DENIAL (AIN’T JUST A RIVER IN EGYPT)
Written by Doug Ponder on March 9, 2014
I’m Not in Denial!
More than once in elementary school I can remember conversations turning out like this:
Ryan: “John likes Sarah.”
John: “No I don’t!”
Ryan: “He’s in denial.”
John: “No I’m not!”
Ryan: “See? Denial!”
Poor kid. It seemed like whoever played the ‘denial card’ first always won. What could you do? Any attempt to argue, any evidence marshaled to defend yourself, only made it look like you really were in denial.
Yet, denial is real. It’s a problem that affects virtually all of us (even if you try to deny it!). There are three types of denial.
1. Denial of the reality of sins.
2. Denial of the seriousness of sins.
3. Denial of the responsibility for sins.
Denying the Reality of Your Sins
You are guilty of the first kind of denial whenever you try to ignore your sin, hide your sin, or even lie to yourself about your sin. There are lots of ways of trying to deny the reality of our sins.
For example, a woman with an eating disorder might say, “I’ve struggled with eating disorders in the past, but I’ve got it under control now. I just eat very little in order to stay healthy.” Or a man who is addicted to pornography may say, “I’m not addicted to porn. I just like it. What’s wrong with that?”
Denying the Seriousness of Your Sins
You are guilty of the second kind of denial whenever you attempt to downplay the seriousness of your sin or to minimize the consequences that will come from it. This kind of denial combines a half-hearted admission of guilt with a rationalization of why things aren’t so bad.
For example, the woman who struggles with an eating disorder might say, “Yeah, I’m still tempted to skip meals sometimes, but it’s not a huge deal. Really. And besides, our whole country is obese anyway.” Or the man who’s addicted to porn might say, “Ok, so I watch a lot of porn. What’s the problem with that? It’s my life. These choices don’t affect anybody but me.”
Denying the Responsibility for Your Sins
You are guilty of the third kind of denial whenever you make excuses for your sin or shift the blame for your sin onto someone or something else. Of the three kinds of denial, this one seems to be the most common. In some ways it acts like a gateway for the other two kinds of denial, since we usually start by blaming others for what we’ve done.
For example, the woman with the eating disorder says, “I can’t help it. My friends talk about weight loss all the time, and everyone on TV or in magazines are skinnier than I am. If I don’t l lose weight somehow, no one will date me.” Or maybe the porn addict says, “It’s not my fault I look at porn. I just have a super strong sex drive. And anyway, if girls dressed differently then it wouldn’t be so hard for me.”
The Most Important Question
Why do we do this? Why do we live in a state of denial about our sins, making excuses, blaming others, minimizing the danger, even lying to ourselves?
There are many reasons, but they call come from the same place: a sinful heart. God warned his people that “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9). God is not talking about the beating organs inside our chests, but about the ‘core of our identity that is the seat of our hopes, fears, affections, emotions, and desires.
God says our hearts are “deceitful” because they can’t be trusted. They are filled with desires for things we think will help us—like denying our sin—but actually run contrary to our own good.
What Hope Do We Have?
There is a reason that programs like Alcoholic Anonymous force participants to begin by saying, “Hello. My name is _____, and I’m an alcoholic.” It’s because you cannot begin to receive help for a problem you deny you have.
The same is true with the grace of Jesus. The help and healing you comes to us as we admit that we have a problem—a massive, unyielding, ever-present sin problem—that we cannot fix for yourself. We need the death of Jesus that forgives our sins. We need the resurrection that gives us new life. We need the Holy Spirit to give us a new heart, and to convict us and enable us to obey God.
For when you see that Jesus’ death and resurrection have already made you right with God by forgiving of the sins that you try to deny, then you’ll see that you have no need to deny them anymore. You will stop making excuses for your sins. You will stop trying to hide them from others, even yourself. You will stop living in denial about the state of your heart. All because you believe that Jesus has made you right with God. Completely. Fully. Really.
So stop trying to deny the sins that Jesus paid for. Your sins are terrifyingly many, but the love of your Savior is eternally sure.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.