As we bring up the subject of secret or hidden sin, a few preliminary cautions are in order. We are not concerned with sins that might have been committed by somebody else but weren’t. Nor is this about sins confessed and forgiven. This is not a post put up to stumble the introspective. The sole concern is with sin hidden away in the past, but sin which still requires action to put it right — confession, restoration, restitution, and so forth.
With regard to sin in our past that requires no action from us (other than gratitude for forgiveness), but which would be humiliating if publicly known, many Christians have worried about just how public things will be at the day of judgment. John Newton had these wise words for that concern.
“Therefore the remembrance of our sins will be no abatement of our bliss, but rather the contrary. When Pharaoh and his host were alive, and pursuing them, the Israelites were terrified: but afterwards, when they saw their enemies dead upon the shore, their joy and triumph were not abated, but heightened by the consideration of their number. With respect to our sins being made known to others, I acknowledge with you, that I could not now bear to have any of my fellow-creatures made acquainted with what passes in my heart for a single day; but I apprehend it is a part and a proof of my present depravity, that I feel myself disposed to pay so great a regard to the judgment of men, while I am so little affected with what I am in the sight of the pure and holy God. But I believe that hereafter, when self shall be entirely rooted out, and my will perfectly united to the Divine will, I should feel no reluctance, supposing it for the manifestation of his glorious grace, that men, angels, and devils, should know the very worst of me.”
So then, what do we do about the sin that is covered, not by the blood of Christ, but by layers of excuses and explanations?
“But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the LORD; and be sure your sin will find you out“ (Numbers 32:23).
If we nurture secret sin in our lives, then we have forgotten the following truths from God’s Word. First, we have forgotten the omniscience, omnipotence and holiness of God. “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13). The principle we must learn here is that secret sin is built upon a false theology of God.
We have also slid by the sober warning of Christ. “He began to say to His disciples first of all, ‘Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops'” (Luke 12:1-3). What is the principle here? It is that secret sin is only temporary secret sin.
When we look at what happened to biblical figures who gave way to secret sin, we learn something else about it.
“So David sent and inquired about the woman. And someone said, ‘Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?’ Then David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her, for she was cleansed from her impurity; and she returned to her house . . . In the morning it happened that David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah. And he wrote in the letter, saying, ‘Set Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retreat from him, that he may be struck down and die'” (2 Sam. 11:3-4, 14-15).
Sin breeds sin, and hidden sin breeds more hidden sin. But as sin accumulates, it becomes impossible for the sinner to “manage” it all. The principle is that secret sin grows, and as it does, it gets harder and harder to keep the lid on it.
Then there is the effect of hidden sin on others.
“But the children of Israel committed a trespass regarding the accursed things, for Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed things; so the anger of the LORD burned against the children of Israel” (Josh. 7:1).
Individuals who hide their sin are often guilty of another sin as well — the sin of individualism. That is, they believe that what they do affects only them — but this is false. When a man sins, his family sins. When a church member sins, the church sins. When a man hides his sin, the corporate covenantal entities to which he is attached are also hiding sin. This is why the Lord required, in His law, a sacrifice for unsolved murders. The principle is that secret sin is not “contained,” “isolated,” or “sealed off.”
Three solutions present themselves — two of them false and one true. The first false solution is to continue to hide the sin, on one’s own terms, and in one’s own way. But Moses’ words should follow all who seek this way out — “be sure your sin will find you out.” The second seeks to combine biblical truths with pragmatic solutions. “I confessed it to God. What else . . .?” Sometimes there is nothing else but to receive forgiveness. But in other situations, much remains to be done. Stolen goods must still be restored, slandered brothers and sisters must be asked for forgiveness, and broken covenants must be put right. And so the third way, the only effective way, is to want God’s mercy so much that you are willing do exactly what He says when you apply to Him for it.