Sin is one of those topics that seem to make many Christians uncomfortable. There are several reasons why. One reason is that they think that by bringing up the issue of sin, they are being judgmental and they think it is wrong. A second reason is that they would rather focus on the new life we have in Christ, after all, doesn’t the Bible teach that God separates our sin from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12)? A third reason is that they don’t know or don’t believe the full effects of sin and what it means for us as humans. A fourth reason is that they think Jesus accepted sinners as sinners and never dealt with their sin, but comforted them and helped them, which is not what the Pharisees did. They believe the Pharisees only wanted to deal with sin and keep the law and condemn people who didn’t, so, in efforts to not be like the Pharisees, they just don’t deal with sin.
My first response is to encourage all Christians to think highly about every issue, including the issue of sin. There is truth in each of these reasons that sin makes us uncomfortable, but I believe that none of these reasons suffice as a reason to not deal with sin. I will make efforts to deal with each of these categories from a biblical perspective. A main doctrine of our faith is the doctrine of sin and man. What does that mean? It means we need the Bible as our source for what we believe and what we do in regards to sin. Therefore, each response to these four reasons will be explicitly and unapologetically grounded in the Bible. For more on the need for high thinking about true doctrine, read my blog post about true Christianity here. Below, I will seek to answer biblically each of these reasons. The bold type heading will be the objection to dealing with sin, and the subsequent paragraph will be the response.
1. If we bring up sin and seek to deal with people’s sin, we are being judgmental, and being judgmental is wrong.
The words “don’t judge me bro” have become a popular phrase in our culture. The main thrust of this idea comes from Matthew 7:1, which says “Judge not, that you be not judged (English Standard Version of the Bible).” Sadly, this way of thinking is similar to the popular way of thinking in our culture of individualism and self-seeking attitudes. The Burger King slogan “Have it your way” is as telling as anything in this discussion. Why did BK market using that slogan? Because they understand that the generations currently alive (young and old) have a self-seeking drive: I want things my way. When someone begins or attempts to confront our sin, we automatically take this defensive posture. We think, “whoa man, that’s my business, not yours”. But this way of thinking is not what Jesus’ point was in Matthew 7. The larger context of Matthew 7 is found in the proceeding verses of Matthew 7:1. Matthew 7:1-5 says:
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (ESV, emphasis mine)
The emphasis at the end of this passage is telling. I interpret this passage to mean this – don’t automatically first seek to deal with other people’s sins. First, deal with the sin in your own life, and as you do that, then you will be more equipped and more able to rightly deal with other people’s sin. The argument that is in this first objection would argue that this is only one way of interpreting this passage. After-all, they would interpret this passage as Jesus telling us not to judge (don’t judge me, bro!). It is true that several passages of Scripture can have multiple interpretations. Suffice it to say that there is a right way to interpret each passage of the Bible. There is a singular meaning. Why say this? Because there is a right way and a wrong way to interpret Matthew 7. One of the best and most sound ways to interpret difficult passages (those passages which could seem to have multiple ways of interpreting it) is to search the rest of the Scriptures. In John 7:24, Jesus also says “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment (ESV, emphasis mine).” We need not look any further to see that it seems that Jesus is saying two different things. On one hand, Jesus says Judge not, and on the other hand, He says judge rightly. In light of John 7:24, I believe the more appropriate and accurate interpretation of Matthew 7 is the one I have presented instead of the one that is presented within the framework of this first objection to dealing with sin.
It is certainly true that people (even Christians, even well-meaning Christians) will sometimes abuse this responsibility that we have. That’s why there are several other Scriptures which give us parameters and foundations for executing right judgment. Some of which are:
- Galatians 6:1 – “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression (SIN!), you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Sounds an awful lot like what Jesus said in Matthew 7, according to my interpretation)
- Psalm 141:5 – “Let a righteous man strike me – it is a kindness; let him rebuke me – it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.” (The restorative judgment is kindness! It ought to be like oil on our heads – oil that heals my spiritual sickness – SIN!)
- 2 Corinthians 2:5-7 (I reference this because this passage does not encourage us to ignore sin, but rather deal quickly with it, forgive, and move on from it in love) – “Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure – not to put it too severely – to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.”
- Hebrews 12:12-17 – “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.” (We are to see to it that each one of us remains holy by seeing to it that we are not in sin, lest we turn out like Esau who was unable to repent!)
- James 5:19 – “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (what covers a multitude of sins? LOVE! It is LOVING to confront sin, thereby saving souls from death!)
