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The Serious Nature of Sin

We live in a politically charged world.  There are few if any people, whether Christian or other, who would counter the validity of this statement.  At every corner, it would appear there is a new social justice movement for the masses to rally behind and bring to the forefront of consciousness.  Meanwhile, the issues which were previously of paramount importance fade away like phantoms, leaving only the wake of pseudo-importance behind them.  Why?

Now, before you become confused by the paragraph above and how it relates to the title, allow me to say there is a point where these two join in a nexus.  As we are drawn to new issues like moths to a flame we make great efforts to address the great injustices which are brought before us.  We want to make right what is wrong.  We want, no, we need answers for wrongdoing and seek to be the harbingers of justice and retribution.  Yet, with all the dreaming and attempting to right the numerous wrongs we seemingly spin our wheels until we are weary from the incumbent plight and quietly move on to a more relevant issue.  I want to explain why this happens.

The reason we, especially as Christians, continue to fail at fighting the issues of injustice is not that of a lack of diligence or fortitude, but rather it is because we persistently fight the symptom and ignore attacking the disease:  SIN.

Racism, sexism, classism, terrorism, school shootings, sexuality, etc. are all symptoms of the disease of sin.  No amount of campaigning, crowd sourcing, or any other type of awareness can prevail completely against any of these issues either collectively or singularly until we acknowledge that all of the issues and problems in the world stem from sin.  However, it is not satisfactory to only acknowledge the sin problem, but an effort must be made to hate sin and actively engage in fighting against it.  So why do Christians, including myself, often have such a hollow view of the reality of sin and the consequences are in its escort?  I think honestly we do not quite understand how to adequately understand sin.

The Subtlety of Sin

Søren Kierkegaard’s definition of sin in his book,  The Sickness Unto Death, defines it this way, “Sin is: before God in despair not to will to be oneself, or before God in despair to will to be oneself.”[1]  What Kierkegaard is postulating is the essence of sin is placing the defining characteristic or identity from our own goodness or any other exterior thing.  When we seek to define who we are based on self-worth or any number of factors that are not God we commit sin.  Sin is not something we can escape either.  The Bible tells us all people, regardless of ethnicity, social status, political leaning, or any other possible factor are in fact riddled with this inescapable condition of sin (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8).

Sin is an inexorable part our lives.  It is a relentless pursuer whose prize banner is destruction and whose prize is death.  Sin will not give up.  Even understanding our penchant for sin, it is still clear that often we either underestimate sin or worse, we are indifferent toward it.  I think both are true, but for the sake of this post, I am going to be mainly addressing the latter.  Sin seems to have the upper hand for large portions of the time in the battle of my own spiritual life.  I would be willing to surmise this is a true statement for many Christians.  It is not that we always seek to open the door to sin knowing the cost and finding comfort in it, and yet if we are indifferent or apathetic about our sin we might as well have giant neon signs above us proclaiming an open invitation of vacancy for sin to inhabit.

All sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4), but somehow within the recesses of our minds, we determine that some laws are in fact not as great as others which results in concession.  The moment sin, even seemingly insignificant sin, is conceded and allowed, it has the foothold needed to do its clever and covert work.  When apathy is in our hearts and on our lips the subtlety of sin goes unnoticed, and soon without even knowing it has happened, we are consumed by the darkness.  As believers in Christ we know there is a spiritual battle being waged in our lives daily between the will of the Father and the will of self (Romans 7), and until we are willing to acknowledge our sin problem we will never fully crave what is good because we will find ourselves falsely satisfied by what is in reality quite bitter.

Sin has a deft way of making us believe that all pleasure can be derived only from it, and in fact, we should seek to be consumed with it in order to find true satisfaction.  It enters with a certain muted quality just beneath the radar and promises to sell a bill of goods which can never be delivered.  Sin invites us to imagine that true gratification can be elucidated by our own clever invention, but Ravi Zacharias offers a counterpoint when he states, “Once we glean what God invites us to, we find that the imagination harnessed by God can be a wellspring of enthrallment.”[2]  In other words, once we stop relying on sin and begin believing true satisfaction comes from God it takes from occasional fleeting pleasures to perfect and ever-present joy.  As Christians, we are yearning for the light, but we only find it when acknowledge we are in darkness and step out.  When this happens God replaces our desire for sin with a desire for holiness.

