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Monday, May 28, 2007

Missing the Trees for the Forest

Many of our partners come to Western Europe to work alongside us and are overwhelmed by the sin that they see practiced and even glorified in these cultures. Entire segments of the population find their identity in the sin that characterizes their lives. For many of our co-workers, it can be overwhelming to see such blatant disregard for all things that pertain to holiness. Recently, one volunteer commented, "Back home, people at least have the decency to try to hide what they're doing!"

Many well-intentioned church planters and evangelists become so distracted by the sin around them, that they lose sight of the people. Their message changes from "Good news! There is hope in Jesus!" to the familiar "Bad news! You're going to hell, sinner!" Of course, they're right. Sin separates us from the Creator. Repentance is the vital response to salvation. I can see how it could be tempting to focus on preaching against sin.

But lost people don't need to stop sinning. They need Jesus. In fact, without Jesus, lost people are incapable of curbing their appetites for sin. They are slaves to it. At best, they could learn to exchange the unacceptable sin in their lives for the hidden, "hey, nobody's perfect" kind that is more acceptable in Christian circles. Sin is in our nature. It is the jail cell we're all born into. The only escape is new life in Christ.

Besides, even if unbelievers could (they can't) modify their behavior to match (outwardly, at least) a lifestyle becoming of a Christian, it wouldn't matter. Not sinning doesn't get us any closer to salvation. Why then, would we ever focus on people's sin? Why would we exchange the message of redemption for one of condemnation? Why would we act as though it was our job to convict people of sin?


Anonymous said...

Indeed, "Not sinning doesn't get us any closer to salvation." But your very next question, "Why then, would we ever focus on people's sin?", is not exactly directly linked with that previous statement. While putting our own focus on people's sins will not help a sinner at all, the Holy Spirit's conviction of sin is surely at least part of the salvation process, as you state. You seem to be saying that people need Christ to be delivered from sin, but that deliverance comes way down the road sometime later in their spiritual journey. Perhaps that will be true for some people. It's just that the Scriptures seem to show a Jesus
that focuses on sin right away. It seems to show us apostles that focus on sin almost constantly when they share the Gospel. Acts 2:38, 3:19, 5:31, 8:22, 10:43, 13:38, 14:15, 17:30, 26:18-20. Good news, there is hope in Jesus, and bad news, you are going to hell, sinner, seem to be part of the same message. I try to focus mainly on Christ when I share the Gospel, but there is no way to get around the example that we are given in Scripture of the message often shared - "Repent and believe." Some people come to the Father as they are convicted of sin and their need of a Savior. This part of the message must be shared as well. How can one respond to a message of redemption if they can not see their own condemnation?

IAMANM (with your agency)

stepchild said...

I guess I'm trying to illustrate what I consider to be an over-emphasis on one of the two sides of the message due to the overwhelming sin all around us. In Christ, not only are we saved from sin, but we are saved to life in Christ.

I agree with you that both are necessary, but it seems to me that fixating on sin is only half of (19% of?) the Message. If that is the only part people hear, we are spreading a false (works- based) gospel. Wouldn't you agree?

Thanks for your comment. Also, thank you for sharing scripture!

Anonymous said...

Indeed, I agree. We must share the entire Gospel message. Thanks for your reply.


Watchman said...

I was raised in the culture of turn or burn preaching, and what intrigues me about folks with whom that is their primary message, they seem really, really angry. Usually, when I am that angry about what someone ELSE is doing, I have to ask myself why. I concluded that God was always pissed off at me for some reason, so if I in turn directed what I thought was His anger elsewhere, I wouldnt feel so bad.

Billy said...

Behavior vs. salvation. Wow...we can get SO caught up in others acting like us (church people) and doing what we (church people) do. The reality is that scripture talks a lot about heart change. It talks a lot about new creations. IMO it isn't so much all sins that cause us to get all hyped up. It would seem that there are just certain no-no's. Homosexuality, hetrosexuality before marriage or during with a different partner, or drinking. As long as they are kept quiet it is ok. As long as a facade is put up that there is no problem---it is ok. Where there is a transparency the call to REPENT comes out! We forget that this is a journey. We forget that Christ went to the parties. His frustrations tended to be with the could say that His frustrations tended to fall on people like us. Like me.
Great post. Keep the dialogue rolling!

Publius said...

I've been struggling with this post for a couple of days now. I even fired off a couple of bitter comments, and wisely deleted them.

I'm tempted to point to the attitude of the preacher. There seems to be a sort of self-righteous pride evident in so many who preach against the sin they see around them. "O Lord, I thank you that I am not like these sinners around me..." We can parse the "correctness" of such a position all day long, but it doesn't change the fact that such a preacher is missing the point, that "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:17) The spirit of our preaching should always be love, not condemnation.

This argument, though, is still vulnerable to the valid point that we must still speak to sin, and call sinners to repent. True enough. Where I think we go wrong is when we talk about sin in the abstract, apart from the individual soul.

IamanM, you're right, the apostles used the words "repent" and "sin" all the time. But you didn't see them standing on the street corner, haranguing passers-by about the evils of drunkenness and fornication, either. They spoke of repentance to individuals with whom they had already made an impact. People know they're sinners. What they need is hope.

bj said...

Publius said "People know they're sinners." I don't know that we can make such a sweeping statement. Many people do not know that they are sinners, separated from true relationship with God. Even as believers we minimize the grave, gross reality of our sin against holy God. We, and non-believers, often minimize our sin and search for ways to justify what we do. Jim Hamilton recently had a great post on penal substitution and how important this is when considering our relationship to God.
(And no, I'm not saying we label a 2x4 with the words "penal substitution" or "justification" and then hit people with it, expecting them to repent.)

Michele said...

So often we become God's Little Policemen with pointing out how the unsaved act well, unsaved.


How about we live and tell about a Savior and let Him do the cleaning up? When did we forget that the Lord is much better at it than we are?