The list could go on, but because of limited space, this list is at minimum a good foundation to begin to understand how and why we should judge. I actually believe that if we agree and follow this first objection, we are actually doing the body of Christ much harm and are acting most unlovingly towards each other. There is absolutely a difference between judging condemningly and judging righteously. I will address judging condemningly in the fourth objection.
This objection is also what has birthed the popular cliché “love the sinner, hate the sin”. This cliché has taken pop-Christianity and culture by storm. Any time someone attempts to call something sin, this statement is immediately claimed. My problem with this statement is that it just isn’t what the Bible says. I will deal more robustly and holistically with a biblical view of sin under the third objection. For now, this cliché needs to be tossed out. If you think you like this statement, let me ask you a question. Do you have something better to say than the Bible? I will answer that for you. No. You don’t have anything better to say than the Bible. And certainly the Bible deals with sin in a much more definitive way and robust way than just “love the sinner, hate the sin”. So, instead of giving people what they want to hear and “itch their ears” (2 Timothy 3:4), give people truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (how’s that for a cliché?)
2. If all we do is deal with sin, aren’t we missing the new life in Christ? Doesn’t Jesus want to compel us and propel us in this new life we have with Him, instead of living in our past and dwelling on sin?
This objection to dealing with sin is like wearing a patch over one of your eyes. You may still be able to see, but your entire faculty of your senses has to be relearned and reprogrammed to functioning with one eye instead of two. The gospel has two eyes, and this objection covers one of them in efforts to focus more finely on the other. Yes, Jesus wants us to not focus on our pasts. But, as believer’s, the only gospel that has saved us is the gospel that focuses on who we are at the time of salvation. In the moment of our conversion, we are saved from something, sin. Jesus dealt with our sin, yes, but this does not mean that we don’t have to as a result. In one sense, though, we don’t have to deal with our sin. Our punishment has been paid by Jesus on the cross, spilling His blood and covering the mercy seat by His sacrifice. He is the scape-goat, and He separates our sin as far as the east is from the west when we believe and trust in Him and His work of death and resurrection. However, this isn’t the end of the story. We aren’t in the afterlife yet. We still have a process of salvation which the gospel writers exhort believers to work out and live out – free from sin! No, we do not have to make any payment for our sin. We can’t be good enough, we can’t do any number of things or say enough confessions to pay any of our debt. Salvation has been paid for – in full – by Jesus. It is His payment that has been accepted on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21), He and He alone was good enough (2 Cor. 5:21), His work alone saves (Eph. 2:4-9). But this doesn’t mean that we are in the clear when it comes to working out our salvation. This is in the realm of the doctrine of sanctification. Yes, we are holy. But also yes, we are to continue to become holy. How do we continue to become holy? By putting our sin to death!
So, the gospel in one “eye” is focused on sin, and in the other “eye” is focused on new life in Christ. The new life in Christ is only attained by Christ dealing with our sin so that we can continue to kill our sin. When we are converted, sin doesn’t just run away and quit trying to be our master. In some regards, sin “ups its game” to try and get us to fall even harder! Consider these passages:
- Philippians 2:12-13 – “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation (living the new life in Christ by continuing to kill your sin) with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
- 1 Corinthians 15:10 – “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
- 1 Peter 5:8 – “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
- Genesis 4:7b – “…Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
- Ephesians 4:27 – “…and give no opportunity to the devil.”
- Ephesians 6:11 – “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”
The exhortation of the Bible is clear: be on guard against sin and the devil. Continue to fight the sin that still so easily entangles you and clings so closely (Hebrews 12:1), or else it will master you. The Apostle Paul understood the continued power of the mere presence of sin around him. In Romans 7:15, he writes “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” If Paul writes of his own continued struggle and need to fight to kill sin, how much more do we! This does not mean that this is the central focus of our lives as Christians. We ought to be living in the new life that Christ has saved us for. Again, the Bible gives us the way to kill our sin. Colossians 3:2-3 says “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Romans 12:2 says “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
On one hand, I live a new life in Christ. On the other hand, I can only live that new life if I am continuously and mercilessly killing my sin. We need both sides of the gospel, not just one. If we remove one side, we create another gospel entirely. This second objection to dealing with sin has “Joel Osteen” written all over it. Time and time again he has said he does not want to talk about sin because he wants to talk about higher things to his people. The problem is that Jesus talked about sin and hell more than any other subject. To miss sin is to miss a part of the gospel, and to miss a part of the gospel is to change the gospel.
3. Why should we deal so seriously and intensely with sin when it isn’t all that bad? Generally speaking, people are mostly good. What we need is just a few minor improvements or adjustments, right?