The Offense of Sin

It is one thing recognize our sin.  This really is the first step in this great journey.  We must be willing to acknowledge that all that is wrong with the world and with us is this awful issue stems directly from sin.  The next question we must attempt to understand is why sin really is so bad.  There is a whisper in our ears that sin, at least most sin, really is not as awful as we make it out to be.  After all, sin feels good and looks good, ergo it must be good.  This is the greatest lie of all time.  Sin is wildly egregious to God.  In fact, the late R.C. Sproul writes, “Every sin is an act of cosmic treason, a futile attempt to dethrone God in His sovereign authority.”[3]  The reason sin is so despicable is that it is offensive and abhorrent to our Holy God.

The reason sin is so provocative and vulgar to God is that sin seeks to rob Him of the glory that He alone is worthy of.  Let me explain further.  God’s holiness and our sin are incompatible.  God cannot tolerate sin on any level.  If He did it would quite literally violate His character and He would be unable to be God.  This makes us (before or without regeneration) quite literally enemies with God (Ephesians 2:3-5).  Sin is a serious point of contention because sin makes gods of us and seeks to make little of God.  This holiness that God alone possesses is the lens by which our sin must be truly viewed.  Anything less will continue to placate our view of sin as something minor.  When we look at our sin compared to the holiness of God we not only recognize the great offense of sin to God, but we further understand our absolute need of Him.  Again to quote Sproul:

When we understand the character of God, when we grasp something of His holiness, then we begin to understand the radical character of our sin and helplessness.  Helpless sinners can survive only by grace.  Our strength is futile in itself; we are spiritually impotent without the assistance of a merciful God. [4]

The response for the Christian is to hate our sin.  It is not enough to affirm the existence of sin.  That much is undeniable according to Scripture, but we must also “have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) which will cause us to have a holy hatred toward our sin in the same way God does.

A Proper Response Toward Sin

We must actively fight against and abhor sin.  So often I know that I am content to merely brush my sin aside as something that even though I know is offensive to God, carries little weight for me.  I am guilty of viewing my sin as something external and not something internal.  I am guilty of apathy and not active enmity for my sin.  This is not the way it should be.  All Christians, including myself, should be grieving over our sin.  2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (ESV).  James tells us to let our “laughter be turned to morning,” (James 4:8-9) and yet continually we find our hearts are not breaking for the things that break God’s.

If we find a lack of grief or heartbreak when we commit such grave offense against a holy God then we should be concerned.  Our only response when we encounter our sin and see it rightfully for the despicable thing it is before God Almighty should be mourning and repentance.  This does not mean just a casual acknowledgment of sin, but rather it means a recognition and confession that there is but one God in our fallen state we have tried to (and failed) be Him.    Our hearts should be troubled that we would dare seek to find true and lasting satisfaction in any place, person, or thing other than Jesus.  Only He is all-satisfying.

The bottom line is not only is our sin repugnant to God, but it leads to an absolute certainty of death (Romans 6:23).  Our sin and rebellion against God can only lead to destruction.  The response for all people needs to be a recognition of sin, a repentance of sin, and the realization that only Jesus is capable of abating our sin by the blood of His cross.  Our responsibility when sin rears its head is to confess it is there, confess the need for a savior, acknowledge that only Jesus is sufficient to be that savior, and repent.  It does not mean we will cease the endless and age-old struggle against sin, but it does mean that your sin was nailed to cross of Christ and it has been killed.  You are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).  None of this happens though until we come to a place where we acknowledge just how serious sin is.

