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Preaching sin when they already hate themselves

I've written a little gospel presentation on Emma's site.  It's for anyone but I've had in mind younger folk who have difficult relationships with food and their bodies.  It's called Good News for Dark Places.

It's raised the question in my mind - how do we address the problem of sin with those who might well be very religious and already they are full of self-destructive feelings?

It's important in any setting - but here it's particularly vital - to define sin as a failure to receive.  I don't think you'll do much good in pastoral settings if you're not convinced that sin is, at base, not receiving from God.  Let me know what you think...

[I've just described the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in loving union]...
This is who the real God is – a community of love and absolute togetherness.  In fact their life together is too good to keep to themselves.  They want to share it with others.

So this God made something else – a world – so that we can share in this life.  We exist so that we can pull up a chair at the table.  The meaning of our lives is to join this Party.

But there’s a problem, and it goes back to our first parents.  Humanity has always said to God: “No, I’ll make it on my own.”

God is a family of love, but we prefer our own company.  God is a fountain of life but we go off and dig for mud.  God is a community of light, and we slink off into darkness.

It’s so easy for us to think of God as a kill-joy.  But this God is not the kill-joy, it’s us.  We are offered the deepest relationship and joy possible but we have refused it.  We close ourselves off and will not receive His love.  This is the essence of our problem - what the bible calls 'sin'.

Many people think that sin is about doing naughty things - as though it's basically about what we offer or don’t offer to God.  The Bible has a different take.  God isn't needy!  He's the Giver.  So at the heart of it, sin is us refusing to receive from God.  Do you see the difference?  It's not so much that I'm a bad offerer, I'm a bad receiver.  My problem's not so much how I perform for Him, my problem is not resting in Him.

Sin is closing ourselves off to the life of God so that now we manage out of our own resources.  And so, as sinners, we’re condemned to live our lives cut off from His life.

0 thoughts on “Preaching sin when they already hate themselves

  1. Terry

    as someone who has a tendency towards religiousity and struggles with food issues, i don't think i see God as a giver, but i want to today.
    i like how emma shared about asking God to provide for our 'daily bread'. i want to receive from Him my physical, spiritualy and emotional needs....just for today!

  2. James

    This is an excellent way of putting it. I've never thought of it quite that way, but it hits the nail on the head, and clears away the unhelpful pre-conceived notions of sin that people bring to the table. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Glen

    Hey Terry, thanks for sharing - I believe this is everyone's battle. We naturally believe that God (or ultimate reality or whatever) is not gracious. Therefore if God is clenched - we become clenched (in a thousand ways that look different but share the same tight-fistedness). As Psalm 115:4-8 says - we become like what we think God is.

    Our greatest need, Christian or non-Christian is to be re-assured that God really is an overflowing fountain of triune love!

    Hi James - Welcome to the blog (how did you find us?) I've been reading some of your recent articles - really great stuff, thanks!

    Hi Jon - yeah it's another way of saying sin is unbelief (John 16:9), because believing is receiving (John 1:12-13).

    In the article I go on to discuss Luke 15. Both sons refuse the father's embrace and think they'll get what they want elsewhere (freedom or goodness). Their lives look very different, but the root problem is rejecting the embrace.

    And once you've defined the problem as not receiving - the solution is obvious. Receive the embrace - in that you'll get true freedom and goodness as a gift-in-relationship.

  4. James

    Hi Glen

    Your blog was recommended by a friend of mine, Rich Hicken, who moved here to Toronto from London, originally because he and I were talking about seeing Christ in the OT, and he directed me to some of your stuff. Thanks for your frequent and always interesting posts!

  5. Dave K

    "It’s raised the question in my mind – how do we address the problem of sin with those who might well be very religious and already they are full of self-destructive feelings?

    It’s important in any setting – but here it’s particularly vital – to define sin as a failure to receive. I don’t think you’ll do much good in pastoral settings if you’re not convinced that sin is, at base, not receiving from God."

    I think that's very thought-full: theologically profound, and pastorally sensitive. Thanks.

  6. Glen

    Hi James - always fun to hear how the word spreads. Thanks for the encouragement :)

    Hi Dave - If it aint theologically profound, it aint pastorally sensitive - and vice versa. Thank you!

