Have you ever found yourself doing something you never thought you would? Have you ever found yourself trapped in a sin wondering how did I ever get here? If you have, then you probably passed through several stages of sin without noticing. Bold sin often isn’t something you leap into, rather instead you creep into it.
Over the next three posts you will learn about the 3 stages of sin and how to escape them. They are:
3. Active Participation
You can see an example of the three stages of sin played out in the life of Saul (Paul, pre-conversion) as he became an active persecutor of believers in the early church.
Our first glimpse of Saul occurs in Acts chapter 7 in the story of the stoning of Stephen. Stephen was selected by the disciples for the purpose of serving the widows who were overlooked in the daily distribution of food. After the disciples laid hands upon Stephen, he performed many signs and wonders among the people. Leaders rose up against him and stoned him to death.
We are told at the end chapter 7, “When they had driven him (Stephen) out of the city, they began stoning him, and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.”
Furthemore, we are told “Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death that day.”
Thus, Paul enters the first stage of sin: acceptance. While he does not actively participate in stoning Stephen, he agrees with the action and does not protest. I am reminded of the quote by Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
Chapter 9 begins with the words, “Now Saul still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord went to the High Priest…”
Apparently, Paul became an active vocal supporter of persecution. Though he had yet to raise his hand against any believers he was publicly supporting their persecution.
Lastly, we are told Paul “…went to the high priest and asked for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
At this point, Paul is actively persecuting the church.
A CLOSER LOOK AT STAGE #1, ACCEPTANCE
In the first stage, acceptance, you may not necessarily heartily agree sin. Instead, you might simply feel uncomfortable, but fear speaking out. You may hesitate to say something because you feel you are in the minority or fear backlash from your peers.
For example, one time on a mission trip, our group was getting pretty bad about putting one another down. Our verbal jabs were intended as playful banter. A parent sponsor on the trip said to me in private that he felt the playful cut downs were getting out of hand. Earlier that night everyone had been particularly harsh on one young man about 20 something years old. The young man laughed about our teasing. The parent helped me realized the young man might have been really hurt by some of the comments. He may haves laughed because he didn’t want to look weak or wimpy. He may have been taken aback and not known what to say to get people to stop. The parent was right.
I felt horrible about the incident and went to the young man the next day and apologized. We also had a discussion with the group about how easily playful comments made at someone else’s expense really can hurt. We put a stop to put down’s and cutting comments and the atmosphere felt so much better.
I learned from that incident that sometimes all it takes to stop sin is for one person to say, “I am not comfortable with this.” You don’t have to explain why. You may not even know why. Sometimes your conscience convicts you before your rational mind catches up. That’s okay. It’s enough to recognize something does not feel right, to speak out, and to stop.
On several occasions since then I have voiced my discomfort when my conscience was disturbed. In almost every instance, just saying, “I am not comfortable with this” caused a change. Often times, other people are also struggling internal, but fear speaking out. They fear rejection by their peers or embarrassment. Someone else’s courage is all they need sometimes to stop sinning or support you in stopping.
APPLYING THE LESSON
Take a moment to prayerful reflect. Ask God to bring to mind situations or circumstance where you feel morally uncomfortable. How are you passively allowing sin to continue? Are you an enabler of sin by your unwillingness to speak up? Pray for God to give you the courage to no longer passively accept the sin going on around you. Ask God to strengthen your conviction about what is right, so that you will have the courage to speak out. Ask God to give you the right words to say. Keep in mind that it might be as simple as, “I am uncomfortable with this.”
I hope that understanding these three stages of sin will perhaps illuminate particular moral struggles you are having at this time. Recognizing that you are in the first stage of acceptance is critical to avoiding being pulled in deeper. Speaking out won’t always change others, but it is the first step in separating yourself from sin. May God give you wisdom, insight and courage to do so.
In my next blog post, you will learn about the second stage of sin and I will share with you concrete strategies for escaping it. Blessings to you as the Holy Spirit teaches and empowers you to resist sin.
Image by Palosirkka, found on Wikimedia Commons