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There is an unintended consequence for unbiblical secret-keeping that blows back on your soul. A lack of appropriate transparency alienates and harms the conscience.
God wired everyone with an “internal alarm system” that alerts us to the gospel’s solution for our problems. Each time an individual refuses to respond to this “warning system” biblically, they drift from God and others.
All stable relationships are sustained and stabilized by honesty, integrity, and transparency. The strength of any relationship is proportional to the degree of honesty that you have with each other. This perspective is what makes our relationship with God so marvelous.
We love Him because He is completely trustworthy. We trust the Lord because He never withholds the truth from us; His Word is truth. He is totally transparent, honest, open, and self-disclosing. These aspects of His character are the only ways that He will relate to us.
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. – John 17:17
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. – 3 John 4
God makes much of truth because He knows how honesty is the only way to grow and mature within relationships. The devil, on the other hand, is the opposite of the truth. He understands what truthfulness can do for a person–it can set the captives free (Luke 4:18).
His primary agenda is to hide and distort the truth, so relationships can never be all that God intends. You could say that God is the truth and the devil is dishonest.
He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. – John 8:44
Humanity falls somewhere between total honesty and total lying. None of us are entirely honest in our relationships, which does not have to be a bad thing. There will always be a tension about revealing your true self to another person. And the temptation to live behind Adamic fig leaves while rationalizing why you don’t want to tell the whole truth will always be real to you (Genesis 3:7-12).
I understand the tension. We are sinful people living in a sinful world. There are consequences for being honest. Folks can uncharitably judge, isolate, alienate, condemn, shun, make fun of, mock, ridicule, or put you down if you pursue honesty and vulnerability.
Perhaps you have experienced the darker side of being honest with a spouse, a friend, or an institution. Maybe you wanted to come clean about an aspect of your life, but the people you shared your story with were not mature enough to steward your honesty.
This dilemma is real. You have to weigh the benefits of being honest versus the liabilities of holding on to your secrets. Though there is much to say about the dangers of being honest, I want to address the burdens of secret keeping. There is something within all of us that motivates us to shy away from being honest, and it’s the soul-diminishing effect on your spiritual life that I want you to consider for now.
Biff has a secret sin pattern in his life. Mable, his wife, does not know about it. Every time he commits this sin, there is a confrontation with the choice of coming clean or keeping his dirty little secret. For the past fifteen years, he has remained silent. It was his choice.
The problem with his silence has been the unexpected and unintended consequence of his conscience—his inner voice is “taking revenge” on Biff, retaliating to his unbiblical response to sin. Rather than being an ally, his conscience is acting like an enemy.
Biff never saw it coming. He did not perceive how his silence regarding his sin would trigger another kind of “silence” from his conscience. He unwittingly created an enemy within his soul. He thought his most significant problem with being honest was external–what will others think of me–not realizing the choice to keep his secrets would have long-term and devastating effects within his psyche (soul).
If you do not heed the alarm of the conscience when sin attacks, there will be a negative consequence, a spiritual breakdown of the soul. The conscience is fluid and manipulatable, and the power of sin will sideline its voice (cf. 1 Timothy 4:2).
Biff’s solution is twofold: (1) consistently teach the conscience the Word of God and (2) an active, moment-by-moment, obedient response to the Word of God. When you do this, your conscience becomes a sweet guardian of your soul. When sin makes its assault, your “Biblically informed conscience” will apprise you of the situation at hand while steering you in an obedient path of right living (Psalm 23:3).
Even our unregenerate friends have a prewired conscience that tells them the difference between right and wrong (Romans 2:14-15). This ability to have an internal warning system is a mercy from the Lord.
Because of Biff’s ongoing decision not to come clean about his secret sin, his conscience reacted, rebelled, and eventually took revenge on him. Biff became a dull boy, which was the warning of the Hebrew writer (Hebrews 4:7). Dullness is the soul’s kryptonite.
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. – Hebrews 5:11
Your inner voice cannot match the power of sin. Only the transformative power of the gospel can confront and defeat sin while empowering you with the grace to be the constant victor. The conscience is merely an alarm to let you know sin’s approach. Once you are alerted to the problem of transgressing, the next thing that you should do is release the power of God through the gospel.