  7. John B

    Amen! This is a very well-stated and compelling presentation of the gospel!

    When you mentioned that "we go off and dig for mud", it brought back to mind one of my favorite Lewis quotes. In The Weight of Glory he wrote: "...Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea."

    Also, the video "Who is Jesus?" at A New Name is wonderful! Really enjoyed watching it!

  8. Glen

    Thanks John - I had in mind Jeremiah 2 when I wrote that line:

    "12 Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, 13 for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water."

    It really captures that sense of the generous God and His clenched people.

  9. Matt

    Hi Glen,

    I agree with you and will be very happily linking to your post shortly. I was wondering how you might interact with this post by Dan Philips of Team Pyro in which he asserts that: "The apostolic definition [of sin] is lawlessness (1 John 3:4; cf. Romans 5:13)"?

    I'm worried that by saying this it's back to foregrounding the speed camera God. I also think it's going to mean, in effect, that he would be likely to call Paul an antinomian on the basis of his letter to the Galatians!

    (As we're going through that letter in the church I'm part of I'm realising that my, 'oh I'm a baddie' about antinomianism/third use of the law was wrong as you implied in your comment)

  10. Glen

    Hey Matt,

    I think you linked the pyro article wrong. But will look it up when I can.

    I'd just say that 'lawlessness' is not at all the same as 'transgression'. Also that the Pharisees were "full of lawlessness" (Matt 23:28) which is very interesting! Legalism breeds an internal lawlessness.

    I think Jesus' definition is more fundamental (John 16:9) - but I'll read the article and see what I think.

    Cheers :)

  11. Pingback: Good News for Dark Places « Confessions of an Undercover Theologian

  12. Matt

    Hi Glen,
    Yep - it should have been this post that I linked to.
    I had never known/seen that the Pharisees were “full of lawlessness”. That's really one to chew on.
    Perhaps the lawlessness of the Pharisees was like the way they read Scripture - lawlessness was not being led by the law to Christ, or lawlessness as not loving the God who is and loving neighbour?
    For that last bit I'm thinking there of:
    Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
    For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
    If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.

  13. Glen

    Just skim-read the article. I too am against this obsession with "forgiving ourselves." But for quite a different reason. For me "forgiving myself" is not just absurd or meaningless, it is *sinful* because it's making me giver rather than the *receiver* of forgiveness. Defining sin as 'receiving' *really* tells against the self-forgiveness movement!

    TeamPyros definition of sin (and the one quoted from Piper's site) is shallow at best. And when you define sin as "transgressing" (which is bizarre expecially since the guy quotes Rom 5:13!!) then you implicitly define righteousness as "not transgressing". And you're assuming a needy God, waiting for *us* to do all the stuff.

    Reading that article was like stepping into a very small world. And how can you write about forgiveness and not talk about the actual grace, mercy and peace of God our Father and the LORD Jesus Christ? It's not the reality of sin that makes self forgiveness terrible, it's the reality of forgiveness!

    Anyway, rant over.

    From Matt 23 we see that you can be surrounded by law and full of lawlessness. There isn't actually an internal rule for these Pharisees, even though they've got a thousand rules and they're really, actually, truly, genuinely trying to keep them! It's not that they're intentionally being hypocrites, it's that commands not to transgress just have no power to effect what they command.

    But the 'law of Christ' is the law WHO IS Jesus. He has obeyed the law from His heart because He is who the law was always talking about. *He* is the One who loves God and loves neighbour (and has done from before the world began). (Interestingly also, after the resurrection 'love God' is never again mentioned as part of the royal law!). Anyway, He takes up residence in our hearts by the Spirit and begins living His life through me. I am no longer lawless, for Christ *Himself* is my Lord. And as I abide in Him and He in me, I start to walk in step with His Spirit (informed by all the Scriptures read with Christ as fulfilment) and bear His fruit.

  14. Matt

    Thanks Glen, that's helpful.
    It seems like definition offered there (even if it is not itself reductionistic) could so easily lead to that because it places the emphasis on the law (of God) and so on only indirectly on God.
    I find it so wonderful then in contrast that in what you're doing you so clearly placing the emphasis on Christ (*He* and *Himself*).

