Why Christians Should Always Talk About Sin
“We just want to share God’s love with people out there.”
This saying would probably go down to be the evangelism mantra of our age. Being one who takes Jesus’ call to evangelism seriously, I never thought that I would ever have to disagree with someone making that very statement – but it happened.
“Bro, I appreciate your boldness… but what we want to do is to just show them love and share with them that God loves them,” said my concerned acquaintance in subtle rebuke, after he pulled me away from preaching the Gospel to an uncle.
This happened during a planned Street Evangelism with a group of fellow Christians across the Klang Valley. Unsure of where he was coming from, I replied, “I agree! But we have to share the gospel with them… right?”
We went back and forth to better understand one another’s perspective, and eventually got to the bottom of our disagreement.
“I understand where you are coming from, but you cannot say harsh things like that to them,” asserted my acquaintance firmly, intending to bring the conversation to a close.
“But I should still tell them about their sins, right?” I asked in mixed feelings of concern and anxiety.
My acquaintance did not entertain that concern.
“But how would they know God’s love… if I don’t tell them that they are sinners needing God’s mercy to save them?” I asked again, ending the conversation awkwardly as we headed back to gather with the larger group.
Again, we were intentionally meeting together at a location for Street Evangelism. Evangelism. The explicit proclamation of Jesus – the Saviour of those whom he loves, yes; but also, the Saviour who saves sinners from their sins (Matt 1:21).
The Opening ACTS
– No Pun Intended
The apostle Peter’s first ever sermon had a profound effect on his fellow Jews. Acts 2:37-38 reads:
“…they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Imagine, being “cut to the heart” – definitely not the kind of positive, chirpy, and uplifting atmosphere that would sit well with a 21st century audience. This is the state of guilt, sorrow, and grief that the word of God produces in people who rebel against Him and His holiness, that when godly, will produce repentance that leads to salvation (2 Cor 7:10). It was in this state that the people in the book of Acts urgently and anxiously asked the apostles, “What shall we do?”
Let’s back up a little bit. What could have put the people in such a state? If Peter was trying to preach the gospel – good news – why did the people react so “negatively”? What did Peter say? Acts 2:22-23 reads: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” Not long after, Peter ends his discourse: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36).
Peter spoke pointedly about his fellow Jews’ predicament. He made it exceptionally clear. He was bold and loving enough to confront his fellow Jews for their rebellion against God. He exposed their horrendous guilt of doing ultimate injustice to God by killing His Son. Peter preached with the desire to see the people repent – to undergo a 180 degree turn in their mind, heart, attitude, and life from their wayward and atrocious ways against God and His holiness. The call to repentance is obviously a recognition that his fellow Jews’ problem was neither the Roman empire’s colonialism, nor poverty, nor a lack of love, nor a lack of purpose in life, nor a jeopardised self esteem, but their sin. Peter preached sin.
“BUT, Acts 2 is about the Jews, right? Surely, that sort of message would not have to be applied to people who did not outright plot to kill an innocent man, much less the Messiah? The people of the time in Acts 2 deserved to be reprimanded to that degree! Surely, that kind of message need not be applied anymore to an innocent, non-jewish, 21st century audience? Why not cut down on the harsh words and ideas like sin, make people feel comfortable and a sense of belonging in church, and build a warm relationship with them, rather than pushing the idea of repentance already?”
Fortunately, we don’t have to innovate groundbreaking methods to properly evangelise civilised non-Jews. A blueprint can be found in Acts 17, where Paul, God’s appointed apostle to the Gentiles, distraught by the idolatry he observed in Athens, made clear what the people needed to do. He preached: “…The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30). In the climax of his message to the Athenians, the call to salvation is unmistakably clear – repent. Sound familiar? At this point in the book of Acts, the apostle Paul has not met up with apostle Peter and the rest of the apostles yet (this happens in Acts 21:1-26). Yet both of them preached with the same desire for people to turn away from their sinful ways.
Reading the book of Acts, we know this: The Sovereign Lord who commissioned Peter (Acts 1:8, Matt 28:18-20) to the ministry of the gospel, is the same Lord who appointed Paul to the ministry of the gospel later on (Acts 9). The gospel Peter preached was the gospel Paul preached. It is the gospel of God. The God of the gospel is commanding all people everywhere to repent. In other words, it is this great God, who sent Jesus for our sins, who is merciful towards sinners and so wills to convict sinners of their sin (John 16:8), who leads people to repentance by the apostles’ call to repentance. The call to repentance was not an option in Paul’s gospel preaching. How can it be, when repentance was at the heart of Paul’s commission by the immutable and sovereign God?
Our Love – A Twisted Love
It does not take a genius to realise that sin and repentance before God is at the heart of not only the book of Acts, but the whole Bible. How could we have lost our way? How could something so clear be so clearly missed in our efforts to preach the gospel? How are we able to forgo the reality of sin and still preach… God’s love?
Perhaps the problem has, in fact, been staring us in the face. Perhaps our number one agenda in sharing the gospel has not been virtue, but vice. Perhaps the very problem is, in fact, God’s love – that is, of course, our take on it.
We have been nurtured in a culture which tells us that our feelings are prime, and that the hurting of anyone’s self esteem a crime. We want to be told that we are good, that we are enough, that we are people who have limitless potential, that we are special, that we are important, that we could do whatever we want, be whatever we want to be. We will not tolerate anything that does not “make us feel good about ourselves.” We walk into churches hoping to receive a spiritual alternative to what we could hear from a Tony Robbins seminar. How dare we baptise the gospel of God’s love into our culture as a self-esteem booster for people, rather than telling people the truth about their state before God as wretched sinners! As David Powlison aptly puts:
“In this new gospel, the great “evils” to be redressed do not call for any fundamental change of direction in the human heart. Instead, the problem lies in my sense of rejection from others; in my corrosive experience of life’s vanity; in my nervous sense of self-condemnation and diffidence; in the imminent threat of boredom if my music is turned off; in my fussy complaints when a long, hard road lies ahead.
These are today’s significant felt needs that the gospel is bent to serve. Jesus and the church exist to make you feel loved, significant, validated, entertained, and charged up. This gospel ameliorates distressing symptoms. It makes you FEEL better. The logic of this therapeutic gospel is a jesus-for-Me who meets individual desires and assuages psychic aches.”
David Powlison, “Therapeutic Gospel”, in Journal of Biblical Counselling 25 (Summer 2007): 3.
We forget that God’s love is unmerited grace. And if grace is unmerited, people need to know why they don’t merit it. Mercy is meaningless without understanding the wrath that we deserve. Forgiveness is incomprehensible without grasping our personal guilt before God. And salvation rings hollow when we’re never told and constantly reminded of what we are saved from.
We Just Want People to Share God’s Love
Sin should and will always be something we talk about as Christians because we desire the same thing God desires – repentance of His people. We want them to see their sins, to be “cut to the heart”, to be crushed by God’s holiness, to remorse over their ways against God, and then, to see how merciful God is towards sinners who hate Him, to experience God’s love that powerfully transforms sinners into holy beings.
The gospel that does not shun away from sin is the gospel that will powerfully transform lives. THIS is the way that will produce people who will, in undying passion for God’s love, genuinely exclaim with their lives, “we just want to preach God’s love to people out there!”
Posted on 18th October 2019