How To Keep Your Secret Sins From Taking You Out

By Tom Gilson Published on November 25, 2017

 Of all the unpopular truths in this world, I know of none less welcome than the one that’s been proved day after day in the news these past few weeks. Every sin takes you down, but your secret sins will take you out.

Who to Open Up With

Wisdom says not to share your sins with just anyone. Undiscerning, careless disclosures can  be as harmful as much as any secret.

So choose people as your confidants who understand both grace and truth. Jesus Christ Himself came to us “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). He told the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (John 8:1-11) Both halves of that answer are essential: There’s no condemnation, but there must be repentance. 

The person you open up with might be your pastor or priest. It could be a professional counselor. It might be a wise and trusted friend. It might even be a small group you can trust, like a 12-step group or a support group.

Whoever it may be, find that person or persons. Find someone to share with who:

  • you can trust to keep it confidential
  • has enough biblical and relational wisdom to help
  • will keep you oriented on the truth, especially the truth that sin is never right and always needs repentance
  • will keep you also focused on grace: that there’s no condemnation in Christ, but rather forgiveness and life for all who will accept it from Him, no matter what we’ve done

Everyone knows the real problem with Watergate wasn’t the break-in, it was the cover-up. Not long before he passed away, I asked Chuck Colson what he’d say to my daughter’s history class, which was studying the Watergate era. He answered, “I’d tell them that to this day, I have no idea why those two burglars were at the Watergate.” If Nixon and his team had opened up a lot sooner, they’d have gotten in a lot less trouble.

Secrets are like that. Still, we think we’re better off hiding our secrets. We don’t dare let on what we’re doing. The stigma would kill us.

A Living Death

That’s what one man told me once. It was in the late 1980s, and I was working HR for a global Christian mission agency. This person had applied for a ministry position. We’d accepted him based on a strong application and solid interviews with our staff where he lived.

But one day he called me at our headquarters and said, “I can’t stand the guilt any longer. I lied on my application. I’ve had sex with several men in the past few months.”

He knew that would disqualify him from our ministry. More than that, he knew that it was wrong; I didn’t have to persuade him of that. He was in severe emotional pain over it, and for good reason. So at one point in our long conversation, I said, “Wouldn’t it be a good idea for you to open up about this with someone who can help you, right where you live?”

He said, “I couldn’t do that. It would be death to me.”

I asked him, “Isn’t it already a lot like a living death?”

His answer came back slowly, reluctantly: “Well, yes. Actually it is.”

The Freedom of Life Lived In the Clear

I don’t know what he did. I never heard back from him. But around that time I did hear back from another applicant who’d owned up to a pornography problem six months earlier. He thanked me for our organization’s holding him accountable. He told me, “I’ve trashed all the magazines, I’ve asked my pastor to hold me accountable, I’ve entered into counseling, and I am so much more free now!”

It’s when we confess our sins for what they are that we may be healed (James 5:16) and experience God’s forgiveness (1 John 1:9).

The great error we make is to think, “First I’ll stop doing what I’m doing. Then I can own up to having had the problem.” But that works only rarely. As long as the sin remains in the dark, we’re prone to falling back into the dark. The route to getting rid of secret sins passes first through getting rid of the secrecy, then the sin, not the other way around.

So I implore you, for the sake of Christ and His kingdom, for yourself, for your family and your friends, for all those who look to you, if you’re harboring secret sin, open up and share it with the wise and gracious confidant who can help you repent and accept God’s healing grace.

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  • A good word! Any temptation to keep secrets is a “tell” about the sin in it. Once it is out in the open, it’s no longer a weapon for the accuser to use against the repentant Christian.

  • Howard Rosenbaum

    Theres little doubt that establishing an “accountability relationship ” w/an appropriate individual or group can make a difference for those “struggling” w/a particular moral weakness. Understandably though there is really no such thing as a “secret sin”.
    Not from God anyway. The world has had its “open secrets”. Their peers in a given situation know or rather don’t care to understand the value of accountability. Hey, many of them are not so far removed from the same type of things as that guy w/the “open secret “. Theres no moral authority of any practical consequence in their lives.
    The distinction for the consecrated believer is that he cannot escape the witness of the Spirit of Gods often gentle but no less provocative convicting presence. True freedom from distasteful behavior patterns comes w/the willingness to be held accountable for the so called secret sins we hide from the eyes of men. Accountable before a loving Father whose Spirit we can no longer persist in grieving. It’s the love both for & of God that can truly restain the wandering eyes & any other part that may be manipulated for evil. God cannot be pleased by anything we do that does not proceed from faith. The faith that works by LOVE. The love that has provided so great a grace. A grace that TEACHES us to deny ungodliness & worldly lusts. That is where the freedom from “secret sins” is to be most significantly found …

  • Hmmm…

    1 Cor. 11:31 For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.

    I’ve heard that verse preached to effectiveness, liberation even. Allow the Holy Spirit to magnify the word about what God has covenanted to do for you, not the sin. It just makes sense to get clear of something as quickly as you can. Father, I judge myself of this, and release the matter to you. 1 John 1:9 says you are just and faithful to forgive me and to cleanse me of the unrighteousness in this. Now I go free, as I submit to your instructions and training in the right ways needed here.

    The enemy of our souls is a blackmailer. He’ll use whatever he has against us… against us … and it does not make for freedom and needed growth. Usefulness and service can go by the way as well. Once again, the Gospel is good news. If we give God a way into our situation, he’ll give us a way out of our situation. So great salvation.

  • Estelline

    Thanks, Tom–a good reminder to us all.

  • Murball

    A sobering commentary.
    Romans 2:16 – in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.

  • Audrey Vieira

    Excellent commentary.

    I’ve recently acknowledged my need to have accountability in my life to assist me in staying on the straight and narrow (after a long streak of making poor life choices). Asking people to hold me accountable has been both terrifying and liberating.

    Sharing when I’m struggling in an area is one of my weaknesses; hence the need for trustworthy people to occasionally ask me…while I know I’m not likely to initiate the conversation, I won’t lie to them if they ask me about it outright. Admitting to the people I’ve asked to hold me accountable “I caved into temptation and _____” or “I’ve failed to _____” will not damage our relationship….lying to them will (especially since I’m the one who asked them to ask me the questions).

    When considering who to ask, I looked for people who:
    1. I knew would keep anything I say confidential.
    2. Has been / would be praying for me and my spiritual growth.
    3. Would not minimize any sin in my life, but at the same time wouldn’t judge me for it.
    4. Knew enough of my past to know what struggles I’ve faced (and the temptations I’ve previously caved into)
    5. Would at least somewhat regularly check in with me (wouldn’t forget or just not have time).

    After much prayer about the people I knew who fit the above criteria, I decided on three to definitely ask and one who I felt like could be a good accountability partner, but I’ve only known them a short time and was judging how comfortable I’d be being that open with them. I’m currently still praying about asking them. I want to be able to trust them, but I know the importance of being cautious of who I open up to (I’ve been burnt a few times being too open with the wrong people).

    Knowing that I could be asked about various struggles has given me a bit more motivation to not allow myself to give into temptation. I know I can’t live in “secret sin” now. The ability to lead a sinful life without anyone knowing about it in the past was a huge stumbling block.

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