Who Believes In Sin These Days?

I don’t believe in coincidence. As I’ve mentioned from time to time, I listen to Alistair Begg’s radio program Truth for Life. Currently they are airing sermons on the book of Luke, specifically about John the Baptist. Pastor Begg pointed out that John’s approach is contrary to what we experience today.

When large crowds went to hear him preach, he didn’t welcome them, tell them he was glad they came, try to make them feel at ease with a few warm-up jokes, or entertain them with some gripping stories. Instead, he started off by calling them a brood of vipers.

He then chastised them for their repentance … well, actually for not living in accordance with repentance. He warned them about the wrath to come and the axe ready to cut down trees not producing good fruit. He said the Messiah was coming and that He’d have a winnowing fork in His hand, ready to separate the wheat from the chaff and that the latter would be burned up with unquenchable fire.

Luke’s account ends with this: “So with many other exhortations also he preached the gospel to the people” (Luke 3:18). The gospel! That would be, the good news.

Where’s the announcement of God’s love? Of His acceptance and wonderful plan for their lives?

Which brings me back to the non-coincidence. On Sunday my church hosted a guest speaker — Ray Comfort, an itinerant preacher who gave away copies of his small book God Has A Wonderful Plan For Your Life: The Myth of the Modern Message. His sermon centered on how evangelism today looks nothing like evangelism in those days after Pentecost.

Today we try to reach people at the level of their felt needs, and we explain how Christ can bring meaning and wholeness to their broken lives. In Comfort’s book he expanded on this point, saying that we have made happiness the chief end of Man.

The problem, of course, arises when people expect God to behave like a genii and He does not. They are disillusioned and angry and end up leaving the faith. Comfort calls these people false converts.

What should be our approach to evangelism instead? I’ve only begun this section, but Comfort says our starting point should be the Law. The Ten Commandments, to be precise.

Which brings us to sin. As I suggested in my post yesterday, Christians have acquiesced to the culture, reducing any talk of sin to a minimum.

Who really believes in sin any more?

People at large reject the idea that Mankind has a sin nature — that something in us keeps all of us from living a perfect life. Some Christians deny that we have a sin nature though they admit we all do sin. Call it a weakness of the will, then, that prevents any of us from standing up to temptation one hundred percent of the time.

Funny thing, but no one will argue the truth of that condition. Everyone admits to doing wrong at some point in time. And yet, our culture tells us that condition is not a problem. I suppose the rationale is, if everyone’s doing it …

While we say we believe I’m OK and you’re OK, in reality we know … all of us know … the statement should read I’m (mostly) OK and you’re not quite as good. For those who have been sucked into some kind of destructive lifestyle, we tweak the statement yet again: I would be OK if it weren’t for __ (fill in the blank) and you’re OK if you do something about it.

And sadly, Christians pander to this kind of thinking. We are NOT OK. We are sinners. Translated (because that word has lost all meaning in our culture) that means we do wrong things because we can’t stop ourselves from doing wrong things.

Until a person understands this about himself, why would he ever want the grace and forgiveness of God?

Published in: on February 15, 2011 at 6:31 pm  Comments (10)  
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10 Comments

  1. This is an excellent observation, except it leaves out what Ray Comfort evidently left out–I don’t know of anyone who shares the Gospel that leaves out Romans 3:23 and Romans 6:23!

    Besides this, just last year, thousands of people came to Christ, just online, and now have the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work in their lives in a way that He was not allowed to work before.

    There are a couple of verses that comfort me, when I sense the Accuser coming after me in this area:

    II Timothy 4:2
    Preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine
    [reproving and rebuking are not personal accusations,I think, unless God has given someone special knowledge, as in John’s case–rather they are refutations of false beliefs and errant doctrine.]

    James 5:19-20
    Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;
    Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

    Nobody has ever liked to be called a sinner, least of all a generation that has never even heard of the Ten Commandments! We have to start somewhere and then challenge the young to lay everything on the line for Jesus, as we demonstrate that in our own lives. I have found it easier to discuss the topic in terms of the love of God, explaining that sin’s awful consequence is always death, and offering examples of sin that is carried to its logical conclusion. Even young children can follow the reasoning, when I ask, “What happens to people who keep taking illegal drugs?” They understand that God does not want us to die, especially for something less than worthless! One boy thought about it and responded in tears after I asked that question in V.B.S. and the next teacher led him to the Lord!

