With last week’s post, we discussed pointing others towards the narrow gate and being born again into a new life. God has invited them to live a life of joy, here and now. It’s on them to enter the narrow gate and pursue the life and blessings Jesus has prepared for them. Now what? Shouldn’t we spend time making sure how much sin has consumed their life? Maybe not. Let’s explore this carefully together.
You have convinced them that God has revealed Himself to them already and discussed how that might be true in their experience. And you have let them know God has a unique invitation to not just know about Him but to pursue a deep relationship with Him.
You are now going to step into why they need someone to restore their relationship. The traditional message here is, “You are a sinner.”
I’ve adjusted this message slightly. And I believe when you hear the many reasons why you will agree.
I believe the enemy has twisted our message of sin against us. Western society is fed up with Christians calling them sinners. The reason, in my opinion, is that the enemy has cleverly achieved a beach head: “You hate me. You hate who I am. I am not a sinner; I am a person who was born with this tendency. You shouldn’t judge me or hate me. Your religion is actually what is wrong, hateful, and evil.”
Therefore, what should be a simple logical conversation about ALL of us being sinners, imperfect next to a perfect God (who can logically argue that we all fall short of perfection) has become an anti-Christian referendum of western society.
Humans have always tended to make decisions emotionally. But our tendency to think emotionally has increased in recent decades. The spin doctors have convinced large tracks of our population that it is okay to make illogical claims without any shame.
Therefore, the unemotional fact that we are all imperfect has met a stone wall. Moreover, the emotional assault coming back at us, the “you hate me” narrative, has taken on a life of its own. At every level of our society, schools, government, business, and on every street corner. The result is a guilt-free, shameless society. This is tragic.
But, it does not help the advancement of the Kingdom to lament, question why, or pine for the old days. It is tragic, but we must accept it, adjust our approach, and keep moving. If it helps, think of yourself back in ancient Greece, accompanying Paul.
If you are a student of war or business, you know you must study the landscape/market and adjust your tactics to win. If we want to win this battle, we need to be honest about the state of the fight and adjust!
We must adjust our tactics, and my suggestion is to go back to the basics, back to Jesus’ and the Apostles’ presentation of the Good News. They were sowing in hard soil—let’s try to approximate their approach.
Let me be clear about the sin topic. We know sin is mankind’s problem. We know Jesus came to take away the sins of the world. We know that sin separates us from God. We agree that the Bible is definitive in what sin is. And we agree with every word in the Bible.
To be sure, one must be convicted of sin to want and love our Savior truly. But, let’s ask ourselves, does the conviction of sin lead to salvation? According to how I read the Bible and my experience, the answer is no. In the Bible, sin conviction is preached more to believers than unbelievers, and empirically I’ve witnessed hundreds of convictions, leading to millions of tears, leading to sobbing confessions of faith, leading to some church attendance, leading to…nowhere.
So, if conviction of sin doesn’t always lead to salvation, what does? The Bible says that it is faith that saves us. The impressive list of scriptures in the footnotes will convince you if you are not convinced already. The topic of “Which comes first, repentance or faith?” has been debated by top theologians for centuries. Most scholars sit on the fence and call them twin graces. I agree that they are twin graces; they tend to occur within proximity of salvation and appear to come by supernatural grace.
However, in answering which one can solely lead to salvation, only one can do that. Conviction of sin may lead to remorse only, while faith in God will lead to salvation.
We can easily get confused until we remember, nobody is saved or not saved based on their level of sin; we are all saved by faith. Jesus and the Apostles primarily focused their messages on helping their audience get their faith accurate. It mainly was misunderstood faith, misdirected faith, or lack of faith from which they called people to turn (repent).
When in hard soil, the Apostles taught that there was someone they needed to know, and if you believe in who He is, you will be saved. So, they said, repent, change your mind, and believe (have faith) in who Jesus is. Repent is a complex word, but it has become nearly synonymous with “being sorry for your sins” in today's Christianity. Even the dictionary has picked up on this definition; it says repentance is “sincere regret or remorse.” But I believe the Bible teaches the meaning to be more closely aligned with changing your mind (Greek), turning to a new perspective/way (Semitic), turning toward God.
Just keep thinking, “Faith. It’s all about faith.” Faith is the cornerstone topic for salvation, not sin.
Being sorry for your sins will not save you. Faith in Jesus will save you. And yes, saving faith will lead to being sorry you snubbed your nose at God, fought against Him, and did all sorts of things that transgress His will for us. But being sorry we did bad things will not lead to salvation; only faith can lead us there.
Furthermore, being sorry we did bad things and becoming a good rule follower is genuinely not what God wants from us. He wants us to know He is the one we should listen to, not ourselves! He wants us to trust Him that He is more significant, more brilliant, and has more foresight than we do.
Jesus, the incarnate righteousness, so opposed to sin that he died to set us free from it and forgive us our sins, did not reject people in sin. On the contrary, He approached them. Jesus smiled, went to their feasts, genuinely loved them, ached for them. He wept at the thought and experience of their not receiving him.
His message was not, “Stop doing bad things!” On the contrary, He told the best rule-followers in Judea that their obsession with rules was shutting the Kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. They practiced the same tactic most modern Christians use, conviction of sin, and Jesus said they had the message wrong.
The traditional approach to the Gospel has been to have the evangelist press the person for recognition/conviction of sin. For the many reasons outlined, not the least of which is that Jesus said not to, we will not force this topic.
Be fluid, though. Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit on this page. If the Holy Spirit is convicting them of sin right then, go with it. You have the scriptures before you (and more in the next post) to facilitate the conviction. Let them mourn for their sins with you if they are feeling conviction right then.
Otherwise, be cautious. Bringing the sin sledgehammer down on the unregenerate will not generally work in an anti-Christian, hard soil environment.
The adjustment as laid out in this post series aligns with how Jesus and the Apostles proclaimed the Good News.
Perhaps, as we get comfortable with this approach, we may find it more effective than we thought possible. Possibly, we may even conclude we should have been proclaiming the good news in this manner all along. Perhaps we may even look back one day and realize that the sin sledgehammer helped push western society into today's anti-Christian environment.
Salvation isn’t about stopping the bad things we do and becoming a good rule follower; it’s about trusting God in every decision we make. It’s about honor and thankfulness that He has forgiven our sins and is available and present to lead us through to excellent choices.
Did you catch that? It’s about honor and thankfulness.
So now, let’s help them through this process.