Thermometer Sins

How are you doing spiritually?

That’s a question we don’t hear or ask very often, and a very good friend is often on the other end of the question. But, it’s worth pondering: how are you doing spiritually?

How do you answer this question? What criteria do you use?

I find that my mind often runs to the frequency with which I’m having devotions when I consider that question, and that’s not entirely a bad thing. When we are walking closely with God, repenting of sin and trusting in the finished work of Jesus, we will pray and we will meditate upon the Bible. In times of spiritual dryness and distance from God, we are less likely to access those same means of grace.

But there are other factors that affect my assessment of my spiritual health, and I’ve taken to calling these thermometer sins. They are what our fathers in the faith referred to as “besetting sins,” those sinful patterns or habits that seem to hang around, month after month. Christians are aware of their besetting sins to varying degrees and may often use success or failure in these areas as a primary indicator of spiritual health. If I’m prone to laziness and yesterday was an especially unproductive day, I might feel far from God since I know that laziness is a spiritual problem. On the other hand, if I’ve gotten a lot done at the office, I might feel like I’m thriving spiritually.

Gauging one’s spiritual temperature using thermometer sins is helpful (though maybe not fully adequate) as long as this is in the realm of sanctification. However, we run into dangerous and disasterous territory if we try to assess our standing in God’s family this way.

Besetting sins can seem so large in our minds that our performance in those areas determines our outlook on our relationship with God. But, let’s not confuse justification with sanctification. We are purchased by God, once for all, by His work in the person of Jesus. We are perfectly loved and accepted by God the Father who will never forsake His children. God will not love us more or accept us more easily if we’re doing well with our besetting sins. Conversely, there is no additional distance between us and God if we’re struggling with sin of any sort.

If you’re meeting with a close Christian friend for accountability and encouragement, you would do well to ask each other about your thermometer sins. But make sure those conversations take place in the context of loved children of God, not those are trying to earn the Father’s love.

[Note: the excellent first chapter of the excellent The Discipline of Grace, by Jerry Bridges makes this case better and more eloquently than I do.]

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