This reaction begins with a simple agreement (confession) with God that there is a temptation in your life or you have already crossed the line. After you “agree with God” about sin’s encroachment or encampment, your conscience and God will be on the same page.
This partnership releases you to finish the process of activating the gospel’s power to overcome the enemy of your soul. The Lord has given you several allies in your war against sin.
Biff did not access his arsenal–the weaponry from the Lord to do battle with sin. He chose to hide his wrong choices from others. In the beginning, his internal warning system blared away. After a while, and because of his justifications, his conscience became dull.
He muted his alarm system to the point where he could no longer hear its beckoning. The unintended consequence of his lack of responsiveness was spiritual dullness. Biff’s spiritual awareness was gone. He was flying blind, which left him susceptible to the machinations of sin.
There is a simple solution to his problem: walk in the light. But what about the liabilities of being honest? My response is that the consequences of holding on to secrets are a far more significant problem. You don’t want to be a dull Christian. You don’t want to fly blind. You don’t want to harden your conscience. You have a choice. You can tell the truth about your real self.
There have been many Christians who have fallen into the deep trap of a hard conscience and could not get out until it was too late. Maybe you’re at this point. Perhaps you’re sitting on a dirty little secret, and up to this point, you have been unwilling to tell the whole truth. If so, you’re at the crossroads of a life-altering decision.
You can move toward freedom or take a long walk into a lifetime of incarceration. This perspective is a faith issue–what will you believe; how will you respond? If your conscience is giving a faint warning signal, I appeal to you to tell the real truth about your life–at least to one other person.
Come out of the darkness and walk in the light. Be free from your sin, which begins with a simple acknowledgment that you have been hiding. Do not continue to rationalize your thinking to the point of sinful allocations.
I can’t make my appeal to you any stronger. I don’t know how. The risk of being hurt for being honest is not as devastating as the risk of burying your problems deep in your soul. If you hide them, your conscience will have no other choice but to go silent as a way of numbing you to the pain. This “dulling effect” will not remove the pain, but only alter and mask it. Listen to the appeal of the Savior:
You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. – Matthew 13:14-16
And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear. – Mark 4:9
If you have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to you, I appeal to you to respond to Him. Listen to your inner voice while you have time and can listen. Do not continue to harden your heart.
Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion. – Hebrews 3:15
You will know if you’re hardening your conscience if you rationalize, justify, or blame your actions away. The person who is quick to dismiss his sins rather than owning them is on the precipice of a hard conscience.
This kind of person will keep distant from spiritual things. Rather than responding to God, he will choose means to distract himself from what his conscience is telling him. This posture allows him to continue in his sin while convincing himself the problem is outside of his power or guilt.
If you see these patterns in your life, you’re not far from shutting down your internal warning system. Be not deceived. It will shut down, and your life will continue to escalate in dysfunction until something breaks beyond your ability to fix it.
A Christian cannot live in habitual sin forever. If he chooses to ignore the merciful warnings of the conscience, the Lord will allow him to come to the end of himself through other means.
The first step for you is to agree with God. If you are experiencing brokenness before the Lord, you must confide in a trusted friend, pastor, or small group leader. Let them into your world. Don’t hold back and don’t leave your conscience vulnerable to the deceitfulness of the devil.
It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. –Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets, P. 3.
Perhaps you have thought of someone as you read this article. Ask the Father if it would be His pleasure to send this article to that person. Pray about this matter. Sin is not only deceitful, but it is destructive. You are your brother’s keeper.
Ask God for the most effective way to care for your friend’s soul. Read my article, Should I Keep My Friend’s Sin Secret? You listen to your conscience. Don’t push aside what the Lord is calling you to do. You don’t want to go down the same path as your friend by ignoring God. If the Lord is calling you to do a hard thing, do it. Don’t bind your conscience. Trust God. Be free.
Rick Thomas leads a training network for Christians to assist them in becoming more effective soul care providers. RickThomas.Net reaches people around the world through consulting, training, podcasting, writing, counseling, and speaking.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology, and in 1991 he received a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).