If you listen to people discuss ‘Christian love’ these days, it’s not too long into the discussion that the conclusion seems to be that in order to show love to others, Christians are supposed to make sure their message is nonjudgmental, soothing, and, above all, non-offensive; churches have by and large bought into this idea, that either you never ever discuss sin or you hold off on discussing it until ‘a more appropriate time’. If you break this rule, why, you may drive people (and donations) right out of your church because you’ve upset them.
I guess Jesus and His disciples and apostles never got that memo.
Pretty much every time we read Jesus’ words in the gospels, he’s confronting the sins of the people, particularly the religious leaders. His terms were never wishy-washy, rarely were they nonjudgmental, in most cases they weren’t soothing, and they were, overall, offensive enough that He was finally arrested, beaten to within an inch of His life, and hung on a cross, where He died. His message was very simple: you’re a sinner; God hates sin; repent, or that sin you enjoy doing will buy you a one-way ticket to eternal torment in the fires of hell.
Peter’s two post-Pentecost sermons (Acts 2 and 3) go right to the heart of sin at their very outset – in short order Peter condemns the people listening to him for having sinned greatly in denying Jesus’ divinity, condemning Him, and demanding His death by crucifixion. Only afterwards does Peter offer the solution: repentance and acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and Son of God. He even did that before the Sanhedrin council (Acts 4:5-12).
Though we really have only one example of Paul’s sermons, if his preaching was anything like his epistles (and there’s no reason to believe otherwise), sinfulness was his primary focus (see Romans 1); on the heels of the condemnation of sinfulness comes the palliative: belief in Christ.
Peter, James, Jude, and John all wrote profoundly regarding man’s sinfulness first, Christ’s death and resurrection as the only thing which would fix the problem.
The order of these things is important. To understand why, in Peter’s words, ‘[T]here is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12), you have to first understand why Jesus died. Jesus’ death and resurrection were to cleanse us of sin; the magnitude of our sins is evident in that it took the life of the God-man, the Son of God, the greatest sacrifice for sins ever, to wipe them all away. If you don’t know what sin is, or how it affects you, Christ’s death is meaningless.
Sin has been compared by some to a terminal illness; it causes human death (Genesis 3) and the death of the soul, this second by polluting it so badly that God, who hates sin, cannot stand to look at it and will cast it far from Himself – into hell.
Anyone who hears the words, ‘It’s cancer’ (or any other terminal illness) from their doctor may very well feel a great deal of anger at the messenger. After a while, though, that anger turns into relief, since now that the disesase is known, and its existence is out in the open, it can be treated and, perhaps, cured. In the same vein, since sin is a terminal illness, one may very well hate the messenger when that messenger says, ‘You’re a sinful person’, but once that fact settles in, knowing that there’s a treatment for the disease (belief in Christ) ought to make one all that more insistent on getting the treatment.
And just as early detection of cancer (or any other terminal illness) can prolong and, in some cases save, lives, so too does early detection of sin – it saves soul-lives; it gives the chance of treatment at an ‘early-stage’, which works as well for the soul as ‘early-stage cancer treatment’ works for cancer patients.
Now, think on this: if your doctor discovered that you had cancer, and rather than tell you right away decided to wait for ‘a more opportune time’ or said nothing because it might upset you or hurt your feelings, and you found this out later, how would you feel? Would you say, ;Oh, I’m so glad he/she didn’t tell me, because that would have really made me sad’, or would you be screaming for the nearest malpractice attorney and calling that doctor every foul name in the book?
Yeah, I thought so.
And just was we don’t berate our doctors for giving us the bad news – because we need to hear the bad along with the good – so, too, should we restrain ourselves from berating those who give us the bad news that ‘You’re a sinner’ – they’re looking out for your eternal well-being, after all.
And we should not be so terrified of telling people as soon as possible that they’re sinful – just like we are – and that there’s something that will treat us for this condition – and we found it.