Preaching against sin

We Christians have earned quite a reputation for making a front-and-center issue out of sin. (Let me be clear before I go further: Sin IS a serious issue. Not only does it kill and destroy, but it cost Jesus his life to free us from it’s poison).

But isn’t it curious that the Jesus of the Gospels seemed to preach so little against sin? (In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus never mentions the word “sin” even once!*) He never seemed to think it was necessary to lecture Zaccheaus about dishonesty, to confront the sinful woman about her prostitution, nor to have the good Father lecture the prodigal about his selfishness and debauchery. Instead Jesus went about inviting people into relationship, and seemingly forgiving them before they asked. “Come unto me, you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” “Believe in me, and you will never thirst again.”

Why do we assume that preaching the gospel means hammering on sin? Indeed, is “preaching against sin” even necessary to proclaim the good news? I’m convinced our neighbors already know about their sins. They don’t need us to point out their lies, their affairs, their selfishness and addictions. Most honest people are already painfully aware of their offenses towards God. (The exception seems to be religious people, who were the ones Jesus most often addressed about the subject). What our neighbors DON’T know is the love of a Savior who accepts them right where they are, the delight of being alive and adopted into God’s family, and the hope of a Kingdom that is making all things new.

It may take awhile to rebuild our reputation, but I believe it’s past time we hang up our fixation with sin and begin offering grace to the world.

* Since posting this, one friend pointed out that it depends on the translation. I was using the New American Standard Version at the time of writing.

13 thoughts on “Preaching against sin”

  1. I so agree with you. Especially in light of Matthew 1:21, where the angel says to Joseph, “…And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” He didn’t come to rub our noses in our sins–He came in a spirit of love to deliver us from them. Another great post, Don!

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  2. Good post Don. I believe a large portion of the church unfortunately uses sin as a controlling mechanism to keep people going on Sundays and giving, making it a requirement for salvation instead of actually preaching the Good news of Christ crucified. I’ve been to way too many churches especially in the Springs where its preached Grace plus works for salvation. It’s sad, but I believe the more people question what is being preached from the pulpit and taught in the seminaries, the more people are going to come to realize that the actual Gospel is something that they haven’t heard or have just disregarded and cling to it for dear life.

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    1. Thanks Braden! I think you’re right. We’re getting better, but still haven’t made a clean break from works-oriented salvation. We seem to be afraid to break away from “officially approved” evangelical teaching to follow the Biblical message where it leads. Good to see you, buddy!

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  3. I agree that love and forgiveness must be our overriding message to those around us, wherever we are. On the other hand, Jesus did tell the woman caught in the act of adultery, “Go and sin no more”, after he’d told the crowd that would’ve stoned her, “Let him who has no sin, cast the first stone.” In both cases, Jesus spoke the Truth, because that is what love does: it speaks the truth kindly, and it also listens kindly. We are all sinners saved by grace who need both love and truth to guide us through this sin-soaked journey we’re on. Love does cover a multitude of sins, but Truth calls both the speaker and the listener to examine one’s own heart, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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    1. Hey Jane!

      Thanks for the comment. I just wrote this to Scarlett. She had a similar comment / question.

      I’m not suggesting we drop the word “sin” from our vocabulary, but only that we stick to preaching the good news of grace. I think it’s noteworthy in the case of the adulterous woman that the good news spoken to her consisted in the extravagant declaration, “neither do I condemn you” spoken by the only Person in the universe who actually had the authority to do so. No one in that crowd had the moral authority to lecture this woman on sin. And it’s the same today. What’s even more breathtaking is this: So far as we’re told – she never even ASKED for forgiveness! It was simply extended by sheer grace. And then, from that foundation of unconditional love and acceptance it was fitting for Jesus to call her to live differently.

      When we try to weave both grace and “turning from sin” into the same gospel message, it becomes confusing and leads us into the unavoidable error of believing that at least a part of my salvation is built on the fact that I have turned away from my sin. And that, of course, feeds the Pharisee in me.

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      1. The fact that Jesus did not condemn the adulterous woman speaks volumes. As you pointed out, most people realize their sinful behavior, but the Holy Spirit is far better at conviction than I am. I am called to love and pray for people, inviting them into relationship with me, and since Jesus lives in me, that person gets the whole package!

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  4. Scripture and Christ’s own teaching seems to shift the focus of his death toward the ratification of the new covenant–ushering in Kingdom living made possible through the Holy Spirit. Christ’s life was the perfect example not just of a sinless life, but more emphatically, what life looks like when lived in moment-by-moment, spirit-led, communication with the Father (that is real freedom!). Not downplaying sin….or Christ’s work on the cross, but rather, looking at the placement of Biblical emphasis.

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    1. Thanks, Melissa, for capturing the spirit of grace. No one here wants to downplay sin, but it’s a stretch for many of us to move beyond our assumptions about the gospel. You’ve invited us into a fresh perspective.

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  5. If we do not discuss sin or the law, how does one see their need? Maybe I am not on track, but this seemed pretty important when I discussed salvation with my daughter and helping her understand the need for Christ’s work. I am still struggling with the concept. Also, where does 1 John 1:9 fit in when it says “if” we confess, He is faithful “to” forgive. Since all was forgiven at the cross, this verse seems to say that the forgiveness occurs once we confess. Thoughts?

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    1. Hey Tara! I don’t mean to suggest that we should avoid talking about sin or the law. Both are important concepts, and believers need to understand them. But a close reading of the gospels, shows us a Jesus who did not put his main focus on sin and the law as many of today’s Christians do. He rather invited people into relationship. For instance with the known sinner, Zaccheaus, Jesus simply invited him to dinner. It appears that the very acceptance and love that Jesus extended to him prompted him to repent and make restitution to those he had defrauded. Neither do we have a record of Jesus lecturing his disciples about their sins. But He was clearly concerned that they followed Him and believed in him. His heart is for relationship, and to that end he dealt decisively with all sin at the cross so that nothing would stand between us an Him. That isn’t to say sins don’t matter, or that we no longer sin. But in God’s eyes, sin has been taken out of the way, removed from the table, so to speak, so that we might walk in a living relationship with Him.

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