To impugn is to dispute the truth, validity, or honesty of another person’s motives. And closely connected to disputing another person’s motives is suggesting that you know the truth behind them. There is so much of this in the Christian world today, and it generates so little disapproval, that it must be classified as respectable. Yet a little biblically-guided introspection should tell us that we often don’t even know our own motives, and if we do not know our own, how could we possibly know anyone else’s? James 3:17–18 challenges us that “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”
Jerry Bridges gave many gifts to the church, not the least of which was his 2007 book Respectable Sins. In it he coined a term that describes a whole category of sins that might otherwise escape our attention. “Respectable sins” are behaviors Christians (sometimes individually and sometimes corporately) regard as acceptable even though the Bible describes them as sinful. They are subtle or refined in such a way that we may even dress them up to become a kind of virtue. Bridges offers many examples: anxiety and frustration; discontentment; unthankfulness; impatience and irritability; worldliness; and so on.
One tricky aspect of this list of respectable sins is that its contents can change over time. What was respectable in one era can be scandalous in another before once again fading back to respectability. Today I’d like to offer a few suggestions of sins we may consider respectable here in 2020, with a special focus on sins that are fostered and spread online.
Suspicion. This is a polarized age that is made worse by news outlets and social media that thrive on praising insiders while vilifying outsiders. The ideal of objectivity has been replaced by the vice of suspicion. While the Bible does praise wisdom and discernment, it rejects suspicion, especially toward our fellow believers. We have no right to doubt others by default or to have a cautious distrust of them, as if they are guilty until proven innocent. We cannot allow ourselves to be suspicious of the actions, motives, or salvation of brothers and sisters in the Lord. After all, love is shown not only in our actions, but also in our attitudes, for “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). While we always need to be on guard against false teaching and false teachers within the church, we equally need to be on guard against suspicion within our hearts. There’s nothing respectable about it.
Gossip. Our ubiquitous digital devices and always-on social media have given us the ability to communicate with unparalleled speed and scope.