All Christians wrestle with sin. As long as we are in this body our struggle with sin remains (I John 1:8). But there is a big difference between fighting temptation and keeping a pet sin. A Christian’s attitude toward his or her own sin should be to hate it, to consider him or herself dead to it (Romans 6:1-2), and to fight against it. A pet sin, however, is something we don’t struggle against, but secretly delight in. It is what the Psalmist refers to when he says “if I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18). A pet sin is conscious disobedience of God’s commands that we savor under our tongue. We have no intention of putting it to death, as the Bible commands (Romans 8:13). We may even have forgotten it is sinful, because we need it to get by. Your pet sin may be gossip, pornography, laziness, overeating, online shopping, or a judgmental attitude. Whatever it is, here are a few ways to care for your pet sin:
- Put off dealing with it until tomorrow – Jesus said to beware of getting caught up in sin, because the day of judgment may close on you suddenly like a trap. But hey, what are the chances this will happen today? Your pet sin will be harder to kill tomorrow, but only a little bit.
- Wallow in guilt – Never mind that as a Christian you’ve been given the righteousness of Christ (II Corinthians 5:21). Forget Paul’s admonition to forget what is behind and press on toward the goal (Philippians 3:13-14). Your pet sin will grow as long as you continue to wallow in guilt.
- Struggle in your own strength – Don’t depend on the power of Christ to overcome your sin, although this power is given to you as a Christian, since you are united to Christ (II Corinthians 5:17). Forget that apart from Christ you can do nothing (John 15:5). Your pet will thrive as you rely on your willpower alone to overcome it.
- Keep the focus on your feelings – Don’t think too much about how sin is rebellion against God, or that Jesus paid for it with his blood. As Jerry Bridges said in Growing Your Faith, “so often we are troubled with a persistent sin only because it disturbs our peace and makes us feel guilty.” It’s ok to feel ashamed when someone overhears your gossip, or embarrassed if someone finds porn on your phone. Those feelings will soon fade, and your pet sin will be growing again.
- Practice DIY mortification – Don’t tell a mature brother or sister in Christ about your pet sin. This is a sure way to kill it. Definitely don’t ask them to hold you accountable, or pray with you and for you. Don’t ask them if they are struggling with any particular sin; you may unintentionally kill their pet sin. Do it yourself.
The problem with a pet sin is that if you let it get big enough it will kill you. John Owen, the 17th century Puritan, wrote that “sin will not only be striving, acting, rebelling, troubling, disquieting, but if left alone, if not continually mortified, it will bring forth great, cursed, scandalous, soul-destroying sins.” Your soul cannot handle a pet sin. Jesus loved you enough to pay for that sin. He is powerful enough to help you overcome it. He is good enough to make the struggle worthwhile.