Last night we discussed the fact that, even though many people around us may think it’s a negative, unhelpful thing for Christians to talk about sin, it’s actually one of the most loving things we can do. Here are the notes:
The verse that kicked off these thoughts was 1 Timothy 1:15.
In addition to that, the comment I heard once that’s been rolling around in my head. “If your message is that we’re sinners you need to stop. You’re hurting people and you need to stop.”
So how do Christian reply to this?
Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:15 that one of the ways describe Jesus’ mission is to say he came “to save sinners.” That’s why he was here! Not to hurt people, but to save them! Not to harm sinners, but to save them! There’s lots in the bible that tells us that this is a central, non-negotiable part of the Christian message.
What the scriptures tell us about this:
Jesus will save his people from their sins. Sin is dangerous. Jesus came to rescue us out of that danger. It turns out that sin is eternally, mortally dangerous. So Jesus provides us eternal, life giving rescue. This is announced right at the beginning of his life—it’s the meaning of his name!
Jesus didn’t come to call righteous, but sinners to repentance. Jesus sees that we’re sick. He came to help people change their mind about their lives of sin, and opt out, experiencing a total life-change and a new start. The people who are currently sick, in need of a mind change and a new start are the people he’s after.
Jesus came to seek and save the lost. To be a sinner is to be lost. Jesus calls you back to knowing and being where you’re supposed to be. He says this is why he came!
His whole life was so repentance and forgiveness can be proclaimed. Sin creates guilt. There’s real guilt and penalties which people are liable for, and Jesus came to proclaim the possibility of finding forgiveness. Jesus wants guilty people to get forgiven—and he wants his followers to tell everyone that.
Jesus was here to take away the sin of the world. Sin is something all of us are stuck with. We can’t escape. Jesus takes it away so that the world can be preserved. See also John 3:17-18 and 12:47.
1 John 4:9-10
..and this is how we see God’s love. Satisfying the penalty we faced because of our sin [that’s what “propitiation” means] is exactly how God shows us he loves us. If we try to eliminate the idea of sin, we miss out on God’s love.
But what if someone says, “OK, but I don’t think you should call me or my group sinners. I agree that there are people out there who need this message, but I disagree that it’s me, or I disagree that it’s for the reason you say”—? There’s two reasons that doesn’t fly from a Christian standpoint:
- There are no “special reasons” that anyone is called a sinner. We all have some common sins we share, and we all have a few particulars that we have in common with certain groups of people. So even if someone has an issue with a particular sin being pointed out, it doesn’t get you off the hook for the call of Christ, and the designation as a “sinner.” That one belongs to everybody.
- Christians don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing what we tell people about sin—all we can do is look into the bible and then report what it says. If someone wants to say, “sure, if I was a racist, that would be a sin, but not these other things in my life.” We say, “How would you know what sin is and what it’s not? Jesus is calling you to let him tell you what things he’s seeking to rescue people from, what things count as sickness, and what things make you guilty and liable for God’s judgment.”
What does Jesus say to those who disagree?
These scriptures give us some insight to how he’d respond when someone says they’re not a sinner and don’t need his forgiveness.
[Jesus said] “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can you say, ‘You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.
And Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see; and that those who see may become blind.” Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things, and said to Him, “We are not blind too, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
…Now back to 1 Timothy 1:15. Notice Paul says that this is “faithful” to the true, original gospel message as taught by Jesus and expounded by Paul and the other apostles. In other words, this saying “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” is legit, authentic Christianity. Secondly, Paul says the saying is “worthy of all acceptance.” That means it should meet with [as one writer said] “a full personal appropriation and application to yourself–the most complete and wholehearted acceptance.” And, again, what is this faithful saying everyone should accept? That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners!
And just to underline the point, Paul gives himself as a personal example to illustrate how true this is. “We should totally embrace the doctrine that Christ Jesus came to save sinners—and I want to just say that I myself am the perfect example of this. I was the worst!” While every Christian doesn’t have the back story that Paul had, every Christian feels what he’s expressing here–that I myself am included in the truth about Jesus coming to save sinners. I know it’s true, cause he saved me, and I was horrible! I needed to be rescued!
Here’s a way to sum up what Christians have to say to the world around us who hasn’t heard, or who disagrees with us:
“God has a message for you—and it’s the message of Jesus: we are all sinners—that is, we’ve done actual things with our bodies and said actual things with our mouths and held actual thoughts in our minds which are dishonoring to God and to what it means to be human. These things make you guilty and that means everyone stands condemned by God’s justice. But God loves you and has provided a way for you escape the consequences of your sin. Jesus died for you because you are a sinner, because you’ve made yourself unworthy of God, and because you have no other hope if he doesn’t provide a way out for you. And that’s exactly what he wants for you. His love is coming to you as a free offer—now because of Jesus you can turn from your sin, experience a whole new start, and escape the guilt you’ve already built up in your life. Believe this message and claim Jesus as your Lord and Savior.”
- Let’s be clear in our own minds about why we can’t ever give up this part of our message.
- Let’s embrace it for ourselves—in our own way, we can get excited about this part of the message of Jesus because it means that we ourselves can be saved! If Jesus didn’t come to save sinners, he didn’t come to save us!
- Let’s remember it’s a loving thing, a positive thing to say, because we’re not just criticizing people—we’re saying, “I know how you can find forgiveness!”