What Sin?

Sin can certainly be described as a failure to let God be God, that is what Paul was getting at in Romans 1 when he began to lay out the case that all have sinned.  And while it is true as far as it goes, sin is also a failure to meet God’s standard.  It is disobedience to God.  Because of the fall, sin is inherent in our nature as human beings.  I know this objectively because the Bible describes the circumstances of the fall and man’s original disobedience that gave us that nature, and I know it subjectively, because I have noticed that my kids are perfectly capable of any number of sinful behaviors that I didn’t have to teach them to do.

As for why sin is so hard to discuss in contemporary culture, this is a modern and postmodern phenomenon primarily.  No one seemed to take umbrage with Jonathan Edwards when he preached “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, but that same sermon and title today might get a pastor dismissed from a few churches even.  As part of the desire of some to meet felt needs and draw seekers, there has been a shying away from the term sin altogether.  Joel Osteen said he doesn’t like to use that kind of talk in church when he was a guest on Larry King Live a couple of years ago and if you watch one of his sermons you will find that he sticks to his preferences.  Many people assume that it must work because of the size of his audience both live and on TV.  I have heard people say that they were offended by the use of the word “wretch” in Amazing Grace to refer to us as humans.  In a world that tries to sell the idea that everyone is right in their own eyes, telling people that they are wrong in God’s sight may not go over well.  However, I have seen some who are unapologetic when it comes to speaking about sin.  The people that put together the Way of the Master program as a way to teach people to share their faith are adamant about confronting people with their own sinful nature.  They use the Ten Commandments as a touchstone for people to both see and admit their guilt or sinfulness before God.  I have seen this process work with my own eyes as I have talked to people the same way, allowing them to admit their own guilt in light of God’s truth.  It isn’t foolproof.  Some are so caught up in postmodernism that they have created their own god, breaking another of God’s commandments by the way, a god who wouldn’t call anyone a sinner or send anyone to hell.  But the door is open for the conversation in any case.  Sin is a subject that has to be a part of evangelism and our relationship with God.  Until we understand sin rightly, we cannot understand grace properly either and we lose the understanding of God’s holiness as well.

Categories: Bible Thoughts, Discipleship, theology, Truth | 13 Comments

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13 thoughts on “What Sin?

  1. The real problem with Joel Osteen’s message is not so much in what he is saying, but what he is not saying. That is, his falseness is detected by he does not say rather than by what he says. Joel does not talk about faith in Jesus. He talks about faith. Joel does not speak of repentance. He speaks of change. Joel does not speak of the cross as man’s only hope for the problem of sin. Joel does not speak of sin as man’s ultimate problem. Joel does not teach the cross as a way of life. Jesus said “deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me.” Joel says “believe in yourself.”

  2. Greg,
    You make a great point. This post was one that I had put together for a class discussion at Liberty last semester. I am sometimes asked what I think of Joel Osteen. I have no personal animosity toward him, but I have no desire to be in his position when he faces God at the judgment; given the Biblical warnings about leading others astray. As a pastor, I take that warning very seriously and do my best to communicate the full truth of the gospel.

  3. I have devoted my blog (it’s the only reason I recently began blogging!) to exposing the half-truths of Joel. Check it out. You can get to it through my website. I think bible-believing, self-denying, cross-carrying Christian pastors and leaders need to shout about this in order to be heard over the world’s applause! My blog is just one of those shouts!

  4. The trouble(in my opinion) with Evangelicalism is that they concentrate on ‘sins’ an not ‘sin’.

    They treat sins as something we step into and out of. Sin is the web that we are all caught in. There is no getting out of it. Indeed we don’t want to get out of it (otherwise we would stop sinning). We want to sin.

    God knows this about us and yet He still wants us. So much so that He died on a bloody cross for us.

    ‘Sin’ is THE problem. Christ Jesus is THE answer.


  5. I am with you on The Way of The Master method of evangelism. What a great tool. When you read the old sermons from centuries gone by, conviction of sin seemed easier. Today we must start at square one. What does a Savior save us from?

  6. willoh,
    I confess that the first time I saw the stories about the Way of the Master, I was really skeptical. Once I watched a couple of the episodes however, I was really amazed. Talking about sin in today’s culture can be difficult, and one of the things that Ray stresses is that it must be done in love. Personally, I was always pretty good at addressing sin; I just didn’t do it with a lot of love. And that approach of using God’s law to explain sin helps me to resonate the truth in a loving way. I used this method to talk to bikers at Sturgis and was impressed all over again with how simple yet effective a tool the law of God is for reaching the human heart.

  7. Talking about sin is great (and must be done)

    I’m not so sure about the cookie-cutter, one size fits all method that WoTM uses.

    I believe the law can be applied better in the life of each individual. Such as relating to them the struggles, hardships, and losses that each of us has as individuals.

    Have you ever stolen, have you ever lied, etc. is law, but it reflects a Sunday School understanding of the law .

    While the Holy Spirit can grab a hold of anyone whom He chooses, I prefer to get to know a person and what things in life have him or her down. That is also the law. Then telling the person what Christ has done for them and for this world to someday make it all right.

    Just my personal opinion.


  8. I don’t know about the effectiveness in one on one relations, but the WotM method preaches at a level people can understand.

  9. The Word of God preached in it’s fullness (the law and the gospel) will do what it will do.

    I guess the method is not as important as the message.

  10. I am curious. What do you mean by a “Sunday School” understanding of the law? Is there a deeper significance to those commandments that that? All they are getting people to do is begin to admit guilt before an objective standard. In today’s society, that is quite an accomplishment.

  11. jeofurry,

    By a Sunday School understanding of God’s law, I mean that they only think of the law in the form of the 10 commandments and nothing else.

    My pastor likes to refer to God’s law as ‘any demand that existence places upon us.’

    The demand to be a good husband, father, son, employee. The demands of making a living, paying the rent, buying food, the demands of health and staying healthy. Death itself is the ultimate demand of the law.
    All of these are expressions of the law. They demand from us and accuse us and expose us when they are not kept in the required measure.

    These can also be used, and quite effectively, to convict and expose a person’s fallen condition. There is no better time to witness to Jesus Christ than at a funeral. Death speaks the law in volumes and a good preacher will use it to theologocally ‘kill off’ the hearer. Then the gospel comes afterward, the sweet sound of forgiveness and life, to raise the person anew.

    So while, “have you ever stolen anything” is a proper use of the law to convict and kill, people can rationalize that away (everyone does it, or whatever).
    But when you speak to them and find out where they are being had by the world, the flesh, and the devil, you can often strike a real cord of hurt and pain in their life, and that word of law will break them as well. In this grief and pain, the person may softened up for the gospel as well.

    Sorry to be so long winded. I’m sure others could have done a much better job with that explanation than I.

    Thanks, Jeofurry!

  12. theoldadam,
    I think you did a fine job explaining it as I was mostly curious what you meant by it particularly.
    I hear what you are saying about people trying to rationalize their behavior with the “everyone does it” defense, but that gives opportunity to highlight the fact that I am no different from them in that regard as well. It creates a point of common connection and it actually helps to validate Scripture a la Romans 3:23.
    The other process you are describing sounds to me a lot like what Francis Schaeffer calls the point of tension. Every person who has a belief system contrary to God’s Law will have a point at which their belief system cannot overcome reality. In other words, what they want to be true isn’t and they can’t get beyond it. I think this is highly effective as well, but it definitely takes more time. The most important part of sharing our faith is willingness to speak and allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us in what we say.

  13. “The most important part of sharing our faith is willingness to speak and allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us in what we say.”


    Thanks Jeff!

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