Do you want to make a difference?  Do you want to see justice enacted?  Do you long to see change?  If the answer is yes then you must first understand that we can no longer fight the branches, but we must instead attack the root.  Until sinfulness is addressed then the actions of sin will remain hostile and prevalent.  I urge you today to understand the absolute perilous nature of sin.  It is a powerful thing, but take heart, because Christ has already won (John 16:33; Revelation 1:18).

  1.  Søren Kierkegaard and Walter Lowrie, The Sickness Unto Death (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1941), 81.
  2. Ravi K. Zacharias, Cries of the Heart: Bringing God Near When He Feels So Far(Nashville: W Pub. Group, 2002), 126.
  3. Sproul, R.C., Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publisher, Inc., 1998), 144.
  4. Sproul, R.C., The Holiness of God (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1998), 179-180.
Christian Living

Why Are Young People Leaving the Church?

There is a startling trend that seems to be coursing its way through the veins and vessels of the American church.  It is both alarming and unsurprising simultaneously.  This phenomenon causes anxiety, disbelief, anger, and even a blissfully unaware disposition among the other members of the body of Christ.  What I am speaking of is not new, nor is it hopeless, but it is something that needs desperately to be addressed.  What I am talking about is the number of young people who seem to be leaving the church at a rapid clip.  I think the church has known for some time now that many students quit going to church or even having any sort of spiritual/religious component in their lives at all once they leave high school and embark on their path to college and career.  Before we move on we need to establish what we mean by “young people.”  I feel young (most days) although if you ask my students if I was young, you’d likely see widened eyes and hear smatterings of laughter.  By the definition I am going to use I am no longer a part of the “young people” because that age range is 15-22 years of age.

Christianity Today published findings that 70% of young adults drop out of church [1].  What I want to look at in this post is why is this trend happening, and what can we do to stop hemorrhaging?  So let’s dive right in.  Why are young people seemingly leaving the church?

1.  Churches Are Avoiding Hard Conversations and Failing at Discipleship

By this I am not speaking of a view where everything is permitted and there are no checks and balances.  This is chaos.  No one expects (or frankly wants) the church or any place else to function in a way where nobody can have differing opinions, disagreements, or even wrestle with issues.  When I speak of safe place what I am referring to is somewhere where people can be themselves, baggage and all, and still be met with biblical truth.  A safe place is where a skeptic can ask hard questions without fear of anger or judgment.  A safe place is where Jesus is more important for the church goer than their own bubble of comfort.  A safe place is where a body of believers gather together to life up the name of Jesus regardless of political leaning, race, ideologies, or baggage that is carried because there is a recognition that everyone is jacked up and everyone needs a Savior (John 8:1-11; Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23).

I am not saying the church fails everyone, nor am I saying the church concedes biblical principles in order to accommodate everyone’s personal opinions and the social justice flavor of the week, but what I am saying is that unfortunately most people are more familiar with church’s anger and vitriol on politics and issues they are opposed to than the love of Jesus which should supersede everything else.  My friend Simon once told me, “People know the church more for what they hate than who they love,” and I agree.  I work with youth (7th-12th grader) and have for 17+ years, and in that time I’ve engaged with some really hard difficult questions from students.  I have also seen students ask questions and been offered no response, a canned response, or repudiated and rebuked for even being willing to ask such questions by others within the church.

Let’s face it, there are just some questions we are not going to be comfortable talking about.  Whether we don’t have enough knowledge on the subject, we disagree with a stance, we feel awkward, or we are simply apathetic, this will be picked up on by young people.  Once they sense an unwillingness to even have a conversation they are often turned off altogether or worse they seek answers from sources that are not biblically grounded.  So what happens when church is no longer a place where young people can be real and ask hard questions?  They leave. David Kinnamon found in a study that nearly three out of five young Christians disconnect from church after the age of 15 [2].

Young people, perhaps more than any other demographic are looking for answers to life’s questions.  They are still trying to figure out their place in the world and this looks like, and so they will have a naturally curiosity and perhaps even a cynicism that is blossoming.  The church historically would rather gloss over these issues and questions and just feed young people very safe answers in order to maintain a certain type of image.  Issues like sexual identity, science, and even things like reliability of Scripture, evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, or basic critical thinking questions are often simply discarded and disregarded.  This makes young people (and all people really) feel like they’re opinions, thoughts, and questions are not worth talking about and as a conclusion, neither are they.  The church [body of believers] must do what the Bible says and calls us to do that is to give biblical answers to those who are asking questions (1 Peter 3:15).

