Late one morning last week, I was mopping my kitchen floor with the combination of resentment and resignation this particular task always brings out in me. Let’s just say housekeeping is not my passion, and cleaning something that will immediately be dirty again (given the constant nature of gravity and fine-motor miscalculations in my house) is my least-favorite exercise in futility. On this morning I didn’t have much time for mopping, but I wanted to at least scrub the most obvious sticky spills off my floor before a friend came over to visit.
My kitchen tile is typical in that it has several shades of taupe in it. It also has a slightly rough texture, so it appears lightly speckled with darker tones. Consequently, big blobs of dripped jelly or dried puddles of melted chocolate stand out quite well, but smaller or lighter dirty patches tend to blend in and be overlooked without a careful inspection.
As I worked my way quickly around the kitchen table, I noticed one such subtle spot and stopped short. I dutifully swiped at it with the mop, then peered closely to see if I had eliminated it. Impatient to be finished, after half a second I mentally shrugged my shoulders and said to myself, Good enough! I knew I hadn’t completely mopped away that dirty spot, but it blended well enough with the tile for my floor to pass as clean with a cursory glance.
My friend would never notice. Only I would know I hadn’t done a thorough job. And while my awareness of the remaining dirt irritated me, for now the appearance of clean was sufficient. That’s when the Holy Spirit halted me in my busy tracks.
That dirt is like your sin,” God whispered.
Instantly a picture flashed in my mind of myself, rushing through the spiritual disciplines like I was rushing through my cleaning this morning. I saw myself pause in my forward motion as the Holy Spirit’s eyes touched on specific sins in my life, as he pointed them out to me so I could see them, too. A speck here, a faint blot nearby, and over there in the corner a nearly transparent layer of grime.
Subtle, mostly secret sins. A well-disguised critical attitude, a camouflaged patch of pride, a hidden indulgence of self. Such sins are not ones the people I interact with today or see at church on Sunday would perceive in me, perhaps, but they are glaringly obvious to the One with eyes to see, and now to me. I knew at once what God was showing me as I stood there with my mop in hand.
Too often, these are the sins I try to shrug about when the Holy Spirit reveals them to me. Good enough for now, I say, and duck away rather than pause to be still in God’s presence. Rather than allow his kindness to lead me to repentance and forgiveness. Rather than permit him to purify my heart and renew my mind through the shed blood of Christ and the water of his Word.
Leaving the dirt on my kitchen floor made me squirm a little inside because I knew it was there even if no one else did, which meant that the job wasn’t really finished, and my floor was still dirty. Yet I left it because I was unwilling to sacrifice my priorities for that day to do the work completely. So I settled for the appearance of clean.
Spiritually, I know I do the same. When convicted of seemingly hidden sins, I sometimes choose to look away even though my spirit shrinks a little inside because I know my sin is still there, and I am still dirty. By shrugging at my own sin–trying to justify it, making excuses for it, or simply refusing to stop doing it–I reject the grace offered me to repent and be washed clean. Further, I hinder the Spirit of God from completing his work in me or through me today because I am unwilling to sacrifice my own priorities, desires, and autonomy in this moment. I settle for the appearance of clean.
This reveals a deceitful, distorted perspective in me. Minimizing the destructive effects of my most inward, subtle sins is evidence that my mind desperately needs to be renewed. God’s perspective is always the truth; my own is deeply flawed. Therefore, one of my deepest needs as a follower of Jesus is to continually seek God’s perspective by reading and meditating on his Word and listening to his Spirit within me, so that I have the mind of Christ to see sin for what it truly is.
When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! Romans 6:20-21
The truth is, the sin we tend to shrug off as harmless or victimless never, ever is. When we see our sin from God’s point of view, we realize that what we thought was pleasure ultimately brought pain and brokenness. What we perceived as freedom was really slavery. What tasted like nourishment to the self was actually poison to our souls. When we choose to live with the impurity of secret sins by ignoring them and continuing in them, we are at best settling for a long-distance relationship with Christ, which to me sounds scarily like “having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof” as described in 2 Timothy 3:1-5.
And our sin never affects only ourselves; that is a lie we wish were true. These are the facts: I cannot parent my children or love my husband well today with a weakened connection to Christ. I cannot pray for hurting friends when my communication with a holy God is compromised. And I cannot encourage other believers, or share Jesus in my community, while my joy in Christ is subdued under the weight of sins I decide to overlook, despite the Spirit’s call to repentance and restoration.
God desires for us to acknowledge deep within the truth the Holy Spirit reveals, and to trade our limited human perspective for his eternal, wise one. He wants us to choose holiness by the help of the Holy Spirit. He calls us to surrender our rebellious autonomy in the secret places of our hearts. He exhorts us to invite his Spirit to fill us so we can experience the glorious benefits of life lived in his presence—the abundance of holy fruit he cultivates in us when we abide in Christ through obedience.
Friends, let’s not merely pass for clean to those who glance at our outward lives, let’s truly be clean. I don’t want my secret, subtle sins to cling to me like the faint traces of dirt stuck to my kitchen tile. I want to let them go and let Jesus cleanse me from every stain of sin. He promises that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
His grace is ours for the asking. We can be free of every impurity, we can be renewed in heart and mind, and we can be empowered to walk in obedience, all by his grace. Let’s take him up on that today.
Sprinkle me with the cleansing blood, and I shall be clean again. Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Create in me a new, clean heart, O God, filled with clean thoughts and right desires. Restore to me again the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.¹ Amen.
¹Psalm 51:7, 10, 12 (The Living Bible)