These statements are from a neo-orthodox point of view. This is liberalism at its best in regards to sin. Liberalism seeks to make much of mankind, and in so doing belittles sin and makes it seem not all that bad. Here are some easy and simple things, but truthful things, that the Bible says about man and what sin has done:
- We are spiritually dead because of sin (Ephesians 2:1, 5; Colossians 2:13; Ezekiel 37:1-4)
- We are alienated from God because of sin (Colossians 1:21; Ephesians 2:12; Ezekiel 14:5; Genesis 3)
- We are totally depraved because of sin (Romans 3:9-18, 8:7-8, 7:18; Ephesians 2:3)
- We are enemies of God because of sin (Romans 5:10; James 4:4; Colossians 1:21)
- We desire creation rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25; Isaiah 28:15; Jeremiah 10:14; 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12)
- We sin because we are sinners, rather than becoming sinners when we sin (Ephesians 2:1-4; Galatians 5 – Emphasis on old nature. Also, Martin Luther’s book The Bondage of the Will makes this crucial point. Man, in his natural state, is a sinner, and will therefore sin. We sin because we want to sin.)
- God’s wrath is burning hot against sin and sinners (Romans 1:18; Ephesians 5:6, 2:3; Genesis 6-9 – Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood; Exodus; and so many more examples).
These are but a few of the important things that the Bible says about sin. For a more complex dealing with the doctrine of sin, go to this website.
Sin is too big and too important for us to casually move on from. To hold a low view of sin is to hold a low view of Christ. I think that the highest view of sin and its effects, meaning, the most devastating and most terrifying view of sin is actually the only view which magnifies Christ. The light shines the brightest in the…DARK! Bursting forth out of darkness (sinfulness) and into the light (Christ), this is what it means to be a Christian. It is a theme of Scripture that God’s people are often tempted (and most of the time fall back) into the darkness. So, sin is something to take seriously and have a high view of. It means too much to miss and not deal with, especially in the body of Christ. God took sin so seriously amongst His people that He actually struck people dead because of their sin. Achan was struck dead in the book of Joshua because he disobeyed the command of the Lord. Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead in the book of Acts because of the deceitfulness in their hearts and their pride which led them to want to have a certain standing in the church, but their actions said otherwise. In both cases, God struck them dead – because of their sin! Too much is at stake to simply ignore it or even have a low view of it. Pick up a good systematic theology book or a topical Bible or do some research on your own as to the doctrine of sin. I promise, the more you learn about the devastating effects of sin, the sweeter Christ will become to you!
4. Jesus was opposite of the Pharisees. All the Pharisees wanted to do was judge people in their sin and hold people to the law. Jesus just hung out with sinners and accepted them as they were. In fact, Jesus said “you who has no sin can cast the first stone”. So, there, we shouldn’t deal with sin because Jesus didn’t deal with sin.
Jesus absolutely hung around the sinners of His day, and I think that is commendable and good reason for us to seek to be around unbelievers in our day. But Jesus didn’t merely hang around sinners. He also didn’t only hang around sinners. How do we know what the Pharisees were like? Because they were constantly confronting Jesus, trying to trap Him and trick Him into slipping up. But when Jesus was with the sinners, what was He doing? Jesus was on mission with them. And His mission and message were clear – “repent (turn from your SIN!) and believe” (Mark 1:15; Matthew 3:2; Acts 19:4, 20:21; Hebrews 6:1). Not only that, but Jesus had other things to say about sin. Luke 13:3, Jesus says “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” John the Baptist declared about Jesus in John 1:29, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Here are some examples of Jesus’ dealings with sinners:
- Jesus calls Matthew in Matthew 9:9-13. He also encounters Pharisees in this passage. To the Pharisees, Jesus says “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners (ESV, emphasis mine).” Jesus obviously doesn’t believe the Pharisees are “well” spiritually. He perceives their attitudes of believing they are “well”, which Jesus rightly targets as pride. Jesus point? I came to save sinners from their sin. If you have no sin, then I am not here for you.
- Jesus, in Mark 2:1-12, encounters a paralytic brought to Him by four friends of the paralytic. They make a hole in the roof and lower the paralytic down to Jesus. Jesus first declares his sins to be forgiven. Then Jesus proves that He is the Son of God by commanding the paralytic to get up and walk. What happens? He gets up and walks! Jesus restores this man to physical strength, but much more significant, shows He alone has the power to forgive sin. Which was the greater need of the paralytic – his sins being forgiven (eternal focus) or his legs being made healthy (temporal focus)? Obviously the greater miracle, and the point of Jesus in this passage, is to show that He has come to deal with people’s sin.
