Take yourself out of this context for a moment. You’re no longer on this blog. No longer on Crosswalk.com. No longer in the safe confines of a Christian context.
Image yourself on the neutral ground of everyday living: You’re at work, school, or maybe just grabbing coffee with a friend—a friend with no real exposure to Christianity, or any defining experience of God’s love.
Now imagine speaking the word “sin”.
Whether that thought makes you fidget uncomfortably or brings a thousand questions to mind, there’s no denying the word “sin” isn’t easy to deal with today. In a world where there are generally no absolutes, that word not only brings to mind judgement, wrath, and old-school fire-and-brimstone preachers…it seems rather antiquated.
Though there’s no formula for talking about sin, our success will often depend on our awareness. So before engaging in a potentially hot-button debate on sin, here are some basic principles to keep in mind:
1. Understand who you’re talking to, not just what you’re talking about.
Our ability to talk about sin—and truly understanding it for ourselves—depends heavily on an understanding of our society and culture (and yes, we’re part of both). It’s very rare that people will set themselves against faith, or God, deliberately or out of nowhere. Our society is a beautiful mess of people, each dealing with brokenness, selfishness, hurt in different doses.
We also have to understand that our culture (unintentionally) operates based on fear. Seeing the marred history of religion, we’ve set ourselves on not repeating the atrocities of the past. So rather than risk re-living them, we decide to stay neutral. In the name of love and understanding, shying away from absolutes has come to be considered something of a virtue.
So how can we talk about sin at a time when nothing is considered bad? That brings us to the second principle:
2. Check your perspective.
Because we live in a postmodern society, the way we talk about sin comes down to a shift in perspective. In his article, “How to Talk About Sin in the Postmodern Age” on The Gospel Coalition, Tim Keller gives us an important truth:
“Sin isnʼt only doing bad things; it’s more fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything, even a very good thing, more than on God. Whatever we build our life on will drive us and enslave us. Sin is primarily idolatry.”
Keller continues to break down this perspective in a way that is personal and real:
“I’ve found when you describe their lives in terms of idolatry, postmodern people do not offer much resistance. They doubt there is any real alternative, but they admit sheepishly this is what they are doing. I’ve also found this makes sin more personal. Making an idol out of something means giving it the love you should be giving your Creator and Sustainer.
To depict sin as not only a violation of law, but also of love, is more compelling. Of course a complete description of sin and grace includes recognition of our rebellion against Godʼs authority. But Iʼve found that if people become convicted about their sin as idolatry and mis-directed love, it’s easier to show them that one of the effects of sin is to put them into denial about their hostility to God.
In some ways, idolatry is like addiction writ large. We are ensnared by our spiritual idols, just like people are ensnared by drink and drugs. We live in denial of how much we are rebelling against Godʼs rule, just like addicts live in denial of how much they are trampling on their families and loved ones.”
3. Frame the bigger picture...and know God’s heart.
In any conversations about sin, we have to remember it comes down to the bigger picture so much more than one specific theological concept. And just as with art, the success of a picture often depends on its frame. When framing sin, ultimately, we should keep in mind three important truths—one’s that lead us not just to the truth of our condition, but the truth of God’s heart:
God is more holy than we realize.
We are more sinful and idolatrous than we think.
And we are more loved than we could ever imagine.
Photo credit: ©Unsplash
Publication date: May 12, 2017
Cristina Rutkowski is the editor of BibleStudyTools.com.