not to judge you, and then they talk some more about what you did.

And then, some little kid, one you don't even know, has to hear some stranger talking in church about how the pastor-guy won't be back, he did something called "sexual misconduct."  

Yeah, your soap opera?  It wasn't private.

Sins on the computer aren't private.  Larry Ellison, from Oracle, said years ago: If you think he doesn't know what's on your hard drive, you're kidding yourself. Like the Huffington Post wrote recently: "Google knows you better than you know yourself." Don't kid yourself. 

But even if they didn't know, the sins in your head aren't private.  Mine affect my attitude.  They keep me from being concerned about other people.  They make me a jerk, in seemingly unrelated ways.  ("Why's Brant a jerk?"  "Probably something seemingly unrelated.")

There is no "private sin". Turns out few things have done more harm than the "do no harm" ethic.  The as-long-as-it-doesn't-hurt-anyone-else construction of morality is built atop the swamp of affluence. We afford this lie, because affluence loves not only privacy, but the fantasy of it. But like the 77's said, "The lust, the flesh, the eyes, and the pride of life -- drain the life right out of me."

And then, when the life is drained out of me... I'm not the person I'm supposed to be. I'm less creative. I'm less joyful. I have less social energy. My patience is gone. I care less about my neighbors. Let me make this clear: There is no sin that affects only you.

Private rebellion.  Public consequence.  And if it seems unfair that what my friend did was so horrible, but what you or I do in our minds is somehow not so horrible -- well, you agree with Jesus. There IS no difference.

The ripple metaphor works.  There's a better one, really, for what our "private" sins do to one another, but I don't want to gross you out with a picture of a fan being hit by organic material. I have higher standards than that. Plus, I googled for a full five minutes and couldn't find one.

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Comments (36) -

4/10/2012 9:43:45 AM
Jason Thompson United States
Jason Thompson
The mythbusters actually did a myth on what happens when such "organic matter" hits a fan.  The idiom works better in our imagination than in real life unless the organic material is soft.
4/10/2012 9:53:17 AM
bje United States
When my friends tell me, "I am not hurting anyone but myself," I tell them, this isn't true, because I love you and Christ loves you and when you hurt yourself, we hurt too.
4/10/2012 12:29:51 PM
rob United States
Great post. Thanks!
4/10/2012 12:48:50 PM
sapere.aude.42 United States
Could you also say that there is no private love?
In the view of free will, we have the ability to help or hurt people; to tear down or build up.  Would it then follow that no act of love, no matter how "hidden," will have no affect?
(not that we need any more of a reason to love people)
4/10/2012 1:07:28 PM
Diane Smith United States
Diane Smith
I set the pic of the water bouncing as my wall paper to remind me daily to check myself and my actions, thoughts, words, etc. Thank you for such a great article! D~
4/10/2012 1:10:43 PM
Melissa United States
Thank you for posting this.  I've had this discussion so many times.  We are responsible for the energy in the world and the way we act and the way we treat people makes a difference. Somewhere along the line, it's been forgotten.
4/10/2012 1:11:47 PM
Sylvanna United States
I might not have lived on this earth (or in "the world" ) as long as some . But I have become so convinced of this fact . That it doesnt matter how "small" the choice its affects are always huge . This does not apply to just sin , but also to quiet choices to do the right thing when no one is watching . Because there is always someone watching the after affects of making the wrong choice or even being appathetic to do anything . Thank you for another wonderful post Brant .God uses your thoughts in powerful ways .
4/10/2012 1:13:58 PM
Brant H United States
Brant H
Thank you for the comments!

As for the "no private love?" question:  I think that's exactly right.

Beyond the building-up-of-others, the very fostering of love for others, within us, has effects in "seeminly unrelated ways", just as my seemingly-private sin might crop up in other relationships and attitudes.  I think that's right.
4/10/2012 1:21:06 PM
Jack be Nimble United States
Jack be Nimble
To the "if it doesn't hurt anyone else, it's not sin" idea; I believe that God loves us, so He made the law so we would not hurt OURSELVES or others. Even if you are only hurting yourself, I submit that it is still sin.

He loves YOU, and He does not want YOU to hurt YOURSELF by sinning.