- In Luke 19:1-10, Jesus encounters Zacchaeus. He was a wee little man. A wee little man was he. But when Zacchaeus encountered Jesus, Zacchaeus had a completely changed heart. He repented! And Jesus declared salvation had come to Zacchaeus. Jesus didn’t just leave Zacchaeus where He was. Jesus wanted him to have the best life possible, and Jesus understood that the best life possible only comes through repenting of sin, which means to turn away and deny sin.
- In John 4:1-42, Jesus confronts the Samaritan woman at the well. What does He confront? Is He just hanging out there, not making her feel uncomfortable? No. Jesus confronts her sin. And she is convicted. And she repents. Though the repentance isn’t explicit, it is implicit. Why was her testimony received when she returned to her village (v. 39-42)? Because they saw her transformation. Would anyone have listened to her other wise, if she hadn’t turned from her sin? Her testimony matched what had happened her life. In essence, her life was the testimony.
- In John 8:1-11, Jesus meets the Pharisees and the woman caught in adultery. They want to stone her, and ask Jesus what He thinks, since the Law of Moses commands that they stone such a woman (v.5). Jesus says “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And they dropped their stones and left. (v. 7-9). Here’s the point of why Jesus addresses the Pharisees as He does – the Pharisees aren’t spiritually elite. They are legalistic. They believe (rightly so) that salvation won by being perfect. But what they miss is that no one is perfect, save for One. They think perfection is in themselves, thus gaining them entrance into eternal life. The point Jesus makes is the same point Paul makes in Romans 3:23 – “all have sinned”. Many who refuse to deal with sin use this passage as the reason why they don’t feel it is their place – because we all sin. In that, they are correct. But the thrust of the entire passage is not to confront dealing with sin, but rather to show the Pharisees exactly who they are – not perfect and that salvation is won for those who are saved by the only One who is perfect – Jesus Himself. If the point of Jesus was to not deal with this woman’s sin, then we will have a difficult time explaining the end of this passage. Jesus says to her “neither do I condemn you; go, and from no on sin no more (v. 11).” Jesus deals with her sin – He confronts that she is a sinner! By declaring that He doesn’t condemn her, He isn’t saying that she isn’t a sinner (hence the next phrase, go and sin no more), He is saying “I am the only One who’s judgment matters, and I have chosen not to condemn you, so go, and sin no more”.
There are several other instances in which Jesus points people to faith by healing them. The thrust of the ministry of Jesus was “repent and believe or perish” (John 3:16). So, when we speak of Jesus’ dealings with sinners, lets speak rightly of His intention. His intention is to heal their sickness – their sin.
On the point about the Pharisees, Jesus sought to expose them for who they were. I affirm that we are to strive to not be like the Pharisees. But often we think that means that we run the other way. Jesus exposed their intentions, not necessarily their actions, although because their intentions were wrong, so were their actions. The action of judgment has already been done – God has already declared what sin is and isn’t, and what actions and mindsets and intentions are sinful and are not. To say that we ought not judge sinners because that’s God’s job is to miss the fact that God has already judged what sin is! The intention of Jesus is to encourage His people to deal righteously and redemptively with one another. We ought to seek to lead each other into further holiness, into further life with Christ, more passionately pursuing Him and loving Him and worshiping Him. The Pharisees were not doing this. They only cared for themselves. So, no, don’t be like the Pharisees. But also don’t miss what Jesus was saying to be like. He wasn’t saying what we think He was – “don’t judge me bro”. He was calling us to higher calling – deal with your sin, lovingly, gently, not condemningly (like the Pharisees), with patience, and encouraging holiness in one another.
In conclusion, I believe the church has the right and the responsibility to hold one another accountable to personal holiness. To ignore the issue of sin because it is uncomfortable is to ignore the very reason Jesus came – to bear the wrath of God on Himself for the sin of His people. Matthew 1:21 says “and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins (ESV, emphasis mine).” We have something better than clichés, half-truths, or no truth – we have the Truth in Jesus and the Truth in God’s Holy Scriptures. As Christians, saved to the most Holy Church of Christ, let’s start sanctifying each other with the washing of the water of the Word of God (Ephesians 5:25-27). Let’s help guide each other towards holiness, lets fight and make war against sin in our own lives and in the lives of those in our groups. We should love each other too much to let each other continue in the path of death and destruction. Let’s encourage each other to live the blessed life, free from the worship of false, unsatisfying idols of sin and self, and let’s point each other to the One who does satisfy by saving us from our sin – Jesus Christ. To God be the glory, forever and ever, amen!