In the early 1970s a well-known psychiatrist, Dr Karl Menninger wrote a book entitled ‘Whatever Became Of Sin?’ He was not writing a Christian book, nor was he himself a committed Christian. He was addressing a worldwide problem, as he saw it.
The word ‘sin’ and what it spoke to and described had virtually disappeared from people’s vocabulary, he argued, and the consequences are devastating. From his experience of dealing with people and their problems, he writes that ‘sin’ may have disappeared from our vocabulary but the sense of guilt remains in our hearts and minds. He called for a return to taking responsibility for, and acknowledging, of sin.
In an article in The Mail Online, called ‘The Death Of Shame’, Bel Mooney, again not a Christian, wrote of how society trivialises what was once considered wrong and sinful with serious consequences for society as a whole. The background to her article is an advert that makes light of one night stands and despite many objections, was declared harmless by the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK. Confessing her own lack of innocence in years past, she argues that when society loses its sense of shame we are in serious trouble.
The Bible speaks of days when sin will not only be practiced but also applauded. Romans 1 speaks of a coming season when mankind will become foolish in their thinking and their hearts will be so darkened that they cannot even see right from wrong.
“Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” Rom 1:32.
What is sin?
The well-known newspaper USA Today ran an article recently that reported on a survey they had conducted. The article was called, ‘Has The Notion Of Sin Been Lost?’ The survey found that most people in the US still believe in sin. In fact 87% of Americans claim to believe in the existence of sin.
The problem is that ‘sin’ is being re-defined. The survey found that what was once considered ‘sin’ or ‘sinful’ is increasingly accepted as normal and so when people talk about ‘sin’ they are not talking about the same things that have traditionally been considered sinful. It was found that things like gambling, pre-marital sex, cohabiting, same sex relationships, etc, are no longer considered an issue - whereas judging, or speaking out against them, is.
Lack of conviction
The sad thing is that even amongst Christian people this is a growing trend. Secular media and particularly television saturates society with lifestyles and behaviours that at one time would have been considered unacceptable but have now become normal. We are no longer shocked and offended; we see it every day on our screens, in our homes. The passage in Romans has come to pass; “not only do they continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” [Our culture of celebrity].
The prophet Jeremiah speaks to his situation and it applies very much to our day: “Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush.” Jer 6:15.
Does sin matter to you?
Amongst Christians there has been a softening on sin. Even the secular press has noted that the ‘S’ word is out of fashion in many churches. In our striving to be positive, talking about sin is a little embarrassing and uncomfortable. People do not like to be told that sin matters, is destructive and leads to God’s judgement. The old cliché that evil flourishes when good men do nothing holds true. In many situations the Church has gone silent on sin. Tough as it is, it is the duty of the Church, and of Christians, to warn our world that sin matters, even when our world does not want to hear that.
Compromise saddens God
Michael Horton of Westminster Seminary talks about a newspaper headline he once saw, “to hell with sin when being good is enough.” He notes that there has been a drift, a drift away from dealing with sin towards a ‘positive’ Gospel that attracts because of what we can get out of it. We mix happiness with holiness he notes. What matters now is that we are all happy and have all we need. God becomes the means to that end.
Biblically, unless we recognise that sin is a serious problem and apply God’s remedy to that problem, we stand in danger of preaching “another Gospel”. Gal 1:6-9. It is not negative to address a serious problem and to call it what it is. That is the kind and compassionate thing to do. No doctor pretends all is well when a patient’s life is threatened by a serious illness. In a world that is self destructing and where millions are sinking deeper and deeper into sin and all its consequences, the message that sin matters needs to be boldly preached again.
Sin has serious consequences
Today many blame the Bible and blame Christianity for the world’s ills. The call is for all to be nice, to be accepting, not to judge. All behaviour is seen as relative, a personal choice amongst ‘consenting adults’. In fact many argue against any idea of sin and accountability at all. “Just do what makes you happy”, is the mantra.
However as Christians we believe the problems facing our world and the great struggles people have are not the result of addressing sin but of ignoring it and re-defining it. While we know that in the final analysis God will judge sin and all will give an account, in the reality of day-to-day living, sin carries serious consequences.
“We reap what we sow”. We see this every-where: in politics, in society in general and in the day-to-day lives of ordinary people. There is a price to pay for dishonesty. There is a price to pay for immorality. There is a price to pay for ignoring God’s Laws. His Laws are not arbitrary rules because He wants to restrict our fun and happiness but are there to protect and to bring spiritual health and blessing into our lives and into the whole of society.
Confess your sin and God will forgive you, don’t cover it up
David, when grappling with his own sin writes: “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And You forgave the guilt of my sin.” Ps 32:1-5.
Acknowledge the reality of sin
Our young people need to be taught and reminded that the “wages of sin is death but the gift of God is life eternal,” Rom 6:23. Even secular society is beginning to acknowledge that to live as you please comes with a heavy price tag.
Dr Menninger’s question about what happened to sin came from his career as a psychiatrist and years spent observing and trying to help people. He came to see mental health and moral health as identical. He saw the recognition of the reality of sin as offering hope to an anxious and sick world; hope, not in belated treatment, but in prevention. The Psalmist understood this: “How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to Your Word.” Ps 119:9.
The answer to our sinful problem is in Christ alone
We need to see sin for what it is: never a little harmless indulgence but a power that enslaves and destroys; a rebellion towards God and His standards. We need to see sin as defined by the Scriptures, with God, and not popular opinion, as its reference point.
There is no true freedom other than the freedom that Jesus gives. He alone is the answer to human sinfulness and all its consequences. He alone is our Saviour. He paid the price that no one else could pay. He brings forgiveness and freedom and gives it as a gift to those who have confessed their sin, are dealing with sin and who live trusting in God’s grace to keep them from sin.
While no one is free from sin we live with the wonderful promise that “if we confess our sin He is faithful and just and will forgive our sin and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
1 John 1:9.
We can re-define and re-label as much as we like but it is only as we deal with sin
Biblically that we will find grace, forgiveness and freedom.
Dennsis Loot is the senior pastor of Somerset West Baptist Church. www.swbc.co.za