Sin is more than making mistakes. It is not an accident that causes harm to someone else. And yet, many of us have heard sin defined as such. Too often, we hold back from even saying the word “Sin” because it just seems so heavy and serious and offensive.
A while back, I wrote an article for The Gospel Coalition entitled, “Parents, Tell Your Kids They Are Sinners.” Let me tell you, there were a lot of comments both positive and negative. Some people even accused me of emotional and spiritual child-abuse, because, “How could anyone tell their children such terrible things.” But if I want my kids to become Christians, they need to know their need for Christ… which means they need to know they are sinners in need of a Savior.
The Bible talks about sin, and if we don’t then we’re holding back on God’s Word. Even worse, if we do not talk about sin, then how can we proclaim the gospel which frees us from the chains of sin and death?
But what is sin, and how does temptation work? That’s what the rest of this post explores.
The gospel is the heart of Christianity. Without the gospel, Christianity is Judaism.
In all the talk about the gospel, it can be really helpful to slow down enough to ask ourselves, “What IS the gospel?” It’s both simpler and broader than you may realize.
The Simple Gospel
The gospel is the proclamation of forgiveness and redemption through faith in Jesus Christ – his sinless life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
John 3:16-17, ESV
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Romans 10:9, ESV
Gospel means “good news.” It’s an announcement. Like an ambassador who brings a message on behalf of the people he represents, the Christian announces the gospel, “Salvation is possible because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Confess your sin. Admit that you can’t earn it. Believe that forgiveness and redemption only comes through the work of Jesus, not through your own work. It is a gift of faith if you trust in his work instead of your own. This is great news!”
I want God to use me. I want to make an impact in some way on the world and in those who know me. I know I’m not alone. You probably want the same thing.
As we pursue our callings in this world, it’s wise to remember that God is actively at work in the life of the normal Christian in ways that far surpasses what we read about in the Old Testament.
That’s a bold statement, and while it’s a very broad and general one, I think it’s accurate because the Holy Spirit did not live in anyone before Pentecost. In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit “came upon” people and empowered them to do certain things, but Pentecost brings a significant change in the work of the Holy Spirit.
I was sitting on the steps of my college chapel, talking with one of the ministry leaders I served under. As I wrestled with new understandings about God’s sovereignty, I hit the wall in my prayer life.
“If God is sovereign, why should we pray? If God is in control, and if he will do what he sovereignly wills, why bother asking for anything?”
It’s a fair question. I don’t remember details about what I was told that day, but if I could go back and talk to myself, here are a few things I’d say.
Alice was an elderly friend of mine who is now with the Lord. For years she struggled with the Trinity and the more we talked about the Trinity, the more concerned I was about her faith, because she kept arguing that God could not be three-in-one. And yet, she continued to affirm that she is indeed a Christian.
Alice thought it was just some Christian mumbo-jumbo and it didn’t really matter if you understood it or not. Eventually, I gave her the warning, “Alice, if you deny the Trinity, you cannot be a Christian. You either believe in the Trinity and you’re a Christian, or you deny the Trinity and set yourself outside the lines of Christianity.”
A few months later, she came to me after church smiling, and said, “I finally get it. 1+1+1=1.” I was overjoyed. So was she, and she thanked me for being so direct about the seriousness of our discussion.
The Trinity really is that important. All Christian theology is an explanation of the Trinity. You cannot understand Christianity without a basic understanding of the Trinity. The following is intended to present what you need for a basic and foundational understanding of the Trinity. If you study and learn this, it will serve you well.
Working on a good team doesn’t happen by accident. It’s natural for us to fight for our own way and do our own thing, but a good team is refreshing and effective. When it comes to teamwork, we can choose unity or division. We can choose to either do our own thing, or to lay ourselves aside in order to strengthen and benefit the team’s mission.
The church in Philippi was divided. Two of the leading women in the church, Euodia (yoo-oh-dee-ah) and Syntyche (sin-tih-key), were fighting and the Apostle Paul wasn’t happy about it. He publicly affirms both of them, but then essentially tells people to lock them in a room until they learn to get along again (Phil. 4:3). Paul’s message is essentially this: “The ministry of the gospel is more important than your disagreement. Figure this out and make it work.” Since they are both united to Christ, they are exhorted to be “of the same mind in the Lord” (Phil. 4:2).
Isn’t that a message we need today, after such a contentious election? To acknowledge that we have differences and disagreement, but we need to learn how to be of the same mind because we are both united in Christ. The gospel is what bonds us together and makes us family, why should we allow our differences to overpower Christian unity?
Steve and Rob are friends who are discussing the meaning of life. Steve is convinced the purpose is to simply do good, be happy, and leave the world a better place than it was before you were born. Rob generally agrees with his friend, and he prods Steve for clarity over what it means to be good, what happiness is, and what the world “should” look like.
In the end, they agree their disagreements flow from a big difference in their epistemology (ep-iss-ta-maw-lo-gee), or, “how you know what you know.” Steve believes that we each determine our own truths, so long as they don’t do harm to others around us. Rob is a Christian who believes the Bible is the final authority and measure of truth. In his frustration about Rob’s continual mention of the Bible, Steve expresses, “What even IS the Bible? It’s just a book, and it’s not even trustworthy. People made it up and threw it together, stop talking about the Bible!”
According to a joint-study of Barna Group and American Bible Society’s on The State of the Bible,
- 80% of Americans consider the Bible sacred literature.
- 1/3 of Americans claim to read the Bible at least once a week.
- 62% have a desire to read the Bible more frequently.
- 50% of American Christian Millennials believe it is the Word of God and has no errors (some verses were meant to be taken figuratively, and not every verse is literal)
- 27% of American Millennials who are not Christians believe the Bible is a dangerous book which promotes oppression.
- 19% of American Millennials who are not Christians believe the Bible is completely outdated and has no relevance to life today.
The impact of the Bible on history cannot be disputed. But what is the Bible? Is it any different from other books? And is the Bible trustworthy?
The purpose here is not to persuade anyone new that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, but to clarify historic Christian teaching about what the Bible is.
There’s risk in being with people who aren’t like you. Similarity breeds safety; differences can be dangerous. But God created a diverse world. And he calls the Church to “go, make disciples of all nations.” If we clump with those who are like us, there’s no need for the Great Commission.
But how do we talk with people who aren’t like us? How do we disagree in a way that is respectful and healthy?
So how do we practice both persuasion and tolerance at the same time? Here are three “Rules of Engagement.”
1. Listen, Listen, Listen
We all come to the table with pre-drawn conclusions about people. Even if you just met someone, you’ve sized them up with your eyes and in your mind before you’ve spoken anything to each other. Their race, their clothes, their body language, the context in which you met, etc. These are all factors that can lead us to make false assumptions.
We need to do what we can to lay those aside and really listen. Especially when talking about issues of faith/theology, we need to be slow to categorize people. Continue reading