Sin. Talk about a conversation stopper. I’m not sure anyone is anxious to talk about sin, even Christians, but in society at large, it’s almost taboo. Who are you (or, more accurately, who is God) to tell me what I can and cannot do? Even at UGM, we tend to avoid the word; mostly because we do not want to suggest that the sin of our guests is somehow in a different category than our own. However, if we aren't willing to talk about sin, neither can we talk about the gospel because, if everyone is basically good, then the gospel is unnecessary. Grace and mercy are moot points.
Acknowledging sin sets the Christian worldview apart and sometimes makes it unpopular.
Christians are saying:
1) Absolute truth exists, and it is revealed in the Bible.
2) Sin is part of the human condition. No one escapes it. “There is none who does good” (Romans 3:12).
3) Sin leads to death (physical death, general brokenness across all of creation, and most importantly, spiritual death or separation from God).
4) The cure for the disease of sin is to accept God’s offer of grace through Jesus Christ, his Son, who came to earth as a man, lived a perfect life, and died in our place.
5) Jesus rose from the dead and sent the Holy Spirit to live with us, guiding, directing and comforting us daily. It is possible for us to have a personal relationship with the God of the universe.
In other words, the gospel presupposes a life-and-death problem, and that problem is the sin that separates us from a good God.
"This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live..." Deuteronomy 30:19
The other issue with ignoring sin is that you must be almost delusional to pretend it doesn’t exist. Everywhere we look, we see evidence of its destructive power: broken families, child abuse, pornography, greed and corruption, envy, racism, abortion, mass shootings. Everyone who is paying attention knows that something is not right.
The world is broken. In fact, given free rein, sin ruins everything. God created a good world, but Scripture tells us that the whole earth groans under the weight of sin (Romans 8:22). Disease, death, pollution, suffering, corruption, violence...all result from sin's influence on the world.
Most significantly, we humans are broken. Innately, we know that the problem is not only outside us but inside us, as well.
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8). Tweet this verse
What is sin?
I love catechisms because they often make complex teaching straightforward and understandable.
These questions and answers come from a children’s version of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.
Q. What is sin?
A. Sin is any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God.
Q. What is meant by “want of conformity”?
A. Not being or doing what God commands.
Q. What is meant by “transgression”?
A. Doing what God forbids.
Sin presupposes God. Not a God who says, “Live and let live,” but a God who says, “This is right, and this is wrong.” In the book of Judges, the author describes a time when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” And it was a disaster.
Christianity says morality is not relative. God made the world. It belongs to him, and we are accountable to him for our behavior.
“In our own eyes”
We are all very prone to minimizing our sin, to justifying our behavior and explaining why we’re not really all that bad. Like the rich young ruler in the Bible, we want to say, “I’ve kept all of God’s commands… or most of them anyway. I haven’t committed murder. I’ve never shoplifted, never hit anyone. I don’t do drugs, don’t drink, don’t smoke…” God is not fooled. We can’t even get past the first and greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God will all your heart, mind, soul and strength.” And then #2 hits us: “Love your neighbor (and your enemy) as yourself.”
When we are brutally honest with ourselves, we know that we are at the center of our own universes. We fail to love God and other people well. We want the good stuff for ourselves and are bitter when it goes to someone else who hasn’t worked as hard as we have. We think the younger brothers who threw away their inheritances should get what they deserve, and our hands all too often wrap around the necks of those who have hurt us— even if it’s only in our minds. We want justice for our enemy—not mercy. We save the mercy for ourselves.
We all have much of which to repent.
“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” – Timothy Keller
The Good News
When we are honest about sin—the magnitude of it in our lives and its devastating impact—God’s mercy and grace strike us as the best possible news.
“Grace is only ever attractive to sinners. The way to begin to celebrate the grace that God so freely gives you every day is by admitting how much you need it.” – Paul David Tripp
Step 1 on this grace journey: Admit your sin.
We will look more at the next steps and the truly Good News of the gospel in the coming weeks.