SIN’S DOWNWARD PROGRESS
T. Pierce Brown
If early in life we can be aware of how sin works, we may be able to escape many heartaches we would otherwise have. Psalm 1:1,2 gives us one of the best short indications of how sin operates. “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the wicked, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of scoffers: but his delight is in the law of Jehovah; and on his law doth he meditate day and night.”
It is almost certain that nobody in the world just decided to commit the vilest sins in one step. From Adam’s time, it happened a step at a time. David suggests the steps in the preceding passage. First, there is a walking in the counsel of the ungodly or wicked. In each of these steps, there are three words that suggest a downward progression. In the first, there is a walking. Eve started walking toward the forbidden fruit before she took it. The Prodigal Son walked away from his father before he stood with the sinners.
In the first step there is also counsel. One usually hears a suggestion or temptation to sin before one partakes of it. When you hear a suggestion to do wrong, then is the time to turn away and resist. If we play around with the idea, it will usually eventually be presented in a way that it will appeal to us. There is even a kind of progression downward suggested by the words “ungodly” (wicked), “sinner” and “scoffer.” The word “wicked” comes from the Hebrew word “rasha,” which means, “wrong” or “ungodly.” It does not always refer to one who actually engages in the vilest acts of rebellion and rejection of God, but one whose moral condition is lax. He is not godly. Isaiah 57:20 suggests, “But the wicked are like the troubled sea; for it cannot rest, and its waters cast up mire and dirt.” They are unstable or undependable, and have dirty thoughts.
The first idea I am suggesting is: Do not even walk around with those who do not have godly attitudes. Those whose counsel is to do things that are not good, even if they do not actually participate in things that are looked upon as sinful, unlawful or terrible, are to be avoided.
The second list of things in this downward progression is “stand,” “way,” “sinners.” Whereas “walking” may suggest the casual passing by, or just happening to be in the presence of, as well as a persistent or habitual way of life, “standing” suggests an even more permanent situation. If you walk by a liquor store often enough, you may get accustomed to it, but if you stand by it the chances are greater that you will be enticed by its temptation. Whereas “counsel” suggests listening to or heeding the advice of another, the “way” of a person has to do with the way he actually lives. The point here is that a person would seldom walk in an evil way if he had not first listened to the unwise counsel. Again, whereas the first person may simply be ungodly, or not particularly interested in God, the second person is a sinner — one who practices sin.
Note the normal progression. If you associate regularly, even casually, with one who is not interested in God, the next natural sequence will be to walk in the way of one who regularly practices sin.
The third list is those who sit in the seat of the scoffer. You may know persons who not only accidentally or occasionally commit some sort of sin, they are “set in their ways.” Sin seldom becomes a habitual way of life for a person who has not first listened to unwise counsel, then stood with sinners as they practice their sin. Also, the scoffer is not just a person who is not especially godly, or who occasionally commits a wrong act. He is one who will laugh and scoff at the very idea of trying to do right. He will ridicule one who shows any moral restraint. If you start on the downward path of sin, you will eventually discover many persons who fall into this category. It is even possible that you will find yourself there, where you now would be shocked to think of being.
At this moment, you can imagine yourself occasionally associating with sinners. It does not bother you too much, for they are around you always. You cannot get away from them. You are in the world, but not of the world (John17:11,15:19). It bothers you a little more to visualize yourself habitually running around with those who are in the actual practice of getting drunk, robbing banks, or committing other acts of deliberate sin. You can scarcely conceive of yourself so dulling your conscience that you would make fun of, ridicule and scoff at those who want to do right, and at God himself. You can get there if you start in that direction and keeps going.
David, Peter, Paul and others inspired writers of the Bible knew and revealed that the pathway of sin is usually in this pattern of the downward progression. It is true whether we are thinking of moral or doctrinal progression. Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:4, “For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables.”
Notice the steps. First, they will not endure sound doctrine. They do not like preaching that points out either doctrinal error or lack of Christian living. Second, they have the kind of itching ears that want to hear only good things. It is usually called “positive preaching” as opposed to the kind that says, “This is wrong.” Third, they turn away their ears from the truth. They quit listening to preaching at all if it ever stirs their conscience. Fourth, they turn unto fables. Apostasy has set in. Then the terrible situation Paul described in 2 Thessalonians2:11takes place. “And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
Whether you are young, old, or somewhere between, you need to be aware of this pattern of the downward progression of sin. When you are aware of it, then you should beware of it.