The real question should be can we commit a sin with out hurting ourselves OR anyone else. I believe we cannot.
4/10/2012 1:29:23 PM
Tom United States
This past weekend, I spent some time with Ex-cons at a Men's breakfast at our church. A quote from one of them hit me that is very appropriate here: "Our thoughts are our own, but the more we think about them, the more they become real, and the more they become real, the more likely we will act on them."
4/10/2012 1:33:04 PM
Pvt. Sinner United States
Pvt. Sinner
Brant, you are right. Sin is ultimately rebellion against God and all that he is. How can you hide from the One who sees all? Please pray for me. I struggle with private sin online. I hate who i've been and want to be more than who I was yesterday.


4/10/2012 1:40:16 PM
DAVID United States
Internet porn is such a good example of how sin changes you, even if you do it in private. At the very least it will change they way you look at women, all women including your wife.
4/10/2012 2:11:03 PM
Kris United States
The Lord revealed my husband's internet sin to me over a year ago.  I was devistated. He said as long as no one knew about it, it wouldn't hurt anyone so he continued in it. During that time he had grown more angry, uninvolved, and disinterested in me and our family.  We drifted apart.  We still struggle to this day, but I thank the Lord that He has used this to bring my husband back to Him. He's a changed man for the better, but there's still a trail of destruction from it and it may take years to rebuild our marriage.
4/10/2012 2:11:42 PM
Shawn United States
Wow, this is really profound!  Thanks for posting it!  I needed to read this!  Amen!!!
4/10/2012 2:32:34 PM
Alan Knox United States
Alan Knox

You know that I love sarcasm and that I'm particularly fond of your "If Jesus had a blog" posts. But, I have to say that this is one of my favorite blog post that you've written. Thank you.

4/10/2012 3:16:14 PM
kimberly United States
it's so amazing that God can deliver just the right message to your heart when you need it; thanks for the post and for your willingness to flick on the lights in any of the dark rooms you find...i'm certain it spoke to the hearts of more people than you can imagine
4/10/2012 3:26:17 PM
Ashley United States
I feel like the big point is that "sin" doesn't mean hurting someone....SIN is missing the mark and falling short of God's glory.  Whether that's public or private, it sin and it hurts our relationship with God.  

Thanks for the "food for thought"!
4/10/2012 3:29:32 PM
Brant H United States
Brant H
One reason it's good to read these comments is to see how universal this is, the way sin makes us less than what we COULD have been.

A lot of us want to classify sin as a certain list of behaviors, but Jesus doesn't allow that.  And the problem isn't that thoughts COULD lead to behaviors; the thoughts, themselves, when fostered, keep us from being what we could be to others.

