Does my private, personal sin affect others?

Many believe that their personal sin is okay as long as it doesn't harm anyone else. "It doesn't affect anyone else, so what's the problem?" But how do we know that our sins don't hurt someone else? Who measures the effect of one's sin on others? The excuse that "I'm the only one affected" is often an attempt to justify private practices that cause immeasurable harm to other people.

No man is an island, and sin is never a strictly personal act. It always has an impact on the lives of others. When a parent sins, it affects a spouse, children, extended family, and each of the relationships connected to these people.

Sometimes, private sin seems to have no effect on others because no one knows about it—yet. Scripture warns, "be sure your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23). Private sin will become public sometime, reaping consequences beyond one's control. There are news stories every day involving those who thought their sin was hidden and were surprised to discover that transgression cannot be covered forever.

Another implication of private sin is that it produces guilt. Guilt, in turn, changes a person's private and public actions. Someone feeling guilt is more prone to stress, irritability, and suspicion. Unhealthy conditions such as sleeplessness and depression may manifest themselves, starting a chain reaction of damaging effects. Even if a person's sin remains undiscovered for a time, its impact on other areas of life will always have a negative bearing on others.

Living with hidden sin makes one dishonest. The heart is the "wellspring of life" (Proverbs 4:23 NIV), and dishonesty in the heart will affect the whole person. Deception of others is closely related to self-deception. Hawthorne said, "No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true."

Of course, God sees everything we do. We cannot hide from Him. When we sin, even privately, it causes a breach in our relationship with Him. The first sin recorded in the Bible is a powerful example. After Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they hid from God (Genesis 3:8). Their fellowship with Him was broken. Once God confronted them, they chose to blame each other rather than confess their sin (Genesis 3:11-13). There were both spiritual and physical consequences for their actions, and those consequences continue today.

The way to deal with private sin is not to hide or deny it, but to end it. "Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy" (Proverbs 28:13). God is faithful and just to forgive our sins (1 John 1:9) and will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can stand (1 Corinthians 10:13). We are called to resist temptation as Jesus did, by relying on the power of God's Word (Matthew 4:1-11).

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