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  16. Si <- Dan Phillips has written part 2.

    I've skimmed it and feel point 4 sounds like Catholicism/Islam - that our sincerity in repentance is necessary for forgiveness that there is no forgiveness without mortification. Sure, mortifying sin and repenting properly are good things, but having slammed works-righteousness in point 3, it seems bizarre to turn repentance into such a work needing to get forgiveness.

    Point 2 is all about inflated sense of ourself, sin is an affront to God's glory, with this definition: "Sin is sin because it is an affront against God. What makes it awful is what it does to His glory, and what it cost Him to redeem us from it." Which is a lot better than 'lawlessness', but I don't think it's quite there.

    The 5th point is "trust Christ's sacrifice" to remove guilt. Excellent.

  17. Glen

    Yes the 5th is good. But why is it the 5th? Again I say the focus of such questions should be on the nature of forgiveness more than on the nature of sin. It's a brilliant example of someone crying "You're man centred!!", then spending most of the time directing us to ourselves and *then* proclaiming that this way is "God-centred".

  18. Jay

    Do you really mean that "Sin is closing ourselves off to the life of God so that now we manage out of our own resources."?

    It seems to me that this definition could be troublesome. Our non-conformity to the life and will of God and lack of trust in him would be constituted as sin and it is because of this that we are closed off to the life of God.

    After all, didn't Adam and Eve fall because they believed the serpent who called God a liar?

    Doesn't it really all come down to whether or not we believe God is who he says he is, and whether or not we trust him in response? When we do not believe him, or do not trust him, we then have only ourselves to rely on thus putting ourselves in the place God should be in our lives. Isn't this is what cuts us off from his life?

    PS - I am fairly new to your blog, but I am really enjoying reading it almost daily! Keep up the great teaching!

  19. Glen

    Hi Jay,

    Glad to hear from you. I think the Scriptures that are most buzzing around my head on this issue are from John and especially chapter 3:

    First we must be born again (v3,5,7). This is because our natural life in 'the flesh' only gives rise to more natural (flesh) life. Only the Spirit gives birth to spirit (v6).

    How does this come to us? Well not by us climbing up into heaven - instead the Son of Man has to come down (v13). He takes on flesh-life (1:14) and then He's lifted up on the cross - putting the whole sorry mass to death (3:14-15). He rises again to Spirit-life (1 Pet 3:18) and is given to us as a gift (3:16).

    Whoever receives Him (1:12) has life (this true Spirit-life). This *is* what it means to "believe." (1:12; 3:16). Sin on the other hand is not believing (16:9) - thus sin is not receiving Jesus.

    And this is not simply "what we do" as sinners - it's the essence of our condition. As flesh we *are* cut-off from God. And as we live our fleshly lives they are characterized by closed-ness to the Gift of God (Christ by the Spirit).

    So the big Scripture running through my mind is 3:18:

    "Whoever believes in Christ is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son."

    Our condemnation is *already* because of our unbelief, which is the non-receiving of Jesus.

    Note that faith is not a work. It's not a something we offer to God. It's not at though God reveals Himself and then we stroke our chin and decide whether to trust or not. It's not as though God is waiting for our offering of 'faith' and if we don't cough up this work called 'faith' then He cuts us off.

    Perhaps see this post on faith with a link to an excellent little article on faith not being a thing:

    So to summarize - our cut-off-ness is the very stuff of our natural lives. Original sin is vital in this discussion! And the essence of this cut-off-ness and of the flesh-life that ensues is a failure to receive the Gift of God.

    Does that help any?

  20. Jay

    I guess it was just semantics that I was concerned about then. Your statement in this last post "Sin on the other hand is not believing (16:9) – thus sin is not receiving Jesus" is exactly what I was getting at.

    The original statement seemed to pigeon hole sin and over simplify it. To simply say that "sin is closing ourselves off to the life of God" sounds to me like if you close yourself off from God, that is all that sin is. Rather, I see sin as the agent that has closed us off from God.

    Again, I think it's just semantical wording issues here. I can be overly particular and I do not wish to be. Thanks for clarifying the issue for me.

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