From time to time, as people are walking out of our services at Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church (hopefully not for the last time!) I am asked why I preach the doctrine of sin so relentlessly.
Let me briefly share the three most common formulations of this question that I hear.
(1) Isn’t the doctrine of sin hopelessly outdated and old-fashioned? Nobody talks about sin this way anymore, they reason. Shouldn’t modern people find different ways to dialogue about our problems than this old-school “puritan" talk?
Reply: We can answer this question with another question (or a series of questions): Is violence outdated? Is abuse real? Does divorce still happen? Is addiction a problem? Do you know anyone that has ever cheated on their spouse? Do you know anyone that is greedy? Have you witnessed any neighbor kids that are bullies? Have you ever seen a child that is a selfish brat? Do you know yourself to be guilty of any of these things?
Sin’s devastating effects and consequences are still felt everywhere, both in society and in the individual heart.Therefore the doctrine of sin is not passe either.
(2) By declaring all people to be sinners, don’t Christians have a "low view" of human worth? To say it another way, shouldn’t we be looking for the best in everyone? Doesn't this kind of negativity crush people's self esteem?
Reply: We actually have a very high view of humanity and the value of human life, much higher, I content, than the unbelieving world. This is why, for example we are pro-life, and in favor of traditional marriages, and against such things as pornography. We despise actions and values that deny and degrade humans of their intrinsic worth in Creation.
However--as high of a view of humans as we have--we have an infinitely higher view of God! We have such an exalted view of the holiness, righteousness, greatness, and majesty of God that all things look like specks of dust in comparison. How much more so, then, the sinful human heart in rebellion against a holy God! It is like comparing 10,000 candles to the light of the sun!
We preach sin BECAUSE we believe in the holiness of God.
Objection 3: Instead of preaching sin, why don’t you just focus on morality and good works? Wouldn't it be more effective, say, to preach motivational sermons focused on doing good deeds?
Reply: We do, in fact, preach good works, but moralism alone (exhortations toward good deeds and actions) has two inherent problems: First, moralism does not have the power to change the heart. As long as we believe the "answer" is trying harder, or doing better we will continue to trust in ourselves for improvement. Eventually this will exhaust and exasperate us and we will see that a change in actions is simply not enough. We need a change of heart. The Bible calls this regeneration.
Secondly, moralism alone does not drive sinners to the cross of Christ for grace, because it contends that the answer is within oneself. The more we look to ourselves, the less we look to Jesus. The cross of Christ is the only place where sinners can ultimately find grace sufficient for this total transformation.
Driving sinners to the grace of the cross is the ultimate goal of all preaching, and the grounds for continuing to preach the doctrine of sin--even if fewer and fewer are doing this today.
Pastor Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville Florida.