4/10/2012 3:31:34 PM
Anonymous United States
I have to say that I'm now facing what Kris faced a year ago.  God has revealed the addiction to me many times over and the man in my life kept telling me over and over he wasn't doing it but it kept revealing itself to me.  Our last confrontation with it was the Thursday before Easter and I have to confess that it rocked my world once again and I was very angry and said many things that I later had to ask for forgiveness from.  I actually had him sit down with me and watch Fireproof, it seemed to really hit home with him.  The addiction with the internet was worse than I had even imagined.  Everyday I was sad and angry with him without even knowing what he was doing but I could feel the distance it was creating.  We have a long road ahead of us.  I told him that as long as he was honest with me I'd stand firmly by his side.  Kris if you read this please know that you're not alone and I'm praying for you as well.  
4/10/2012 3:34:50 PM
Jill S United States
Jill S
Ouch. I'm there. Just came out of it. You know, as painful as the whole tornado is when it tears through the town, the cleanup is even more painful because it takes so long and affects so much. =| And the feeling stupid thing lasts FOREVER. =\
4/10/2012 4:22:31 PM
Laurie Beth United States
Laurie Beth
What's in our hearts will come out through our words and actions.  Such a good reminder to keep our focus on God, and to realize that He truly is the God Who Sees.  We really need to cast ourselves on Him constantly for the strength and grace to walk that narrow path with Him.
4/10/2012 4:36:17 PM
anonymous United States
My husband struggles with sexual sin as well. He is trying to stop, but the after mass is killing me his wife. I know that I have to trust God to change him not myself! So for all who reads Please pray for my husband to hear God and to turn to Him for Truth. I am not sure my husband is saved. I do believe in the power of prayer so please just take a few mins. thank you
4/10/2012 4:42:23 PM
Joy United States
Boy that is sure true Brant... I struggle sometimes with a sin that in my head I think it's secret, but in my heart, I really know it's not, because when I do it, God sees what I'm doing. Nobody else except me and God. There are some people who know what I struggle with, some of my close Christian family (especially one of my spiritual moms); I told her because I had been struggling with it a lot more than I am now, and I needed some spiritual guidance and prayer, and she helped me a lot. I tell her some of my other problems that I deal with when I think no one is watching but I know God sees everything we do. I think the problem is that when we do keep things inside without telling someone close, it makes it harder on us to give it up to God to let Him clean us up. Thanks Brant for this blog, I realized a new truth that I never thought of, because I notice when I do sin in private, it affects how I act toward others (especially my parents).
4/10/2012 4:43:12 PM
Danielle United States
I think this effect can also change what's a sin. There are some actions and behaviors that aren't inherently wrong, but the ramifications can be damaging. When I'm aware of how my actions affect the people around me, or my attitude, I'm more careful with things not even the most conservative person would claim are sins.
4/10/2012 7:07:48 PM
Shayla United States
Brant, I heard the station and you the first time today, and thought WOW! Private sin! Is there such a thing. I must read this blog. The clarity of your blog is so true, there is no private sin. If your ashamed for Jesus to see it, then it is effecting you. Most likely pulling you away from HIM, and doing the work he sent us here to do for his greater GOOD.
Peace Always Smile
4/10/2012 7:24:09 PM
Mandy United States
I was riding home from work thinking about my own next blog post and what I would write about when I heard you talking about this one. It was very close along the same lines I was thinking except I was thinking about it in terms of food. So I've lost over 100 pounds just to give you some back ground. I now post and write about faith and fitness. When it comes to doing things "privately" like stuffing the cupcakes in your mouth when no one is looking....night after night.. those choices add up and.. like sin, it begins to steal your joy, your peace, your energy to be social with others... our "weight" seems to be a private thing but it may in fact be sin. oh wait...the bible does talk about gluttony. Except no one likes to talk about it...because its seemingly private. so anyway. thanks for the idea about my own blog. and i agree... private sin is equally as dangerous and can have lasting affects through generations.
4/11/2012 12:17:40 AM
Michael C United States
Michael C
hey brant,
I really like the blog post.
4/11/2012 7:03:29 AM
anonymous United States
Hi Brant,
I enjoy listening to you on the way home from work each day. And honestly, I finally understand your name. I couldn't tell if it was Grant or Brant, ha. But anyhow, I do agree with your blog. Private sin leads to more after-effects than we most likely want to admit or think about. I went through a divorce about 3 years ago and the main thing that led to it was an addiction to porn that has been a "thorn in my side" ever since my early years of life. A part of me wants to rationalize it saying, "Well God made men with the desire to want/need to reproduce, with a strong sex drive and so I am only doing what He made me to be. It's a 'perfectly natural, normal thing'." Plus like you said, "It's only hurting me and it's my battle, no one else's." But after seeing it destroy my marriage...yeah those were all lies I was telling myself. The truth is though, that I still struggle with it and still do it. And it seems like no matter how hard I try or pray, the thorn will not go away. It's sad, but honestly I have no clue how to overcome this sin. I feel like it is the only sin that I have in my life that I absolutely cannot master. But at the same time, I genuinely want to. It's Romans 7-like. The last thing I ever want to happen is that when I meet my Maker on that Day, He says to me "Away from me. I never knew you." But at the same time, I feel at a loss as to how to overcome that very real possibility if this particular sin is not dealt with before I breath my last. Any help and prayers would be appreciated. And also I want to say to some of you wives here that are going through what I did, but on the other side, that your husband is probably doing what he is doing not because he does not love you, but because it is a sickness that he cannot master. Not without help. And you may be put in that situation, by God even, to be the light for him that pulls him away from the snares of the devil. May God bless you all.
4/11/2012 8:13:07 AM
Phillip United States

There is not such thing as private sin. God sees all, and knows all. Some things may just better between you and Jesus, because of the effects it would have on others, as the Power to Choose says, " do so unless it would be harmful to you or the others." That's not exact, but close. It also says to confess your sins to God and a trusted brother. Everything we do, as you said creates a ripple on the pond of life that affects others regardless of if we know it or not. Internet Porn is a good example of "private sin." It's also easy while away on travel for work.  Not only does God see it, but the Demons do as well. All sin, as has been said before, is falling short of God's Glory.

