The Slow Rot of Sin

David Burchett

I used to be quick to jump on Christians who failed morally. How could they claim to be a Christian and do something like that? I wondered how they got to such a low point in their journey.

Perhaps a bit of insight came from a Texas storm. Strong winds toppled a 50-foot-tall tree in a friend’s backyard. But strong winds are a part of every spring in Texas. Why did this particular storm fell a mature tree? The answer came as my friend cut up the fallen tree—it had completely rotted inside. There was no way to tell when you looked at the tree. The bark covered the decay and the leaves were still green and pretty. But inside the tree was dying. It finally reached a point where there was not enough strength left in its core to withstand another storm.

Old rotting stump in the green forest

The example from nature is a metaphor for how we can topple as Christians and completely surprise those around us. We wear masks. We look good. We say the right things. We stay busy doing Christian things. We are more concerned about appearance than honest spiritual health. They is no way to tell by looking that the slow rot of sin is decaying our judgment and relationship with Jesus.

Tree experts will tell you that often a small wound in a tree left unattended will allow fungus to enter and begin the destructive process. If the wound had been treated, the disease could have been halted with little or no damage.

That is again a metaphor for what happens in our souls. Most of us are a little or a lot wounded by life and others. Perhaps pride or fear or simply not knowing what to do causes us to ignore the wound in our souls. And that opening allows the slow decay of unresolved sin that leads to a fall.

The illustration reminded me of the Scripture where Jesus railed against the “self-righteous” religious leaders:

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too” (Matthew 23, NLT).

I know me. I know that I must seek the illuminating light of the Holy Spirit to help me see the filth and greed and self-indulgence that lies within or I could fall with a sickening thud as well. I know that forgiveness and redemption are available to everyone but I also know the terrible consequences of sin. When a Christian fails morally they pay a terrible price and so do those they have hurt.

Pray for those who fail and don’t write them off as “less of a Christian”. I would ask you to look in the mirror. If you see what I see you will extend grace to those who fail. What I see in the mirror is a person who was saved only by grace. I see a person who is capable of failing if I do not lean wholly on that grace every day. A person who does not want to hurt the heart or cause of Jesus because I am so grateful for His amazing grace. I like the way The Message translates Paul’s words to the Galatians:

“If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived (Galatians 6, The Message).

Author of Stay: Lessons My Dogs Taught Me about Life, Loss, and Grace