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‘Why do good men sin?’

June 2017 | by Peter Jeffery

A question that perplexes and confuses most of us is, ‘Why do good men sin?

We see a man we have always respected and admired make a mess of his life and commit some terrible sin. We find it unbelievable and it confuses us. It almost shakes our faith and we ask, ‘How could this happen?’ It seems to defy reason.

The answer is found in the words of Jesus, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good, except God alone’ (Luke 18:19). Jesus was constantly challenging his audience to reconsider their ideas of holiness and goodness.

Sometimes we expect too much from other believers. We forget that all men and women are sinners and capable of any sin if placed in certain circumstances. This does not excuse sin, but it does explain it.

According to Jesus, there are no good men, so good men do not sin, it is sinners that sin. We are all sinners, even though some are morally and socially better than others. The question must be answered theologically, not socially.

King David

Take for instance King David. Here was a man described as a man ‘after God’s own heart’, yet he became guilty of adultery and murder. How do we account for this?

The sin of David with Bathsheba, and the murder of her husband Uriah to which it led, is one of the saddest stories in the Old Testament. This sin was not committed by some ungodly man who cared nothing for the Lord, but by a deeply spiritual man, whom God himself described as ‘a man after my own heart’.

David had known heights of spiritual blessing and experience that most Christians can only dream about. He had written some of the most glorious and beautiful spiritual songs ever composed. Yet this man sinned in a most terrible way.

We acknowledge that no Christian is perfect and all believers sin, but this sin of David’s was no sudden flash of temper or moment of selfishness. It was deliberate adultery and scheming murder. We are not to stand in judgment with a superior ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude, but neither are we to casually accept sin as if it were just a moral hiccup.

David was no inexperienced youngster, but a man of about 50. Here is the sin of a good man and we have to ask, how could David have done what he did?

The story starts in 2 Samuel 11:1-2 with what appears to be a casual happening. David did not go looking for trouble. He was just walking around on the roof of his palace and happened to see this beautiful woman bathing. It appears to have been merely a chance event. But this was not the case. There are two important points here: this man of God was in the wrong place and in the wrong frame of mind.

Easy prey

Nothing happens by chance in a believer’s life. We believe in the providence of God, which leads and guides us, but if we ignore that providence and go our own way, then we make ourselves prey to the devil’s schemes and plans.

At another time, David might have seen Bathsheba bathing and turned his eyes away. He would have known the words of Job 31:1, ‘I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl’. Normally David would have been in full agreement with Job. But now, in the wrong place and in the wrong frame of mind, it was all tragically different.

This was the time when kings went off to war. The king’s army went to war, but King David did not: ‘but David remained in Jerusalem’ (2 Samuel 11:1). David should have been with his soldiers. A. W. Pink calls it the ‘ominous “but”, noting the Spirit’s disapproval of the king’s conduct’.

David was in the wrong place. He had turned his eyes away from his God-given duty and indulged a desire for an easy life. He was relaxing when he should have been in the battle. He preferred the luxuries of the palace to the hardships of the battlefield. In other words, he was in the wrong frame of mind. Long before he saw Bathsheba, he was in trouble.

Roger Ellsworth says of David, ‘David allowed the fire of devotion to God to burn low. Sin is always born in a damp, chilly heart. Omission usually precedes commission. Let a Christian become careless about his church attendance, or let him become half-hearted when he is in church, and he has already set one foot on the slippery slope of sin.

‘Let him become casual about his Bible-reading, or let him read mechanically, and he has already hung the welcome sign out for sin. Let him leave off praying, or pray without feeling, and he has already planted the seeds of disaster.’

Moral climate

This is very relevant for every Christian. None of us is so strong and experienced in the Christian life that we become immune to temptation and sin. We may think that we could never be guilty of adultery, but it has happened to a frightening number of evangelical ministers and believers in recent years.

The moral climate of the day encourages it. What David saw as he looked down from his palace roof — a beautiful woman undressed — we can see on any beach in the summer. But we can also see what David saw, in our own homes, every day on the internet or TV.

How are we to deal with such things? Let us remember that, although we live in days of moral and sexual slackness, God’s standards have never wavered. He still says, ‘You shall not commit adultery’. Temptation may be strong but grace is stronger. With every temptation, there is always a way out.

One sin usually leads to another. It did with David, and so Uriah died. Adultery always involves broken promises, lies, deceit and betrayal. No one, man or woman, is immune to this particular sin; it has to be fiercely resisted.

This we do by keeping ourselves involved in the Christian warfare. Make sure that at all times your mind is spiritually alert and not dozing in moral and religious laziness. Joseph faced the same sort of temptation with Potiphar’s wife, and he ran away as fast as he could. Sometimes that is the only way to resist evil. But David did not run; he looked.

It is sometimes said that David only did what any king of the time would have done. But he was not any king; he was God’s chosen king. Clearly he had lost sight of this and forgotten who he was. He also forgot the mercies of God and, consequently, when Satan tempted him with Bathsheba’s body, he fell.

Sin’s progression

Notice the progression of his fall. First of all, he saw Bathsheba. He could not be blamed for that, except for the fact that he should have been at the battle and not on the palace roof. Then he looked with growing interest — this he can be blamed for. Lastly, he made enquiries about the woman and, at that point, adultery had become almost inevitable.

But God was good to David and gave him a warning through one of his servants, ‘Isn’t this Bathsheba … the wife of Uriah?’ She was married and therefore out of bounds, but David took no notice. The awful condemnation of Scripture, that in this act of sin David despised the Lord, is recorded twice over (2 Samuel 11:3; 12:9-10).

We all have inherent weaknesses. They may relate to sex, money, pride, ambition, or almost anything. If you are a Christian, you will know what your weakness is. There are areas in your Christian life where there is no compromise, but is there an area where a particular sin is protected and defended? If so, you will have found yourself covering up that sin with another sin, and attempting to justify it. But God is not fooled, because to him there is no such thing as secret sin. All is open to him.

However, a Christian man is promised victory over sin if he keeps close to the Lord Jesus. No Christian need say, ‘I had to do it; the temptation was too strong for me’, for, ‘no temptation has overtaken you, except such as is common to man. But God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it’ (1 Corinthians 10:13).

There was a way of escape for David, but he did not look for it. Joseph found his way of escape, and so must we.