Thursday, May 10, 2007

More Clichés

I've been paying more attention to a few clichés I've been hearing in Christian circles. They consist of things like, "All sin is the same." "It doesn't matter how you come to Christ. Just come." "Everyone can be saved. Just accept Jesus." "It's faith that saves you. Not works." And on and on.

Now each of these clichés have a ring of truth to them—that's why they have become clichés. But too often these things are repeated without the original meanings intact or completely understood.

For instance, most Christian's would agree that sin is all the same to God. We may separate sins into categories, but God doesn't do that. People tend to say these things because they want to make the point that judging others is wrong. In either case, the cliché stands on a set of assumptions: "We are not to judge others, therefore segmenting sin is wrong," or, "No one is righteous before God, therefore it doesn't matter what sins people are guilty of before God."

The truth that the cliché points to is that our standing before God is the same for everybody, concerning our separation from him. However, our salvation is secured regardless of our past sins, when we place our faith in Jesus. We are all unrighteous before God, yet we can all be made righteous—in the same way—by God. Our sins, in that sense, do not keep us any farther away from God than other person's sins.

The problem with not understanding this is that many people misapply this in making evaluations about conduct, acceptance, and sound doctrine. When this cliché is quoted, especially in churches, it is in reference to being unable to decide what are worse sins. It is good that we are afraid to make snappy evaluations of other people, or to believe that other people are not worthy of love because of a particular sin they are involved in. But it is quite another thing to be unable to help people caught in different kinds of sins, because we are too afraid to name the problem, or see the problem (even in ourselves).

The truth is that one sin cannot be forgiven. Some sins lead to death. The Old Testament is full of examples of different punishments for different sins. And even Jesus claimed that the those who know what they need to do, but fail to to do it, are subject to worse punishment than those who don't know, yet sin. Even the cities he condemned, will be judged more harshly than the cities that were destroyed in the past for their sins, because they had the opportunity to repent.

Why is this important? We need to be in line with the truth, not our feelings. Our feelings shift depending on the sides we take, our age, our experiences, and our likes and dislikes. But truth stands firm forever. How can we judge our own actions, if we believe falsely about them? How can we really help someone, if we lie to them about their lifestyle? How can we please Jesus, if we encourage sinfulness? How can we teach, rebuke, correct, or train in righteousness, if we don't know how to evaluate our beliefs and actions?

A misunderstood cliché is a travesty.


  1. As you said, the consequences for sins may change, but a person's standing before God does not. So, the question becomes whether we should view the sin based on the consequncial reprecusions or based on how God would view that person.

    In the OT, women had to go outside the camp during their period, no one was able to drink goat's milk or eat shelled fish, and you "sinned" by walking over someone's grave. If we applied those, we sin every month if we are married, you sin everytime you eat at Red Lobster, and you should never go to funerals.

    While accounability, "speaking the truth in love", and tough love needs to happen from time to time, it should not be the norm. I am reminded that Jesus knew the lifestyle of the prostitutes, the tax collectors, and the sinners as He was loving them. Sure, he said to them, "Go and sin no more." But, He also fought FOR them, stood up FOR them, and sopke out against people trying to harm them.

    No one will listen to us until he or she feels that he or she is loved by us.

  2. I agree with the essence of your comment. How we look at someone is not determined by what they do, but by who they are.

    In my post I discuss that this point is not even debatable to me. In fact, I would affirm your attitude about this. I feel very strong about how we should treat a sinful person, as well as a person who seems to be righteous. But that doesn't make the statement, "All sin is the same" true.

    This isn't about tough love versus kindness and tenderness, nor about OT consequences for various culturally-bound circumstances. This is about accepting false ideas without evaluation. For a time, it may seem harmless, but it will inevitably lead to false conclusions.

    For instance, you brought up Old Testament (OT) restrictions and consequences as proof that looking at people from a biblical standard is in error. Rather it is better to love them to earn the right to be heard by them.

    I agree with you concerning how to approach a person caught in sin. But not about that view of the Bible. It isn't the restrictions over various ceremonial, cultural, and religious lifestyles of the Israelites that God was concerned about. He wanted them to separate themselves from the lifestyles of the world around them, and be wholly devoted to Him (by faith). The restrictions were for them in that context, the principles are for us. It would be a mistake to read the Bible in a wooden manner, nor to ignore what it is saying about the true nature of our relationship with God.

    Therefore, whether I love a person caught in sin, by being tough, or being patient and forgiving isn't the issue here. (Context matters.) The issue is while in the process of loving them, are we aware of the true purposes in doing so?

    We must speak the truth in love. That means to me that most of the time we are not dealing directly with someone's sinful lifestyle head-on. We are gentle, kind, and patient. When they are tired of where they are, we are there to help them (not to badger them). You are spot on about Jesus' attitude about this.

    But at the same time, we care that they are enslaved, and desire their freedom. We are aware at all times about our own failings, and need of a savior, not self-improvement. And that awareness allows us to minister to someone who is where we were.