I understand there are certain topics that are not part of everyone’s circle of expertise, but there is always someone who can be called upon to help, and in this age of Google there is more information at our fingertips than any other time in history.  Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know, but let me see what I can find out.”  When it comes to the church we can disagree with people, we can say we don’t know, and we can find out as much as we can to better answer questions and lead people to a Jesus shaped life. The only thing we cannot do is do nothing.

If you are a church member and a young person finds the courage to ask you a hard question or raise a controversial issue the best thing you can do is affirm them, love them, and present the Bible. You may not know as much as you’d like and it will likely cause you to exit your comfort zone, but that is exactly what Jesus calls us to do (Matthew 16:24-26).   Invest in young people or else we show apathy in their exodus.

The other part of this equation is churches are with an alarming frequency failing to make disciples with young people.  This is the antithesis of what we are called to do in the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20).  In the area of youth ministry I see this far too often.  Many youth ministries are so focused on getting their numbers up for their weekly attendance or entertaining students they often forget or fail to create disciples.  So much of the time youth ministries focus on games and entertainment, but put little to no emphasis on training the next generation of church leaders and Christ followers.  The same study by Christianity Today remarks,

“If your student ministry is a four-year holding tank with pizza, don’t expect young adults to stick around. If, however, they see biblical teaching as relevant and see the church as essential to their decisions, they stay.”[3]

The focus of the church whether it is youth ministry, children’s ministry, senior adult ministry, etc. is to teach biblical truth unapologetically and truthfully.  We must be willing to understand that our goal is not building up our ministries, but our goal is building the Church.  I understand I am making a very general statement, and there are many local churches which are making disciples who will make disciples, but it is still something we must understand and be honest about.  The only way the church will be able to climb out of this pit and help young people stay connected is by being prepared to adequately respond with a biblical worldview and a resolute yet tender response to tough questions and issues.

2.  It Starts and Ends at Home

While the church and the ministries therein certainly play vital and pivotal roles in the spiritual formation of young people, it cannot be understated that  Christian parents are the primary ministers and influencers in the lives of their children.  There is a real problem which seems to be growing more each day.  What’s the problem?  With an alarming frequency, Christian parents are relying on the church to form the bulk (if not all) their children’s spiritual foundations.  Parents feel awkward too, and often they are faced with questions they either do not have answers or are uncomfortable discussing and so what happens?  They tell their children to ask the youth pastor, pastor, children’s pastor, Sunday School teacher, etc.  Instead of just addressing the awkwardness parents push their children to another source.  This is quite problematic.

Christian parents have an unbelievable opportunity to speak truth and life into their children every day, and yet more often than not they rely on others in the church who only get around one to two hours a week with their children to the spiritual sowers.  This picture is all wrong.  Yes, ministers, pastors, church members are called to help spiritual growth and offer all the resources available, but the primary people who should disciple and minister to their children are dropping the ball and relying on a model that is not found in the Bible.  I’m not advocating that children and youth ministers should not have a place or job in the church, but what I am saying is these positions exist because Christian parenting by the standard of the Bible has largely diminished.  What is the standard?

“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” – Philippians 4:9

Monica Geyen writes,

Our children are watching us. Do we merely talk about Jesus occasionally, or are we daily being disciples of Jesus? If children are “like arrows in the hand of a warrior” (Psalm 127:4), we need to be consistently mindful of the bullseye. These arrows will fly aimlessly if they are not aligned with the Great Commission. We have the privilege of cultivating disciple-makers by inviting our children into life on mission with us. [4]

My friend, Jane Wilson of the BGCT, calls parents who expect the church is the place where all spiritual formation takes place “dry cleaner parents.”  What she means so often parents drop off their kids at church for an hour or two a week and somehow expect their kids to arrive at home “clean” and spiritually formed.  Too often parents have relied more on the church and ministers to do a job that was designated as  a responsibility for the parents.  When their young people leave the church they look bewildered and wonder why the church failed them, but the painful truth is they have in many ways failed their own children by refusing to be the primary ministers and disciple-makers within their homes.

