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What You Keep in the Dark

woman in shadows
Hiding sin keeps us in our own bondage. It's time to step into the light.

In our good moments and our bad, we now live out loud.

A stranger posts a picture of a man helping a father with his child’s math problem on the subway, and this kindness goes viral. A customer posts a photo of a waitress cutting up food for an elderly man in a restaurant, and her courtesy goes viral. Someone posts a video of two black men being arrested for simply sitting in a coffee shop, and the online outrage makes a large corporation address its policies. A celebrity tweets racist comments, and loses her show and sponsors.

Camera phones and social media amplify this effect, but the reality that our actions will be exposed (for good or bad) is not a modern concept. It is a biblical promise: “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17).

In a sense, 21st-century technology is just another expression of an agrarian corollary.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8)

This illustration is a timeless truth. Each day our actions sow future reactions. Sometimes the consequences are Twitter tsunamis of outrage. But most of the time, the consequences aren’t that swift. That’s why the illustration of sowing and reaping is important.

We can convince ourselves that bad seeds don’t really take root because it often takes time to see the harvest. Sin whispers to us that we can bury bad seeds and no one will ever know. That we will be the exception to the cosmic law of sowing and reaping.

But that is never, ever true. The seeds eventually break ground and the harvest comes into the light. Sowing and reaping, darkness and light — whether in this life or the judgment to come, reckoning will come to us all.

The Spiritual Battleground

As a child, I had this crazy idea that everyone went into suspended animation whenever I left the room, and they resumed life whenever I re-entered. Because I couldn’t see what was happening when I wasn’t around, I naïvely assumed nothing occurred. I figured what I could see with my own eyes was the full extent of reality. But this wasn’t true.

Just like thinking that you can plant bad seeds and reap a good harvest, it’s also dangerous to live as if the physical world you can see is all that counts. A spiritual reality that is unseen does exist and is just as true and real as anything we can see, hear or touch. What seems like “normal life” is actually an intense spiritual battlefield, but we walk around without preparing for it or even acknowledging it. We live as if we don’t have a spiritual enemy out to destroy us.

It’s not enough to recognize you battle an enemy within in the form of sin. You should also be prepared to fight the enemy outside — a real being who undermines, tempts and opposes you. To wage a successful war, you have to know and prepare for the strategy of your opponent.

The first line of defense is knowing and recognizing temptation’s “disinformation campaign.” Life-destroying sins do not show up at our door as the foul carcasses of death they are. No, the enemy presents them as striking objects of desire that emanate sweet lies: “No one will know … it’s just this one time … we won’t do this anymore after this … you deserve this …”

The enemy’s attack is relentless. It’s not just the temptations he constantly presents or the lies he disseminates — he also attacks our weaknesses. He studies us and sees us planting those secret seeds, and he uses those secret sins to gain every advantage to destroy us, the beloved children of God.

One of his favorite war tactics is to draw us out on the battlefield by ourselves, isolated from the rest of the troops and unwilling to ask for backup. He lies to us that we can manage sin. Or that it’s not that bad. Or that no one would understand if we told them.

Worst of all, he tells us that God’s light is harmful, not redemptive. That it’s far better to stay in the shadows and doubt God’s goodness and purposes.

The Freedom of Confession

“I’ve got something serious to tell you and it has to start with me asking for your forgiveness because I’ve been lying to you for a long time.”

This was how a friend started a painful conversation with me about a hidden sin that blew up his life. As he revealed the sexual abuse of his children, I was shocked at both his actions and that he was able to keep them hidden so well and so long.

I’ve never forgotten the way he resisted confession, even when he had been given many chances over the years. He said, “My pastor even asked me directly about past allegations, and I lied to his face and said those were all lies. I wish I had confessed it all then, because I just kept on sinning.”

I’ve never forgotten those haunting words. As he spoke, I wondered what would have changed if he had confessed his temptation years earlier — before he committed a crime, harmed his family, and was sent to jail. It would have been very hard to do, but not nearly as devastating as it later became.

Unconfessed sin festering in the dark is a slimy tool for the enemy to use for our destruction. What we keep in the dark creates our own bondage. Even when God gives us the opportunity to bolt for the light and confess what we’ve been hiding, we often think that the cost of this freedom is too high. Again, this is a lie.

The truth is that the cost of keeping sin in the dark is much greater. Hiding sin corrodes our souls, harms others and destroys our gospel witness. It is a self-inflicted wound on the invisible spiritual battlefield.

But there is a way to summon protection — through confession. Confession uncovers what we’ve been trying to conceal and brings it into the healing light of God. It also invites accountability, care, prayer and protection by our fellow infantry.

Yes, at times confession attracts judgment and condemnation from immature Christians who have yet to learn the spiritual humility of Galatians 6:1 that says those who caught in sin should be restored “in a spirit of gentleness.” But I assure you that even condemnation from immature Christians is far less significant than the destruction resulting from unconfessed sin.

The Strength to Know Love

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1), and there is nothing free in being enslaved by sin. Yes, discipline is painful, and the enemy will lie to you that it’s worse to be disciplined than to remain enslaved to sin. But don’t forget that discipline later “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). God, who is rich in mercy toward His children, exposes sin only to restore us to righteousness.

When Jesus called out the sinful actions of the woman caught in adultery, He did so in order to restore her dignity as an image-bearer of God.

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I  condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:10-11)

Can you imagine being that woman? She thought she was going to die for her sin, but suddenly she was forgiven and set free! She faced full condemnation from her community, but the holiness of Jesus made the Pharisees turn away from stoning her. Her heart must have been bursting with love and gratitude after that encounter with Jesus.

This truth about Jesus’ love — that He died to cleanse us from sin and free us — is the reason we can dig up seeds of destruction, not giving them any more time to grow. It’s why we can rally the troops, telling them the truth without fear. It’s why we can willingly expose our hidden sin to the light of God, knowing that His discipline is just one aspect of His restorative love. Confessing is hard work and we will be opposed in every effort to do it, but there is nothing in this world that eclipses the freedom that follows.

That’s why the Apostle Paul prayed for the Ephesians to comprehend the love of God. Have you ever noticed the truth buried at the end of chapter three? Paul prayed this incredible cinematic word-picture: “…that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19, emphasis added).

As believers, we have strength to believe and act on the love of God and live in His light. I pray we all will.

Copyright 2018 Carolyn McCulley. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Carolyn McCulley

Carolyn McCulley is an author, speaker and filmmaker at Citygate Films. Her most recent book is “The Measure of Success: Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work, and the Home.” She is a member of Redeemer Church of Arlington and is the proud aunt of six nieces and nephews.


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