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  2. You refer to people preaching the wrath of God to these post-modern unbelievers(as if that is what is needed), but give examples in contexts where the audience already believes in God and sin- where that sort of preaching is appropriate and effective. John was preaching to believing Jews.

    The problem isn’t people expecting God to act like a genie. Who expects that? I’ve never heard of that.

    The problem is Christians who don’t care what Jesus said about loving God, neighbors, or enemies; don’t care what he said about judging others; and don’t care that even though Jesus claimed we would be known for our love- we are known for the judgmental wrath that you believe is lacking.

    I’m not impressed with preachers who claim to know better than Jesus how to save the lost.

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  3. Not everyone who talks about sin is like the Christians you are describing Patrick (but I will say I have met those people).

    To use an example, how about instead of sin its leprosy. It is not unloving or judgmental for me to tell another leper that I was once one and here is where you can go for healing. But if you do not call leprosy “leprosy” how are people going to know they have it? They may notice the skin condition. They may hurt from the effects of it. They might try and cover it up or ignore it. But it doesn’t make the leprosy go away.

    Then someone comes along (in a humble and loving way) and says that it is leprosy and I know a person who can cure you.

    That’s like talking about sin. And it can be done in a loving way.

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  4. I’ve noticed a few problems in this discussion. First, the fingers are pointed out- but there are 2 groups: Us and Them. I guarantee the evangelical guest speaker goes around to all the churches in the community preaching that no one talks about sin anymore. But knowing that’s not true of your own congregation of believers you believe the other churches must be like that. Anyone who is in or has ever visited a church like the ones being described please let us know- what denomination? where at in the country? I’ll be sure not to go there, except maybe as a missionary, and would suggest you get out of there and find a loving family of believers who can speak the truth in love. As I mentioned yesterday- that preaching is appropriate in the churches to believers.

    Maybe I’m biased. I grew up in Pennsylvania, served in the Army for a while, and settled in Oklahoma USA. I have seen more of a tendency in the church to call everything sin. You’ll go to Hell if you dance, don’t show up in a 3 piece suit on Sunday, listen to that Rock-n-roll that Mercy Me plays, own a deck of cards, or smile during the service- and don’t even think about working on Sunday but go out to eat as punishment to the servers for working by giving lousy tips. Always pointing the finger out at the sinners of the world. In their hateful legalism saturated in the teaching of sin, they somehow find themselves blameless.

    Second problem- Love is not to be equated with believing everyone is okay and sin isn’t an issue. Catering to the selfish self-indulgent ways of the world is not love. Promoting happiness is not Love.

    Third. Calling people who don’t believe “sinners” will give them no intensive or desire for the grace and forgiveness of God. They are insulted that you believe they need to be forgiven for something. They were born into and have marinated in a culture of Sin so long they can not perceive it- it is the air they breath. They have perceivable needs but conviction is not one of them.

    They need love and a community to belong to- they are painfully aware of this. Most have no father figure in their life, and many of the ones who do- he’s abusive. Mom is too busy- everyone is too busy. They live isolated in their individualistic pursuit of happiness through TV, Video-games, Internet, Job status… and have never learned how to genuinely connect to other people- It’s all superficial “shared interests” and nothing deeper than the surface. They ARE pretending they are all-right, because they want to be accepted by the next guy who appears to be all-right too. Then the bombardment of commercials that pound over and over how messed up we all are- too fat, too ugly, with all the wrong stuff- but for $19.99 our product will make you like the celebrities that you wish you were because no matter how messed up their lives are THEY seem to be Loved. Marketers know the majority of Americans don’t like themselves- and have never felt worth much more than $19.99, because no one has ever taken the time to show they care and love them. Most family’s are shattered, and extended family contact might happen twice a year. They desire family- the unconditional “you are one of us” that has always been out of reach. And it is SO much easier to point blame at the people they think should have provided that for them, than to… wait a minute- they couldn’t have done that for themselves… but maybe the blame should be on the Church- we didn’t love them. We didn’t make them feel welcome to be part of us.

    As I’ve said, if you love first their perception of sin will take root and grow. Especially in a Christ lead church where there is full knowledge that Sin is The issue that separates us from the Love of God we so greatly desire. I’m not talking about reproducing the ways of the world in the church. I’m talking about the one thing that Christians love to talk about- but rarely practice- Acts of Love that meet perceived real needs in the lives of the lost sheep. Being Jesus- not Hitler.