In an alarming survey, out of 2,000 Christian parents who regularly attend church were asked to define successful parenting only 24% included their child is godly or has faith in God as a marker for success. [5] Is it any surprise then that so many young people are leaving the church when their own parents are not making concerted efforts at home to promote spiritual formation, growth, and discipleship?

The other main issue that occurs at home that is a key contributor to young people leaving the church is many Christian parents put emphasis on the wrong things and then wonder why their child leaves the church. The blame has often been on college.  College is an easy scapegoat for parents as an answer to why their children have left the church.  Perhaps young people are being exposed to new ideas and religions or perhaps science and philosophy are to blame, but that is not what the data says. Matt Chandler, pastor at The Village Church in Dallas, in a recent sermon affirms the data that is already being found and shared when he says,

Kids are not being secularized in college.  They’re being secularized t home before they’re sent to college by well-meaning Christian parents who can’t tease out the value balance between sports and activities and the gathering of the people of God…this is what’s true about the data, half-hearted obedience to Jesus Christ in this generation leads to full rebellion against him in the next…I’m dedicated to helping my children as best I can understand what is of supreme value and what is a good gift. [6]

As parents, if we do not show the supremacy of Christ in our lives and the value of Jesus over and above every other thing then what we are essentially doing is elevating gifts above Giver.  Neither Chandler or I are advocating that sports or any other extracurricular activities are wicket inherently and provide no value, but rather the argument is those things far too often take precedence over spiritual formation and growth.  Our job is not to make sure our children are the best athletes, musicians, scholars, or anything else, but our job is to make sure our children make Jesus and the church the ultimate priority starting young, and this will extend into adulthood.

I realize that I have made many general statements that are not universally true.  There are tons of Christian parents who are doing exactly what they’re supposed to do.  They are making much of the name of Jesus and created disciples at home.  I understand there are many churches which are engaging culture and difficult issues/questions so please do not hear that I am attacking anyone or any institution.  Rather what I am seeking to do is answer the question, why are young people leaving the church?  I understand it’s a broad topic, but I believe the two reasons I have highlighted here are two of the key components that help us answer that question.

So What Can I Do?

If you’re a church member, minister, lay person, etc. then you can be real.  Be honest.  Be vulnerable.  Be willing.  Allow your comfort zone to collapse and engage young people without fear or ulterior motives.  Instead of trying to convince them you’re right, show them the truth of God’s Word which never returns void (Isaiah 55:11).

If you’re a parent, be willing to be the primary minister to your children.  It’s hard.  It’s awkward.  It’s frustrating at times, but in the end, it will always be worth it.  Showcase Jesus in your own life and model how that looks to your kids.  You’re going to fail.  Be OK with that, but be willing to acknowledge your failure contrasted with the redemptive work of Christ. Your responsibility is mammoth, but the reward is great.

Sources

[1].  “Dropouts and Disciples: How Many Students Are Really Leaving the Church?” The Exchange | A Blog by Ed Stetzer. Accessed April 12, 2018. http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/may/dropouts-and-disciples-how-many-students-are-really-leaving.html.
[2]. Kinnaman, David, and Aly Hawkins. You Lost Me Discussion Guide: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church–and Rethinking Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks, 2012.
[3]. Ibid.
[4]. “Stay-at-Home Disciple-Makers,” Desiring God, last modified April 12, 2018, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/stay-at-home-disciple-makers.
[5].  Magruder, Jana. Nothing Less: Engaging Kids In A Lifetime of Faith. Nashville: Lifeway Christian Resources, 2017.
 [6].  “Dangers of Secularizing Our Children.” YouTube. December 22, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=neGGIN9Y2hg.