God Bless
4/11/2012 9:03:01 AM
Chris United States
Thank you for posting this!  It is so true.  When we sin in private, its like we draw the shades, close the doors, and hide like a mutant rat in the darkness about to greedily devour his food.  The thing is, is that God can see every bit of this...even before it happens.  We need to be patient with others and not judgmental.  God does not love a murderer any less than He loves a devout Christian who is back-biting in the church.  We need to encourage each other and pray for one another when one of our brothers or sisters falls into sin.  Anyways, didn't mean to preach or anything, but I definitely agree with what you said! Thank you!  Your Brother In Chris Jesus, Chris
4/11/2012 12:33:33 PM
Anonymous United States
I previously posted about the internet sin that has ahold of the man I love and the battle we just recently endured again on the Thursday before Easter.  I received an email today about pornography and how it destroys relationships.  www.crosswalk.com/.../2012  I hope this link can help others!  God bless
4/11/2012 8:42:06 PM
brant h United States
brant h
Thanks again for the comments.

There've been many, on Facebook as well, saying, "Well, God sees everything, so you're right, there's no private sin."

But that's not exactly what I'm getting at, here.  I want people to understand WHY things are sinful in the first place.  God's heart is not randomly broken by stuff he just decided, willy nilly, that we shouldn't do.  So when some say, "The point is REALLY that God saw that thing you did," well, that's no, actually, it's not, entirely.

MANY reasonable people in our culture simply cannot understand why God would object to things we are doing that affect no one else.  I'm trying to suggest here that there IS no such class of behaviors.  And it's not something that should distance us from God, it's something that should help us appreciate the genius of Jesus.  He said as much:  If you committed adultery in your heart, you're just as guilty as the adulterer.

Additionally, religious folk like to make sin into a list of actions, and what I'm saying here is that doesn't work, either.  Boom.  It's not about who had the guts to do it, who didn't have the opportunity, or who got caught.  Sin is breaking a commandment.  It's breaking the heart of God.

So please don't reduce what I'm saying here to, "Well, Brant, all that matters is God saw you break that rule."  That's not it.  God has a peace in mind for us, reconciliation in mind for us, and sin shatters it.  The seemingly unreasonable declaration that "private sins matter, too" becomes more easy to understand when we show WHY they're not private, and WHY sin breaks the heart of God.
4/11/2012 9:13:09 PM
Esther Maxine United States
Esther Maxine
Thank you so much for this blog post, Brant. And thanks to everyone else for the comments. Gives me a lot to think on.
4/12/2012 9:46:53 PM
Ed Tyler United States
Ed Tyler
Hi Brant, I listened to you and how you talked about this. And what people that think there are some sins that don't effect anyone, they forget that Jesus died for that sin that they are about to commit or thinking of commiting. So, as I see it Jesus is affected by it and since God sees all it affects him to since he is the one that has to forgive us of the sins we commit. So for someone that thinks there are private sins, maybe they should think of the one that has to forgive them of the sin.

May god shine on you Brant, cause for that short 4 hours your on you make my day much brighter.

Thank you, your brother in Christ Ed Tyler
4/13/2012 3:32:31 AM
Loveworks United States
I am like Paul, I am the worst of all sinners. My head hung low, tears in my eyes, lump in my throat, embarrassed, ashamed of the things I have done, and continue to do. I feel there is no light at the end of this tunnel. 16 years I have been fighting this battle. Confessed, repented, prayed my heart out, standing some distance away, unwilling to lift my eyes to heaven, beating my breast I ask God to be merciful on me, the sinner!

I am restless, looking for the freedom that I know is in Christ! (This next part hurts to say) I have been praying for 16 years, longing for releif, craving for safety, parched for the Living Water!!! But 16 years...I know the promised land was 40 years away.

The only thing I know how to do is Love. If I have all but not Love, I have nothing. One day, I will be home, one day I will stand in front of my King, I dont know how I will feel, but my Savior will look at me, and He will say, My son, welcome home.

If I were perfect, I would not need my Savior. If I were perfect, Christ died for nothing. I am in no way saying that we should sin all the more, by no means. I have been fighting boldly!

Love really does work!
3/6/2013 7:04:32 PM
Tom Griswold United States
Tom Griswold
This person has the mind set of a five year old.  What you call "sin" is common human behavior.  And will always exist.  

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