Part of the reason we experience relational division is that we do not have a biblical understanding of ourselves and how sin affects us. To this end, there are two biblical passages that we could use to always keep in mind.
The first, we covered this past Sunday:
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.Hebrews 3:13
Sin is deceitful. And you know who it deceives? Ourselves! And you know what is so difficult about being deceived? You don’t know you’re being deceived!
We can tend to think of sin as only affecting our external behaviors. Or perhaps we realize, rightly, that it affects our inner desires and affections as well. But sin goes deeper than that and affects our ability to rightly see, discern and interpret the world, including ourselves. It distorts our vision.
And to be clear, this warning in Hebrews is written to believers. The deception of sin does not go away once you come to Christ. Having the Spirit in us, leading and guiding us, does not completely eradicate our sin and its ability to deceive us.
As Christians, we need to have the humility to acknowledge that we don’t see ourselves, others, or the world around us with 20/20 vision; we have blind spots.
And this connects to the other passage that greatly helps us understand ourselves and how sin affects us: Jesus’ words about judging in Matthew 7:
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.Mt. 7:3-5
There’s lots to unpack in this passage, but my concern here is the principle it assumes: Human beings, wrought by sin, will tend to focus on and maximize the sins and follies us others, while ignoring and minimizing their own sins and follies.
The passage, as it’s sometimes taken to mean, clearly doesn’t forbid pointing out sins in others’ lives, for their good (because they, too, can be deceived by sin, leading to a hard heart). But it does caution us to spend more time addressing our own sin, acknowledging that there are giant logs in our own lives that we are blind to.
We could put these two passages together like this: Sin distorts our vision, often by blinding us to our own sin even while we are quick to notice the sins of others.
And this is immensely valuable and imminently practical. For example, when you find yourself in an argument, this should remind us that we could be wrong, and compel us to have a measure of humility. When someone gives you feedback that you don’t agree with, this should cause us to be slow to defend or excuse, and assume that there is likely more truth to their words than we realize. When you find yourself angry or annoyed or impatient with the behavior of someone in your life, we should realize that we are likely overemphasizing what we see in them (seeing specks as logs), and overlooking similar behavior in ourselves (seeing logs as specks). When we are considering whether to address some sin in another’s life, this should cause us to do so with much humility, prayer and patience, knowing that we too are capable of being deceived by sin, and need the exhortation of others just as much.
And, when we are tempted to trust fully in our own assessment and affirmation of ourselves, and distance ourselves from the community of saints that is the local church, we should realize that this is a pathway to being “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Hence why the beginning of the same verse tells us to “exhort one another every day.”