When I talk about specific areas of acceptable sins, one comment I often hear is that pride is the root cause of all of them. While I agree that pride does play a major role in the development and expression of our subtle sins, I believe there is another sin that is even more basic, more widespread, and more apt to be the root cause of our other sins. That is the sin of ungodliness, of which we are all guilty to some degree.
Does that statement surprise you, or maybe even offend you? We don’t think of ourselves as ungodly. After all, we are Christians; we are not atheists or wicked people. We attend church, avoid scandalous sins, and lead respectable lives. In our minds, the ungodly folks are the ones who live truly wicked lives. How, then, can I say that we believers are all, to some extent, ungodly?
Contrary to what we normally think, ungodliness and wickedness are not the same. A person may be a nice, respectable citizen and still be an ungodly person. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 1:18, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.” Note that Paul distinguishes ungodliness from unrighteousness. Ungodliness describes an attitude toward God, while unrighteousness refers to sinful actions in thought, word, or deed. An atheist or avowed secularist is obviously an ungodly person, but so are a lot of morally decent people, even if they say they believe in God.
Ungodliness may be defined as living one’s everyday life with little or no thought of God, or of God’s will, or of God’s glory, or of one’s dependence on God. You can readily see, then, that someone can lead a respectable life and still be ungodly in the sense that God is essentially irrelevant in his or her life. We rub shoulders with such people every day in the course of our ordinary activities. They may be friendly, courteous, and helpful to other people, but God is not at all in their thoughts. They may even attend church for an hour or so each week but then live the remainder of the week as if God doesn’t exist. They are not wicked people, but they are ungodly.
Now, the sad fact is that many of us who are believers tend to live our daily lives with little or no thought of God. We may even read our Bibles and pray for a few minutes at the beginning of each day, but then we go out into the day’s activities and basically live as though God doesn’t exist. We seldom think of our dependence on God or our responsibility to Him. We might go for hours with no thought of God at all. In that sense, we are hardly different from our nice, decent, but unbelieving neighbor. God is not at all in his thoughts and is seldom in ours.
One cannot carefully read the New Testament without recognizing how far short we come in living out a biblical standard of godliness. I referred above to our seldom thinking of our dependence on God. In that regard, consider these words from James:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (4:13–15)
James does not condemn these people for making plans or even planning to set up a business and make a profit. What he condemns is their planning that does not acknowledge their dependence on God. We make plans all the time. In fact, we couldn’t live or accomplish the most mundane duties of life without some degree of planning. But so often we act like the people James addressed. We, too, make our plans without recognizing our utter dependence on God to carry them out. That is one expression of ungodliness.
Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2007), 17–19.
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