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Perhaps it would be good to start this process of thinking of budgeting a little sin into your future experience by reflecting on these questions. Answer them honestly. If you’re with a friend, ask them about each other and discuss.
As you work through these questions, what are some conclusions that you can make about yourself? Perhaps the word “surprise” is not the best one to get at the issue regarding your responses to the sin of others. You’re not surprised when sin happens, but you do react in a way that could lead someone to think that you were surprised.
Imagine this: sometimes, when my wife or my children sin, I show my surprise by becoming impatient or angry with them. Can you believe it? What is it about me that motivates me to compound their problem with mine? It’s like rolling up on a traffic accident, and rather than being redemptive at that moment, I ram my car into the preexisting pile-up.
In moments like these, I need to rethink what my family did and how I reacted to them. Complicating a “pile-up” in your home is one of the dumbest, if not insensitive, things that I could do. To sin or be sinful is native to all of us, and though it may grind against your polite soul to hear it, the truth is that sin is one of the things that we do best.
Expecting your family or friends to stop sinning entirely is not just unrealistic, but it’s unbiblical. To have that expectation about anyone’s propensity to transgress is a set-up for ongoing disappointment. If you push that type of idealism too far, you will never be happy until there is perfection in your life (or theirs).
How many times have you complicated a sinful circumstance by responding sinfully to sin? Perhaps you have done it this week or today. When you convolute a terrible situation with your badness, you will add to the original bad thing that happened. It’s because of this inevitability in our lives that I say you need to “budget some sin” into your future experience.
If you prepare for it, sin won’t catch you off guard when it happens. It’s like life or auto insurance. You’re not cynical, fatalistic, or pessimistic. You’re a realist. You’re not that person who lives under the negative cloud, always predicting the sky is going to fall. I’m speaking of the optimistic Christian who has a sound understanding of total depravity and redemption.
Total depravity only is sin-centered. Redemption only is the grace mistake. To hold both in the right biblical tension is gospel-centered. The individuals who fortify their minds with the realities of their fallenness will be able to jump to restorative efforts that rebuild broken lives. Suppose you received the training to be a first responder to traffic accidents. When you roll up on the scene, you roll up your sleeves and get to work. You don’t drown in sorrow about what happened, and you don’t pretend it didn’t happen.
Alternately, the ill-equipped believer makes matters worse. They are like the onlookers who bring critique, not restorative efforts. It’s so easy to complicate a problem with our unbiblical attitudes. I’m not advocating that you sin more or have no guard upon your heart to stem the tide of your fallenness. I’m recognizing that sin is coming out of you, whether you like it or not. The same applies to your family and friends. They are going to disappoint you. An ounce of biblical realism will prove to have an immeasurable, positive effect on the outcome. Imagine how much more productive you could be in your friends’ lives if you accepted the reality of their fallenness.
Too many Christians do not like living in reality. They prefer to pretend that the harsher side of human evil is “out there” somewhere. It’s an unfortunate worldview. Somewhere between debilitating pessimism and blind optimism is a biblical reality that fuels a well-balanced life. Living outside this middle ground will lead you to depression or self-righteous reactions when folks disappoint you. The despairing person lifts his/her head from the sand to see how disappointing some folks can be. The self-righteous person reacts with anger as though he/she is not capable of doing a similar evil (Luke 18:9-14).
Let me go back to my first set of questions. What about you? Have you ever been overly surprised or wrongly disappointed at your sin? If so, you probably have a high view of yourself. When we pity ourselves, it is because we are looking down on ourselves from our lofty perches. Think about it like standing on a chair and looking down on yourself. That analogy describes self-pity.
You don’t like the person that you see “way down there.” You pity that person who would commit such a violation of God’s law. The irony is that you’re looking at yourself. You’re the person who transgressed. You don’t like what you see in yourself. Thus, it depresses you. Your view of yourself is too exalted in your mind.
You need to come down from your lofty perch and accept the truth about yourself; you’re a low-down, dirty rotten sinner in need of God’s intervening and empowering grace. Without the Lord’s empowerment to stem the tide of your fallenness, there is no known boundary for what you may do.
Rather than being so impressed with yourself or, better said, impressed with the image of the person you want to be, you need a dose of reality. If you think like Paul, who saw himself as the foremost sinner (1 Timothy 1:15), you’re in the best possible place to think clearly and respond appropriately to your mistakes. Rather than being impressed with yourself, you can train your mind to be impressed with the Lord.
Overly fixating on your sin describes a proud person—someone from a lofty perch, looking down on the pitiful. If this temptation is yours, I have a suggestion for you: don’t over-fixate on your sin. For every one look that you take at your sin, take ten looks at Jesus. Train yourself to have a gospel-centered fixation. The gospel-centered mindset displaces the self-centered one. Then when you sin again, you won’t be disappointed as much as you will have prepared yourself on how to respond.
Yes, I do sin. I am aware of this. Thus, I am not surprised that I did it. More importantly, I’m prepared because Christ has made a way for folks like me. I may be the foremost sinner, but God’s grace is greater than all my sin.
With this kind of mindset, you have “budgeted sin into your future experience,” and you are ready to be Christ to others when they fail. Rather than reacting harshly to the dumb things they do, you have a prepared mind that is ready to jump on the Lord’s restoration team. EMS: Effectual Mercy Service!
There is a way to gauge yourself to see how well you are progressing from a surprised, sin-centered worldview to a proactive, gospel-centered one. All you have to do is assess your latest reaction to someone’s mistake, whether yours or one of your friends. Your response to evil is the evaluation that will tell you where you are with the Lord, with that person, and your understanding of evil and the gospel.
Perhaps you can think about it as the “surprise factor.” You may be surprised or disappointed, but you reorient your mind quickly because your more compelling desire is restoration. I don’t want you to punish yourself because you were disappointed, but if that is your primary and long-lasting response, you’re not in the right place.
To dial in more effectively on where you are today while charting a course to a better day, here are a few characteristics of the person who has not “budgeted” sin into their future experience. My list here is not exhaustive. As you think about yourself, ask the Lord to give you insight into how you react when you sin or when your family and friends do.
How did you do? What other ways do you respond poorly to your sin or the sin of others that is not on this list? Will you talk to someone about these things? Who is the person that the Lord is bringing to mind right now? What is your specific plan to start making changes?
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).