Confronting the ugliness of sin

  • Ruth Baker
  • 27 August 2020

A friend of mine moved house recently. After the pain and trauma of packing up all the boxes and furniture, they got the pest controller in to give the place a spray before it was sold. As they drove away, they looked back lovingly at the house in which they’d made so many happy memories… and saw every conceivable kind of creepy-crawly streaming out of every crack and crevice of the house as they sought to escape the pest controller’s fumes.

It killed the moment. And frankly, it gave them the shivers to realize that those bugs had been there all along. Living. Scuttling. In the dark. It makes your skin crawl!

But creepy-crawlies aren’t the only things that lurk in the dark. Scary things live in the dark. Things we don’t want to see; things we don’t want to believe are there. But when we are eventually forced to look, we realize they were there all the time.

This is no more true than of sin. JC Ryle said, “We need not be afraid to look at sin, and study its nature, origin, power, extent and vileness.”1

So, let’s look.

When Paul describes his apostolic mission to Agrippa in Acts 26:18, he says he was tasked “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God”. The darkness is where Satan and our sins lie. Living and scuttling and feeding.

“Terribly black” says Ryle, “must that guilt be for which nothing but the blood of the Son of God could make satisfaction.”2 This terrible blackness, this sin and darkness, does not end with our conversion. We are still fallen humans living in a broken world.

In Matthew 6:19-24, Jesus speaks about the earthly treasures we put our faith in, saying in the high point of the passage:

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (vv. 22-23)

Lamp imagery is also used throughout the Bible for God’s word: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps 119:105). God has no darkness in him, and he has given us his word so that, in Christ, the darkness might be dispelled from us.

His word also continues to guide us as we are sanctified by the Spirit. As Ryle says, “The greatest proof of the extent and power of sin is the pertinacity [stubborn persistence] with which it cleaves to man even after he is converted and has become the subject of the Holy Ghost’s operations.”3

One thing I know about cockroaches is they always come back. John gives us a stark reminder:

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” (1 John 1:5-6)

Sin is pernicious, insidious and clever. Sin is many things we don’t even think are sinful, so, as Ryle says, a person “may commit sin and yet be ignorant of it, and fancy himself innocent when he is guilty”.4

And because our sins live in the dark, we don’t see them unless we turn the light on.

So, while we are saved by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, and we are sanctified by the Spirit, we still get to make choices every day. We should choose to grow in awareness of our sins, identify them and repent quickly.

This can seem overwhelming at times. It would be easy for our inner voice to tip over into self-loathing. But let this not be so. Awareness is a spur to greater things. It is a spur to repentance and change. It is a spur to go deeper into God’s word; it is a spur to stay close to Christ. It is a spur to bring others to the light.

In 1 Timothy, Paul said, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (v. 15). This is not Paul wallowing in self-pity: this is Paul explaining what compels him to act. So it should be with us.

How are we to do that? John continues his reminder in 1 John 1:7: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin”. And Ryle said he was “persuaded the more light we have, the more we see our own sinfulness: the nearer we get to heaven, the more we are clothed with humility”.5

The more light we have the better. Let our sin be a spur to drink deeply from the Bible. Let God’s light shine into us more and more. Let his words be a lamp to our feet that dispels the darkness we know is in us.

Let us not sink into self-hate but instead rest in the hope that we have. When Ryle said we should not be afraid to look at our sin, he gave a crucial balancing statement: “if we only look at the same time at the almighty medicine provided for us in the salvation that is in Jesus Christ”.6

Always focus on him whose sacrifice was sufficient to cover the darkness in all of us. This stops us wallowing in self-pity. But let us face our sins, and know that they are ugly and twisted and nasty. If you don’t know where to start, pray to God the words that he gave us:

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts.
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24)


1. JC Ryle, Holiness (Abridged). Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots, Moody Publishers, 2010), p. 33.

2. Ibid., p. 29.

3. Ibid., p. 26.

4. Ibid., p. 22.

5. Ibid., p. 33.

6. Ibid., p. 33.