Public, Grievous Sins: The Good & The Bad

I find that there are two important biblical perspectives we ought to keep in mind when a Christian or Christians commit a grievous, public sin. These perspectives are sometimes lost, or at least fade into the background, when in fact they should be uppermost in our thinking. They are: divine sovereignty and human responsibility. 

In the book of Acts, the Apostles make sense of the events that have happened (e.g., Christ's murder) and the events that are happening (e.g., Tongues, persecution) in light of God's Word (Acts 2:16-21; 4:24-26). 

Christ's death, the greatest crime in history - even more so than Adam's sin in the Garden - is interpreted by Peter in terms of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. He doesn't attempt to explain how they are both true. He simply states:
...for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:27-28)
From the perspective of God's divine sovereignty, we can sometimes understand certain events, even great public sins, as God blessing his church. God sometimes allows the very worst to accomplish the very best. This is a great source of comfort to us when we are perplexed and disheartened by certain events that affect the church.
We see this on a lesser level in Acts 5. Ananias and Sapphira are killed because of their deceit and sin against God and the Holy Spirit. Yet, God allows them to commit their sins in order to bless the church. Notice the response of God's people in Acts 5:5, 11. Great fear comes upon the church, and the context of Acts 5 (see vv. 12-16) proves that God was able to bring good out of the wickedness of Ananias and Sapphira. They were held responsible (and so were executed by God) but God used their death to bless the church.
Why did God allow David to commit adultery? God could have, in his providence, kept David pure and thus preserved the purity of Bathsheba and the life of Uriah. But then, of course, the church would be without Psalm 51. God allowed David to sin in such a way because of how much God loves the church, including David. Out of evil, God brings good (Psalm 51). In other words, God allowed David to sin because he loves you and me.
Psalm 51 offers us a wonderful example of what true repentance ought to look like:
David speaks about "my transgressions" (Ps. 51:1c); "my iniquity" (v. 2a); "my sin" (v. 2b); "my transgressions" (v. 3a); "my sin" (v. 3b); "I sinned" (v. 4a); "done what is evil" (v. 4b). He does not shift the blame, but uses the first person singular: my, my, my, my, my. (In the Psalm "I" and "me" = 10x).
Few places in God's Word have been as beneficial to my own soul as the words of David, which came from a Psalm that was only written because of his heinous sins against God and others. In the Psalm, David ransacks the Bible for words to describe his sin; but he does even better when it comes to God's grace to him in his repentance (e.g., "wash me"; "cleanse me"; "purge me with hyssop"; "blot out all my iniquities"; "create within me a pure heart").
Nonetheless, in light of the above, we are also bound to understand grievous public sins - such as those listed above - from the perspective of human responsibility.
As image-bearers of God, and specifically of Christ, we take his name in vain when we engage in sinful lusts and practices (WLC 113). David took God's name in vain. Conversely, as we live holy lives, acceptable and pleasing to God, we hallow his name (Jn. 15:8). In keeping the third commandment, we bring glory to Christ, who himself is glorified in us (Jn. 17:10). When we sin, especially in publicly grievous ways, we profane the name of God and Christ. The point is that we, as Christians, wear the name of Jesus Christ. We wear that name before an unbelieving world. Baptism is a tattoo, so to speak. And when we wear that name but commit a sin like Ananias or David, we tear the name from our shoulder and trample upon the blood of the covenant (see Ex. 28:12, 29-30). 
That is to say, when great sins take place in the church, we are not thinking as Christians if we do not mourn over sin primarily for the sake of Christ. We may, and should, mourn over sin because of what this means for those who are directly and indirectly involved. But there's something more important than that: we must mourn because Christ's honor has been impugned. His name has been profaned. As Christians, we are primarily concerned, in this world, about the glory of Christ, and so we pray to that end when we see or hear of anything that causes his name to be profaned.
Sins will rock the church from within and from without until Christ returns. But we should remember two things: 1) God can bring good out of evil, and often allows a personal sin to accomplish greater corporate ends; and 2) Our prayerful response to sin should always focus on the glory of Christ, whose name we wear. 

Specifically, public sins sober us, highlight the grace of God, show us the need for our utter dependence on him, warn us against self-righteousness, and make us long for the day when Christ will enjoy perfect honor. 


On YouTube

The Story of Scripture

Find Out More

Register for the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology

Reformed Resources

New audio from James Boice