The Myth of Private Sin

Today I read Ezra 7-10. We would like to think that the things we do wrong in life are only between us and God and are just a private affair. After all, how I live my life should be no one’s business. Besides, if I do anything wrong I am only harming myself. If I do something directly against someone else, like stealing or murder, sure I should be busted for that. But the other subtle things in life that I do are just personal sins that I have to deal with. So we go about life thinking there are only consequences for us and down play any impact those things might have on others.

In Ezra’s day, many in the remnant of Jews who returned to rebuild the temple had gone against God’s commands to not intermarry with the people of the land. I am sure they thought that their disobedience was a small thing. What harm could it be to the overall scheme of things? Besides, it was their decision and didn’t involve anyone else from the community. The reality was, however, that everyone in that community was effected by the sins of the people who chose to disobey God in this area. Part of the command had to do with whether or not the community would be blessed by God or not and whether his hand would be on them. Their personal sin had implications for an entire community.

There are very few sins in this life that are not social or at least have secondary effects on those around us. The decision to take up an addiction, something that seems private, has devastating effects on relationships and the people who know the addict. The decision to love money more than God causes a person to use people and love money instead of loving people and using money. The list could go on and on. When we buy the lie that says it is only hurting ourselves, we get defensive when it is even hinted that our personal life is having a negative impact on the lives of others. But the reality is, there are few sins that don’t had social implications.

The community in Ezra’s day handled their sin in a public way by mourning over what they had done wrong and seeking to put things right according to the laws of their day. Even in the way they needed to put things right had negative consequences for the wives and children they had taken against the commands of the Lord as they were sent away from the community. It is important for us today to realize how much our actions effect others and change our perspective on how private our private lives really are. We need to confess the things we have done wrong to God and seek to make amends and live in the way God set up in the first place. Only then will we understand and live in a way that our lifestyle is one in which we truly love our neighbors as ourselves.

Lord, help me to live my life according to the way you have set before me to live. May the things I say and do not bring harm to those around me. Make me a man of integrity. Amen.