Written By Jasmine Ong, New Zealand
In grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen how personal choices can either help stop the spread, or infect entire communities. I see a parallel in my own spiritual life, where many small, seemingly inconsequential decisions have slowly affected not just my own life—but the lives of those within my own community.
These are the subtle sins. Each of these lurk in the grey area of our minds, easily justified, feeling right at the time, yet leaching from us the joy and fullness of life Jesus intended us to have.
1. Favoring some people over others
When a friend suggested I get to know more people at church, I put on an act of caring, but was actually disinterested in getting to know anyone beyond my established friendship circles. And when I did get to know new people, I gravitated towards church members who were friendly and sociable, but distanced myself from those I perceived to be awkward—and blamed my introverted personality for this.
Does this sound familiar to you? In addition to hypocrisy, there is also a subtler sin here. Shunning one group while favoring another group of people is labeled in the book of James as favoritism. In James 2:1-13, he rebukes those in the church who favored the rich over the poor, while I favored people I knew and people who were outgoing over others.
But this isn’t how church is supposed to look like. And just as Christ has accepted me, I continually pray that God will help me perceive the truth as Peter did—that God does not show favoritism but accepts those who fear Him and do what is right (Acts 10:34), so that I will be a conduit of God’s love to all His children.
2. Masquerading gossip as “sharing”
“I’m just processing my feelings, and it is not gossip because it actually happened,” I told myself as I roped yet another friend into hearing about my recent quarrel with someone.
I was used to masquerading gossip as “sharing” and allowing it to run rampant—until a friend showed me a different way. He was careful to conceal the name of the person who had hurt him, refused to share any further details, and simply stated that he felt hurt and is trusting God to heal him.
This forced me to reflect on why I found myself sharing information about my scuffles or disagreements with others at all. I searched the Bible hoping to find something that would allow me to continue my habits, but all I found were passages telling me to overlook the offense or to resolve it in private (Proverbs 19:11, Matthew 18:15-17).
So, these days when I feel like “sharing,” I stop and filter it through these questions: Is this information essential to disclose? How would I be helping either party? What is my true intention behind sharing this?
3. Subtly stealing from our employers
I’ve been guilty of a subtle thievery at work—specifically, having social conversations that carried on beyond lunch break, being five minutes late now and again, checking personal social media pages when I am on the clock, etc.
But, you might be thinking, everyone else does it, sometimes even our superiors! The Bible, however, is unwavering on this issue. We are to work with all our hearts as if for the Lord, not human masters (Colossians 3:23-24). This means using time allotted to us to fully focus on the tasks that have been assigned to us.
Since I came to the realization that I’ve been “stealing” from my employers, I’ve made some changes to the way I work. To focus and work well, I have begun to keep my phone in a locker, uninstall social media apps from my phone, and communicate these convictions to my colleagues.
It doesn’t go smoothly all the time. Given the current pandemic, I have refreshed my news pages more times than absolutely essential. In these instances, I stay back later at work to make up the time I have missed.
4. Avoiding difficult conversations
Too many times I have forced a smile and nodded along to the ill-advised plans of my friends. I don’t want to risk ruining the relationship by telling them what I truly thought. As long as they’re happy, right?
But Proverbs 27:6 tells us that “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”
I’ve learned the hard way that lying in order to avoid awkward conversations denies others and myself the authentic connection on which relationships thrive. For example, when a Christian friend told me he would consider cohabitation before marriage, I found it easier to go along with his opinion and change the subject instead of cautioning him against sexual immorality. I was behaving more like an enemy, rather than a true friend. Instead, I could have initiated deeper conversation into this topic, seeking to understand his perspective, and explored with him how the Bible addresses this issue.
5. Doing nothing
The final point I pondered was how often my sins weren’t from doing the wrong thing, but from simply doing nothing.
My life overflows with good intentions left unfulfilled. I had considered becoming a mentor to at-risk youth, visiting the elderly in their homes, teaching refugees English. I certainly had the time and energy to do these things, yet I much preferred being able to loll on my couch, watch shows, and do face masks in my spare time.
James calls us to action when he wrote, “If anyone then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” (James 4:17). For me, this brings to mind the words of our King, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
Since then, I have committed to serving on my local church’s children’s ministry, as I knew there was a great need for more helpers and I am in a season of life where I have the time and energy needed to serve effectively.
C. S. Lewis writes in The Screwtape Letters, “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
It has been challenging to admit these sins and share them in a public space, as I naturally want my sins to remain hidden, but I am grateful that God has brought conviction, and provided me with friends who have guided me to the higher standard of living God calls us to. Though it is tempting to ignore these subtle sins, I have brought them to God and found that indeed, there is grace for the sinner.
If you also struggle with one of the points above, the Bible reminds us, “there is now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). We can be encouraged that in our struggle, we can go to Jesus who empathizes with our weaknesses, and gives us mercy and grace to help us (Hebrews 4:14-16).