“What I did is certainly known.” Moses (Exodus 2:14; HCSB)
Sin absolutely wrecks the lives of men and secret sin wrecks them absolutely.
In my experience counseling with men, it has usually been public sin issues that have garnered the concern of family, friends, and co-workers. These outward sin issues have served as the impetus for counseling as the truth of the matter became known.
Rarely, however, is the known issue foundational to the chief complaint.
More often than not, a season of hiding secret sin has paved the way to a public fall. To be sure, more than one man has made a rather quick jump from corrupt thinking to corrupt living, but it seems more common that a man has spent much time ruminating on his hidden lusts, passions, and idols before falling off his cliff. This reality only serves to underscore the significance of the life of the mind and accountable relationships in discipleship processes (Rom. 12:2).
Bodies in the Sand
In my daily Bible reading, I recently came across the Exodus account of Moses killing the Egyptian man. The context was the man’s beating of Moses’ Hebrew counterpart (Ex. 2:11-12). While not at the heart of the chapter, I was struck by Moses’ own words to himself, after being confronted by a fellow Hebrew about the killing (Ex. 2:14). Moses remarked that his action was surely known as if to instruct himself that his sin, once hidden in his own mind, was now a matter of public interest.
As I read back through the passage, I noticed that prior to Moses killing the Egyptian, he “looked this way and that” in order to determine that his pending violence against the Egyptian would not be known to others (Ex. 2:12). In a final act of scheming to defraud his neighbors concerning what had actually become of the Egyptian, Moses hid his victim’s body in the sand.
In this we see the delusional nature of secret sin: That in his plotting, Moses did not lift his eyes to God who sees all things, but instead looked this way and that, believing that his heart and evil deeds were concealed from accountability. Moses was content to ignore the nature of his sin toward God if only his sin were hidden from the eyes of his fellow man.
In a moment of temptation, Moses missed the fact that all of life, including his secret sin, is lived and carried out “Coram Deo,” that is, before the face of God.
A Heart of Unbelief
Although I was tempted to snicker at Moses for his folly, which resulted in him being hunted by Pharoah as one who had shed Egyptian blood, I was quickly reminded of my own history of looking “this way and that.” The delusion of secret sin, the idea that there is any one thing in all the universe hidden from the eyes of God, wreaked havoc in my own life and evidenced a heart of unbelief. Like Moses, I had to face the reality that my own sins were certainly known. And I had to allow that truth to produce in me a fear of God and a desire for repentance and faith (Prov. 1:7).
Secret sin is to be feared and mortified as quickly as possible (Rom. 8:13). If not, the danger is this, that by the time it’s brought out of the darkness and into the light, untold layers of spiritual, emotional, and relational damage have been set into motion like an unstoppable force. The roots of sin grow deep in the wicked soil of our heart’s depravity.
Nothing is outside the reach of God’s grace, to be sure, but neither is any sin beyond the chastening of His justice. These are perhaps just some of the reasons why John Owen famously wrote, “Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it while you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
Cleaning the Inside of the Cup
At the counseling table today, I regularly sit with men who have carried on lives of double agency, even men who warm the pews of God’s church. It isn’t that we’re wrong to call attention to those outward, public displays of rebellion against God’s good moral law. It remains a wise thing to not covet a neighbor’s wife, or commit murder, or steal, or tell lies. The trouble is that the New Testament church, like Old Testament Israel before it, fell prey to the idea that outward obedience to God’s law was evidence of an inward righteousness.
Set in this light, we can better understand Jesus’s admonishment of the Pharisees as being a people who clean the outside of the cup, but leave the inside full of grime (Matt. 23:25).
The irony is this, that there is no secret sin. This is what makes it delusional. There is only sin that is hidden from the eyes of man, or more to the point for the believer, hidden from the ability of the church to come alongside one of its own for growth in grace and sanctification. Secret sin is delusional because its wicked heart is set on rejecting the means of God’s restorative grace found uniquely in the redemptive work of God’s church.
How then should we live when we recognize an ongoing issue of secret sin in our lives? Scripture provides a variety of life-giving responses:
1) Repent and believe the Good News (Mark 1:15). Repentance requires a recognition of the sinfulness of sin, a turning away from it, and a turning to Christ in faith.
2) Confess your [secret] sins to one another (Jm. 5:16). Part of trusting in the gospel is recognizing that Christ’s church is not like membership in a club. When we disconnect from it, we risk great spiritual atrophy in being disconnected from the body. There is a tremendous blessing to be had in the practice of confessing sin to a trusted friend.
3) Take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Sin and righteousness are matters of the heart or mind. Our thoughts pave the way for how we live. We must prayerfully ask God to help us replace evil thoughts with those that are in keeping with His holiness.
By recognizing the threat posed by secret sin and embracing the truth and hope of the gospel, we can avoid making a shipwreck of our faith but can walk as those made new in the power of God’s grace (1 Tim. 1:19; 2 Cor. 2:15).