Cleaning Out “Closet” Sins


How to overcome the sins that could ruin your

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Charges of priests sexually molesting children have rocked the
Roman Catholic Church in recent years. Famous evangelists have
fueled a media frenzy with their soap-opera-style lives. And no one
even knows the number of children who may have been hurt by
children’s ministers who harbor secret sins.

It’s tempting to shake our heads in judgment of these people,
but let the one “who is without sin” be the one to cast the first
stone. Each of us is prone to sin. While we may regret this
tendency, sins are a fact of human nature. “If we say that we have
no sin,” the Apostle John writes in 1 John 1:8, “we deceive
ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

As someone who works with children, you’re more than likely free
of gross public sins. The danger comes with “closet” sins, those
indiscretions that are carefully hidden from public scrutiny yet
insidiously affect the children you’re trying to help.

Taking Inventory

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Any sin is a transgression of God’s law and, apart from the
blood of Christ, leads to condemnation. Some sins, however, pose
more of a threat than others, carrying consequences that can
destroy lives and wreck the effectiveness of your ministry.

Every Christian leader must practice continual self-evaluation.
Periodically, at a time and in a place where you won’t be
disturbed, take time to honestly evaluate your life. Ask yourself
these questions:

  • What are the areas I would most like to keep from public view?
    Avoid self-deception. We can fool other people, and we can fool
    ourselves, but we can never fool God. Hebrews 4:13 reminds us that
    “all things are naked and open to the eyes of him to whom we must
    give account.”
  • Do I have inappropriate thoughts and attitudes? Pride is often
    a difficulty for those of us entrusted with public ministry. Anger
    and prejudice can also limit our effectiveness in the Lord’s work.
    Covetousness is a sin that can include materialism or sexual lust.
    Ask God to reveal dangerous thoughts and attitudes. Then deal with

Maintaining Perspective

Avoid two extremes when analyzing your sins. First, remember the
difference between temptation and sin.

Overly sensitive individuals may feel unworthy for ministry
because they’re tempted. However, temptation is universal. Jesus
was tempted in every way, yet he remained perfect. Our response to
temptation is what makes the difference.

Some people, however, have grown so insensitive to mental
impurity that they feel any thought is appropriate as long as no
physical action follows. We must never treat our thought lives
lightly. Jesus clearly taught the need for vigilance in maintaining
purity of thought.

Deal with your thought life, but as long as the battle is fought
on the level of thoughts and desires, effective ministry is still
possible. When wrong thinking leads to wrong action, the situation
is more serious.

“Measuring” Sins

Obviously, every Christian sins in thought as well as in deed,
and sinful acts must be evaluated carefully. For example, if you
lose your temper, there’s a difference between verbal and physical
abuse. Both are wrong, but physical abuse will bring an effective
children’s ministry to an end immediately. If you’re verbally
abusive, your ministry’s demise may be more gradual. Giving in to
covetousness might cause one person to not contribute money
generously to the work of the Lord. Covetousness may lead another
person to steal. Obviously, the severity of consequences

In evaluating your sinful acts, focus on the effect they have on
the children who you minister to. Anything that’ll emotionally,
physically, or spiritually harm a child must be viewed with great
concern and dealt with drastically.

The question of influence is also important. Not only your
example, which is a template for young lives, but your credibility
with parents and other adults is on the line. If adults involved
with your ministry don’t have complete confidence in your
integrity, your program’s effectiveness will be fatally

Equally important is your own position before God. Don’t be
guilty of living a lie-teaching holiness to others but harboring a
secret life of sin.

Overcoming sin

If it’s been difficult for you to clean out your “closet,” try
these ideas:

Humble yourself. Anyone enslaved to sin should
seek freedom in Jesus Christ. First, honesty before God is an
absolute requisite. You must be willing to confess your sins and
pray for his strength in fighting them. Without this initial
humility, spiritual healing isn’t possible.

Spend time with God. Once you gain God’s
forgiveness and strength, nurture spiritual disciplines. Daily
prayer and Bible study are a necessity. Regular meditation on the
scriptures has a way of drawing us to God and away from sin.

Be accountable. Find individuals to be
accountable to. Ideally, a spiritual mentor is a more mature
Christian who knows you well and earnestly desires your good. Yet
this person should be distant enough from your immediate situation
to maintain a degree of objectivity. If you have no one to confide
in, a professional counselor would be of tremendous help. Select
such a professional with great care. Once you’ve established a
trusting, professional relationship with a Christian counselor, you
can honestly explore the roots of your sinful behavior and plan
strategies for overcoming it.

Take a break. Depending on the severity of the
sin involved, you may need time away from ministry. Often this is a
difficult decision for Christians because we tend to define
ourselves and even our relationships with God by what we do.
However, if your sin presents danger to children, to the
effectiveness of your ministry, or to your spiritual well being,
you have no option. You must disengage, at least for a time, from
direct ministry. In some situations, it might never be appropriate
to return to the same sort of ministry, such as when the danger of
physical or sexual abuse is involved. The risk is too great.
Explore other avenues of ministry that can bring glory to God
without jeopardizing the innocent.

Have hope. Finally, never let your sinfulness
destroy you. While life on this earth is a series of triumphs and
defeats, the ultimate victory is assured.

As the Apostle Paul writes, “The sting of death is sin, and the
power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the
victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57,

So whatever your ministry, and especially if it involves
impressionable children, clean out your closet regularly. We must
make sure that we aren’t merely “talking a good game” of religion
but that spirituality really does permeate our lives.

It’s imperative for your spiritual well-being. And it’s crucial
for the children you’ve been entrusted with in your ministry.

Neil Anderson is president of Gospel Advocate Company and
author of The Bondage Breaker (Harvest House). Please keep in mind
that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to


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