Private sins – do they exist?

As I write this, the news cycles and talking radio heads are rehashing Congressman Anthony Weiner’s confession and his actions that required such a confession.

There are many principles we could draw from his confession but for the purpose of this post, let’s focus on why it is necessary to acknowledge our wrongdoings and make restitution where necessary when offenses have taken place.

Let’s begin with a passage from Joshua 22:20 – “Didn’t divine anger fall on the entire community of Israel when Achan, a member of the clan of Zerah, sinned by stealing the things set apart for the Lord? He was not the only one who died because of his sin.” (New Living Translation)
The tone in which those words were spoken may have been marked by fear, anger and disbelief. The 2½ tribes of Israel (that settled the land east of the Jordan River) had built an altar in the Jordan Valley. When the Israelites (that claimed the land west of the Jordan River) heard of this, they “assembled at Shiloh to go to war against them” (Joshua 22:12).
They assumed that the 2½ tribes were setting up a place of worship that would rival the tabernacle. If this was their motive (which it wasn’t), it would be a serious sin against Almighty God.
So why did the Israelites care about this matter at all? It was a simple altar and it wasn’t hurting anyone, right? Besides, it could even be argued that it was none of the Israelite’s business, right? Wrong.
The answer is found in Joshua 22:20. “Didn’t divine anger fall on the entire community of Israel when Achan, a member of the clan of Zerah, sinned by stealing the things set apart for the Lord? He was not the only one who died because of his sin.
One sin, committed by one person, could bring divine judgment upon others in the group. It had happened when Achan committed a “small”, private sin and thirty six men died in battle as a result.
The Israelites were convinced that God would probably do the same thing again if this questionable altar in the Jordan Valley wasn’t destroyed. God may move to kill more people.
This doesn’t seem fair, does it? In fact, it seems to cut right at the root of God’s justice. If God is fair and completely just in His actions, why would He bring harm to those around me if my sin is private and isn’t hurting anyone?
And what do you do with Ezekiel 18:20? “The person who sins is the one who will die. A son won’t suffer punishment for the father’s iniquity, and a father won’t suffer punishment for the son’s iniquity. The righteousness of the righteous person will be on him, and the wickedness of the wicked person will be on him.”
Let’s suppose that I commit some sin (a “small”, private sin) that brings displeasure with God. According to Hebrews 12:6, “…the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and punishes every son whom He receives.” The Lord will discipline me in some way that is fitting but according to Ezekiel 18:20, He won’t discipline my wife or children. He won’t “spank” one of my boys for a sin that I have committed.
So, what’s Joshua 22:20 talking about? Let me answer that with an illustration.
Last year, I went on a trip to Ecuador. We landed in Quito and then took a long bus ride over the Andes Mountains to Shell on the edge of the Amazon jungle. For those of us who remained awake during that trip, we vividly remember how frightening it was to look out our window at times and see the 1,000+/- foot drop to the valley floor.
Suppose the bus driver wanted to get us to Shell as quickly as possible and so he broke the speed limit on those mountain passes. Let’s further suppose that as he entered one of those dangerous turns, he realized too late that he was traveling too quickly to navigate the turn. As a result, we all went over the edge of the cliff and plunged to our deaths.
Let me ask a question: Who was the one who sinned? Not me! I was sitting quietly in my seat reading a great book. Others on the bus were sleeping. How can you sin while you’re sleeping?
Possibly, the only one sinning was the bus driver. But who experienced the consequences of that sin? All of us! We were all a part of the group that was on the bus.
Suppose that bus driver had a close friend on the bus. Maybe he even had a child on board that he loved dearly. Would they have been spared the fate the rest of us experienced simply because the bus driver cared about them? Of course not. The fact is that the sin of speeding committed by the bus driver caused all of us in that bus to experience the consequences of that sin.
The fact is that while we were riding the bus, we happened to be a part of the group that included the bus driver. If he sinned and it brought on consequences, any of us in that group may have experienced those consequences … even if we were completely unaware of the offense.
So, did those 36 men in Joshua 7 lose their lives because God was punishing them for Achan’s sin? No. But Achan’s “private” sin removed God’s hand of blessing from the group he was a part of. It was because of Achan’s private offense that consequences directed at Achan’s group happened to land on 36 unsuspecting, innocent bystanders.
None of us lives in a vacuum, especially in regard to our pursuit of holiness. If you or I are engaged in sin or haven’t confessed and made amends for previous wrongdoings, we may be responsible for harm that comes to those we love.
There is no such thing as a “private” sin.

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I have an incredible wife that God gave to me on May 10, 1997. Since then, the Lord has blessed us with three wonderful boys. I am also the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Polk City, Florida.

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