Socially Acceptable Sins

Recently, I read an article on the “favorite sins” for Americans. According to a Barna Group survey, the top 3 sins for Americans are “procrastination, overeating, and spending too much time on media.”

The survey said that 60% of Americans admitted that they’re tempted to worry too much or procrastinate; 55% said they’re tempted to overeat, and 41% said they’re tempted by sloth, or laziness.

I have to admit that I was struck by this list of “favorite” sins, as Barna termed it. What struck me was both what’s on the list and what’s not on the list.

First, what’s on the list: procrastination, overeating, and spending too much time on media. Really? People were asked about what sins they struggle with, and these were the result? Now, I’m not saying that these three are good things to do, but really? Certainly gluttony is listed in the Bible, and no doubt it’s wrong to neglect our responsibilities, but I found it very interesting that these sins were the ones that people were willing to admit to. Because that’s the significant part of this: what they were willing to admit to.

No one is going to be embarrassed to admit to any of these sins. No one will be ostracized. No one will be scandalized. No one will even think twice about you. In fact, if you went to a friend and confessed your struggle with these, you’d probably hear, “Yeah, me too. Who doesn’t?” These are socially acceptable sins. It’s okay to admit to struggling with or even giving in to procrastination or wasting time on the internet. It’s especially acceptable to confess that food is a “temptation.” Why else would we describe delicious food as “sinful” and “tempting.”

But what about real sins, by which I mean, ones the Bible spends considerable time warning about? You know the ones I mean. Romans 1 gives a pretty concise list:

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

These are the sins that didn’t make the Barna list. Even the article I read noticed that something seemed to be missing:

“You would think it would be sex, drugs and rock and roll,” said Todd Hunter, pastor and author of “Our Favorite Sins,” whose book was consulted in conjunction with the survey. …

The sex, drugs and rock and roll-like vices fell dead last in the temptation categories: 11% of Americans said they were tempted by drug abuse; 9% were tempted by sexually inappropriate contact.

Even young people put sex and drugs way down on their list, according to the survey, which broke down temptations by gender and age. It found that 21% of millennials (born between 1984 and 2002) considered sexually inappropriate behavior their chief temptation. It was the lowest percentage attributed to any vice by millennials. Their top two temptations were worrying too much and procrastination.

Only 9% of those who answered the survey listed sexually inappropriate behavior to be their most pressing temptation. We live in a world saturated by inappropriate material everywhere we go, and yet only 9% listed it as a temptation. Anger, or hatred, barely got a mention. Lying, stealing, coveting, jealously? Not even a passing comment.

So why the disparity? I think there are at least two things happening here. First, people lie to surveys. No one wants to look foolish or to be considered a bad person. Few people are going to be completely honest, even to themselves, about their besetting sins. This means that the survey results might not be very accurate.

Second, I think there is real problem with our understanding of sin and the need to fight against temptation. We have no definitive understanding of sin. As a culture we’ve redefined it away from a Scripturally based set of do’s and don’ts, similar to the Romans 1 passage above, to a relativistic, “everyone does what’s right in his own eyes” approach. For example, fewer and fewer people, even those claiming to be evangelical Christians, believe that premarital sex, cohabitation, or even homosexuality are wrong. And those are just a small sampling of modern attitudes towards one type of sin.

It’s very sad to see where we’ve come as a culture, and even more sad to see where we are likely headed. However, my hope is not in man or in our ability to obey the law but in the Creator and Redeemer. I pray that God would bring repentance and renewal, if not in this world, then the next.

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen. (Revelation 22:20-21 ESV)

4 thoughts on “Socially Acceptable Sins

  1. Pastor Timothy says:

    This survey is truly odd because it used the term “sin” itself, a term that is being used less and less, especially among “polite” people. It helps to also define it: any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God (WCF, S.C. 7). Until we start defining the term again, people won’t understand it, and will continue to redefine it in our terms. In fact, culturally speaking, the greatest sin in our culture is actually standing for biblical truth.


  2. jilldomschot says:

    Yes, it’s hard to believe that overeating rates higher than those sins of the mind which would constitute not loving your neighbor as yourself. Those are the sins I struggle with daily–the ones involving hatred and envy. But then I look at all the Weight Watchers ads, and I see they are focusing on personal pride and dignity (look what I did because I have so much respect for myself!). So it sort of makes sense in a weird way.


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