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  5. Patrick, John was preaching to unbelieving Jews. The same Jews to whom Jesus said, “Your father is the devil,” in John chapter 8.

    We have churches full of legalistic Pharisees today, too. And, yes, we should call such people to repentance. But we also need to invite the weary and the heavy-laden outside the church to come unto Christ and to take his yoke. He wants to give them rest. But the only way they can take his yoke is if they will first lay theirs down. They need to be rid of their sin, especially of their self-righteouness–their belief that they can work their way into heaven.

    When Peter preached just after Pentecost, he told the people that they had nailed Jesus to the cross and that God had glorified Jesus. The people, faced with their sin, were cut to the heart and they cried out, “What must we do to be saved?” The answer was that they needed to repent and be baptized.

    You can’t repent if you don’t know you are sinning.

    Unfortunately today, there are so many people in the world who believe that if they are decent and good, they will be saved. They have no understanding that they aren’t decent and good. They don’t understand that they come into this world having been conceived in iniquity. They are dead in their sins.

    So many live by the belief that God wants us to feel good. So if we are attracted to people of the same gender, it must not be sin because God wants us to feel good.

    It’s simply not true. God wants us to be good, not feel good.

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  6. “You can’t repent if you don’t know you are sinning”

    And you won’t repent if you’ve never experienced Christian love. I’m not saying don’t mention sin. I’m saying you need to extend love first so when you do mention sin- maybe they will listen. If you have no connection with them, and have not earned their respect then you are only wasting your breath- and likely preventing them from being willing to listen to anyone else. Preach it in the Church, teach it in your small group, but please stop screaming Hell Fire & Brimstone from my street corner.

    Please forgive me if I’ve been too… over the top about this. But my heart hurts for all my family and friends who won’t believe because of the pharisees they encountered when they were seeking. Ask an unbeliever why they don’t believe- culture would lead us to believe they consider themselves too educated, scientific, independent to rely on a God- arguments here could lead one to believe that they just don’t know they need help and someone needs to point out how messed up they are so they will realize they need forgiveness- but everyone I’ve actually talked to on this subject tell me horror stories of rejection and condemnation.

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  7. Peggy, I haven’t finished Comfort’s book, so I can’t say whether or not he left out the particular verses you mentioned. His point in the most recent section I read is that calling people “sinner” doesn’t work because they don’t know what that means. By starting with the Ten Commandments, we have a definition of the term

    It’s an interesting point, well supported by Scripture. I hope to blog more about it today.

    Becky

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  8. Patrick, I agree with you that we believers are to love others. I can see the situation you described would lead you to believe that preaching sin is a negative. I don’t think it has to be at all.

    I also don’t believe that everyone must witness in the same way. I listened to a radio program on Sunday in which the speaker shared about a man who was not open to conversation about Christ until he found out about the AIDS project the speaker was involved with. In other word, his love put into action opened the door for the unbeliever to consider the gospel.

    Would it be right to go to Haiti with gospel tracts instead of water filters and shovels?

    But what people everywhere need is not some stopgap answer. We all need long term rescue. But those who don’t think they are drowning will pass on grasping hold of the life preserver. Why would they drop their dearest possession — their pride and self-righteousness and willfulness — to cling to that which they don’t believe they need?

    See, Patrick, my heart hurts, too, for those who are marching merrily off to an eternity separated from God — the ones I know, and the ones I’ve never met. We the church ought to have an urgency about telling the Good News. I’ll elaborate more in my post.

    Becky

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  9. […] post is a follow up to Who Believes In Sin These Days? and Sin Is Not The […]

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  10. Patrick, I think we’re all on the same page. We need to show the world God’s love (like you pointed out, they will know we are Christians by our love; not by our list of do’s or don’ts). However, I have seen churches that all they do is talk about love and doing good, but never address the problem of sin. Its a tough subject, but it needs to be talked about (just like money and sex, those other taboos subjects of preaching).

    My husband is a pastor with a huge heart for people. He himself was saved at a later age by the love shown him. As a pastor, he struggles to find balance between preaching “healing sermons” as he calls them (sermons that talk about God’s love and forgiveness) along with health sermons (the ones that address the issues of sin). If people do not hear that sex outside of marriage is sin, lying is sin, and pride is sin, how will they ever know? These are not easy things to preach about, but they need to be preached about.

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