Putting Sin in its Place in Proclaiming the Gospel

Yesterday’s post, Why We Need Less Preaching on Sin and More on Possibility, generated some comment about where preaching sin does come in. Here are some thoughts;

There are three realities about human beings: 1) we are amazing creatures made in the image of God, capable of heroic acts of love, service, culture making, and community building; 2) we are fractured creatures,  capable of despicable acts of selfishness, evil, and destructiveness; and 3) we are broken creatures, whose emotions, minds and bodies are often out of step with what long for.

The church has often emphasised the middle point to the neglect of the first and last. I remember taking objection when Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder released the song  Ebony and Ivory because it contained the line “there is good and bad in everyone”, which at the time struck me as way too optimistic an assessment.

Or take Bishop JC Ryle’s presentation in his book HolinessThe fairest child, who has entered life this year and become the sunbeam of a family, is not, as his mother perhaps fondly calls him, a little “angel” or a little “innocent,” but a little “sinner.” Alas! As that infant boy or girl lies smiling and crowing in its cradle, that little creature carries in its heart the seeds of every kind of wickedness! Only watch it carefully, as it grows in stature and its mind develops, and you will soon detect in it an incessant tendency to that which is bad, and a backwardness to that which is good. You will see in it the buds and germs of deceit, evil temper, selfishness, self–will, obstinacy, greediness, envy, jealousy, passion, which, if indulged and let alone, will shoot up with painful rapidity.

Or take the standard evangelical presentation of the gospel, where the central dilemma the gospel resolves is the penalty due to us for our sin.

When framed in light of all three realities, and shaped to speak to an aspirational age, our proclamation of the gospel can take on different nuances. Rather than the penalty of sin being the central dilemma, the possibility of being all we are created to be can be central. The gospel liberates us by showing us Jesus , the model of authentic humanity and the bearer of values that will turn us and our world right side up. It declares God’s intention to make us and our world all we and it can be, to heal all that is broken, and to make everything new.

Framed this way,  sin represents our attempts to “be”  in inappropriate ways, ways that are damaging to us, others and creation. It is an important part of the narrative, but not the central part.


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Nerida Cuddy
Nerida Cuddy
10 years ago

Well said Scott, I love your conclusions re the gospel, and I like the way you’ve put those 3 facts about humans, and the need to keep them all in balance. I feel really sad when I read the JC Ryle bit… so many beautiful Christians I know are so locked into this over-emphasis, and honestly believe that God wants them to focus continually on their own depravity – even after that had given themselves to Christ (I lived that way for too long too). It was a very long time ago that someone argued that the image of God… Read more »

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