I have been thinking a lot, this week, about
whether how we should talk about the painful, personal reality of sin. I posted my previous blog on my personal Facebook page and it deeply upset and hurt a lot of people I love. So I’ve been wondering – did I blow it?
I’m sure I did, to at least some extent. People felt that I judged them, and I had no intention of them feeling like that. So there’s a lot for me to think through and, I’m sure, lots of lessons to learn. But there are also some deeper questions to consider: Maybe I should just keep any talk of sin for Sunday mornings? Especially if it’s hurtful for people, right? Wasn’t that all a bit self-defeating at best?
On the one hand, yes, there is a distinction to be made between how we should speak to those in the church compared with those who don’t yet know and cherish the grace, forgiveness and new life of Jesus.
We don’t speak about this enough – a “one size fits all” message won’t do. Paul, writing to the Corinthians says, “what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside.” (1 Cor. 5:12-13a)
This is largely how Jesus lived isn’t it – his strongest words were aimed at the wayward religious elite of his day. And the “tax collectors and sinners” knew the warmth of his welcome. Jesus himself said, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (Jn. 3:17)
So we’re certainly in no place to judge anyone outside of the church. As Tullian Tchividjian tweeted yesterday, “We know we’ve failed to grasp the heart of the gospel when the sins of others bother us more than our own.”
The heart of our message must be, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Tim. 1:15) This is part of what it means to be a grace-centred church.
But, that’s not the whole story. There is a distinction between judging sin and highlighting sin. Failing to highlight sin might make people feel more comfortable, but it’s not loving.
Jesus’ words were sometimes frighteningly severe. How did Jesus respond to news of a mass murder of seeming innocents and a tragic, apparently random accident? “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5) Not very seeker-sensitive.
And just moments after speaking those words mentioned above (from John 3) about not condemning the world, Jesus’ next words are not so easy to hear.
Even just this morning, my Bible readings included Stephen’s bizarre sermon in Acts 7, which gets him murdered. It starts as an incredibly detailed history lecture, and then, out of nowhere it seems, he takes quite a turn: “You stiff-necked people…” And within four sentences, teeth are being gnashed, ears are being covered and stones are being thrown.
Did Stephen blow it? Was he wrong to make those people angry? Was he unloving?
One of the convictions of my sermon last week was that, in order to talk about the incredible good news of Jesus, we have to talk about the bad news as well. When that happens, sometimes teeth will be gnashed and ears covered. And perhaps one day, stones will be thrown. But surely this is part of what it means to “take up our cross and follow Jesus”.
We must highlight what is wrong with the world – whether that’s greed or hypocrisy or gossip or injustice, or even abortion – but we have no place judging others. All we can do is invite others to join us in embracing the free forgiveness and peace that only Jesus can offer.