Frank’s Desk – 03/07/2011

From The Desk of Min. Frank Coleman
Monday March 7, 2011

How to Conquer a Secret Thought Life

Almost every man struggles with the temptation of secret sin. Lust, bitterness, pornography, anger, selfishness all of us have private areas where we are especially vulnerable. Many men fight against these sins for years without significant change. Why is overcoming secret sin so difficult?

I would rather go to jail than be seen in a bar. Frankly, the reasons are not spiritual, but selfish. I don’t want my reputation to be tarnished, so I categorically avoid bars. This has less to do with what Jesus might think than what my friends might think.

The visibility of our speech and actions helps us keep these in line. Visibility brings a certain level of self-discipline. We all want to get along with others and have a good reputation, and these ambitions keep us in check.

In contrast, the low visibility of our private thought life has no peer pressure, no accountability, only self-discipline and dependence upon the Spirit. What is the result of low visibility? We lead a secret thought life, often unruly, which we would find embarrassing for others to know about.

Low awareness sins are blind spots such as pride, resentment, bitterness, and envy. These low awareness areas are fierce battlegrounds in our minds. The Psalmist inquires, “Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults … Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression” (Psalm 19:12-13). You can’t beat an enemy you don’t see.

This figure shows the relationship between visibility and awareness. Visibility is oriented to the external world “others” while awareness is oriented to the internal world “me.”

In general, the more visible a sin, the easier it is to control. Before I received the Lord, every other word had four letters imaginatively arranged. I became acutely aware of the sinfulness of this coarse language because of its high visibility. In contrast, my ambition to control my own destiny without anyone’s help, including God’s, escaped my awareness for many years, aided and abetted by its low visibility.

While the visibility of some sins motivates us to change, we can’t change things of which we are not aware. Awareness of sin depends upon the degree to which we are leading an unexamined life. An increasing sensitivity and awareness of sin helps us stop sinning.

Let’s look at what happens when visibility and awareness are combined.

High Visibility/High Awareness – These sins are the most blatant – sins that anyone (even the nonbeliever) would recognize as wrong. Notice how our high visibility sins are usually sins of speech and actions.

Once a friend started an affair which everyone, including his wife, knew about. He was approached by some of his friends to abandon this highly visible affair. He was very aware of what he was doing but would not stop.

High Visibility/Low Awareness – These sins are often the sins of nonbelievers, but not always. A man became a Christian, but after several years he still was known for temper tantrums at work. When approached, he said he thought it was perfectly normal to let off steam. No one had ever made him aware that anger can be a sin.

Low Visibility/High Awareness – Low visibility problems are where our secret thought life spawns itself unfettered. Every Christian man harbors some low visibility/high awareness sins. “I know my attraction to pornography is wrong, but I just can’t seem to stop.”

Once a friend offered to help me obtain a business loan. But when I went for his help, I couldn’t get him to follow up. My feelings were wounded. I was angry beyond forgiveness, and I soon found myself bitter and resentful. I didn’t have the courage to confront him, so I just festered.

I was aware of this sin in my secret thoughts, but its low visibility didn’t require me to account to anyone. Finally, the conviction by the Holy Spirit became so strong that I reconciled the relationship.

Low Visibility/Low Awareness – The most sly sins of all are the low visibility/low awareness ones. Not only does no one else see it, we don’t either. And since we rarely examine our lives or allow others access to our inner selves, we can be oblivious to our sinful attitudes.

Recently, I realized I am a “critiquer.” I critique everything; people, buildings, cars, clothes, landscaping, colors nothing escapes the critique. That alone would be no problem, but I add to my critique a comparison to myself. So, very subtly, I put others down to make myself feel better. I was not aware of this sinful pride for many years.

Here are four suggestions for overcoming secret sin:

  1. Remember there is no “secret sin.” God knows every sin we commit. We may hide our sin from others, but we can never hide our sin from God.

    A pastor asked his youth, “Would you do the things in the back seat on your dates if Jesus was in the front seat? Well, he’s not in the front seat he’s in the back seat with you!”

    Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. God is with us, even when we commit secret sin. We should fear God more than men. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mat 10:28).

  2. Look at the end of the road that you have started down in your secret sin. No one who commits adultery leaves home in the morning a happily married man and suddenly decides to sleep with a stranger. No one is a satisfied employee one minute and the next decides to embezzle thousands from his company. Adultery usually begins when a man develops emotional ties with a woman who is not his wife. Embezzlement comes after long periods of bitterness, lack of contentment, and greed.

    You may think your secret sin is minor, but where will it lead in a month, six months, five years? Secret sins are like an addiction it inevitably takes more and more to satisfy our cravings. Like a river rushing towards a waterfall, secret sins gather strength the farther we go downstream.

    When Satan tempts us, he offers the bait but hides the hook. Momentary pleasure can become bitter for eternity. If you are involved in secret sin, consider if the short-term pleasure is worth the long-term consequences.

  3. Confess your sin to an accountability partner as well as anyone you have sinned against. “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). Secret sin is particularly enticing because it is hidden from other people.

    Letting someone in on our secret helps stop private sin in its tracks. If you have been involved with pornography, find an appropriate time and confess your sin to your wife. This may be hard she will be angry or hurt or both, but honesty can bring healing in your relationship.

    Typically, we don’t want to let anyone in on our secret sins because we are ashamed. Allowing shame to control us gives in to the propaganda of the devil. Everyone knows I am a sinner no one will be surprised. And they know the evil of which I am capable, because they know their own hearts.

    Knowing God has forgiven even our secret sins can free us to overcome our shame and confess these sins to appropriate people. This can be a liberating experience, as if a heavy burden were removed from our backs. A word of caution prayerfully consider to whom and what sins you will confess. Making yourself vulnerable always involves risk, so use wisdom and discretion. Still, this accountability brings visibility and feedback that empowers us to stand firm.

  4. Avoid situations where you will be tempted to secret sin. “Flee youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 2:22). You can’t drown in the sea if your feet don’t get in the water. And you won’t be tempted to get in if you never go to the beach.

    If you struggle with pornography, don’t linger near the magazine racks. If you travel, ask the front desk to turn off access to the pornographic movies in your hotel room. If you have a problem with bitterness and greed, don’t be the one to take the company’s deposit to the bank.

    This is not a call for legalistic rule making; rather we should set wise standards that help us avoid temptation. Make concrete decisions about the places you will go and the things you will do. Share these standards with someone and ask for help in sticking to them.


The goal of our secret thought life should be to be holy as He is holy. We must be ruthless in dealing with secret sin and take drastic measures to root it out of our lives “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). May God empower you to win the battles you face.

© 1998. Patrick M. Morley. All rights reserved.

by Patrick Morley and David Delk
Adapted from The Man In The Mirror (Zondervan).

May God bless you!

Frank Coleman

All comments and links in this publication reflect the sole opinion of Frank Coleman

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