Last time we thought about the dangers of overlooking Trinity in our evangelism. Here we'll examine three consequences of neglecting original sin in our gospel presentations...
You will place your hearers at the centre
So much of evangelism assumes that the non-Christian is like Hercules at the cross-roads (painting above). There is Virtue pointing us away (from herself!) in one direction and Vice tempting us in the other - and everything is to play for. Hercules needs to choose virtue and eternity hangs in the balance.
The gospel is very different. According to the Bible, humanity is lost. And it has been lost, dead, perishing, cursed and guilty since Adam. We are born into a broken humanity that has no life in it and no ability to save itself.
Perhaps we don't like preaching this because we assume that, once we've acknowledged man's helplessness, the preacher will have nothing left to say. Garbage! It gives our hearers nothing to do, but it gives preachers everything to say! Because now we can spotlight the true Hero - Jesus.
The unbeliever is not at the centre while we entice their (supposedly free) wills, minds and hearts. Jesus is at the centre, stepping into a lost situation and turning it around - all by Himself. Gospel events can take their place at the centre - and not simply as motivational fuel for the business end of proceedings: Decision-Time!
I wonder whether one of the reasons we dislike preaching original sin is because we typically frame our evangelism around the Philippian Jailer's question in Acts 16. He asked “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” But if we begin our evangelism by trying to answer this question, all the emphasis falls on the hearer. Suddenly evangelism is about what the hearer must do, not “what Jesus has done”. We'll only mention His work to the degree that such teaching informs their response. All emphasis falls on the response.
We don't like original sin because it takes man off the stage and forces us to sit in the audience. But the good news is that someone far more captivating can now take centre-stage.
You will radically diminish the nature of sin and judgement
According to Jesus and Paul, judgement is not a future possibility for mankind. It's a present reality (John 3:18,36; Romans 1:18ff). In fact, condemnation is in the past tense. It’s already happened.
Just as eternal life is not merely a future blessing but is a present state (cf. all of John!), so also wrath is not merely a future reality, but a current condition. Judgement day is a confirmation of what’s already true in life. Throughout life we have wanted the darkness instead of the light and final judgement involves God saying “Have it your way - Go.”
The world is perishing now. Hell is on the non-Christian now. And, to a degree, they know it. To a degree, we all know it - children of Adam that we are. We’ve all felt hell. We all know something of the darkness. We know about disconnection. We know about weeping and wailing and the angry gnashing of teeth. We’ve all felt hell, here and now. Hell in miniature. Hell in our hearts. Hell in our circumstances.
That continuity is important when we preach judgement. You see, if our problem is merely "committed sin", then hell readily appears as a rash over-reaction on God's part. A non-Christian might feel that their broken relationships, abortion, gossip, etc, deserves some kind of judgement. But an eternal wrath for temporal sins? If behaviour X has warranted punishment Y, then why is hell forever? Asking questions like that (over and over) was the stock in trade of "Love Wins" - but it's founded on the assumption that behaviour (not being) is central.
Yet, if wrath is a state of disconnection from God, then getting confirmed in that state - while being a fearful thought - is not absurd. It's our being now that matters. And it's our being in eternity that matters. Behaviour flows from being - it doesn't lead to being.
You will (inadvertently) preach behaviour, not being
Martin Lloyd-Jones once said of Romans 5: Think of yourself in Adam, though you had done nothing, you were condemned. Think of yourself in Christ, though you had done nothing, you were saved.
You know what that means? It means it’s not about your behaviour, it’s about your being.
Have you ever come across evangelistic presentations that try to convict you of sin by focusing on your behaviour. A particularly blunt attempt goes something like this:
“Have you ever stolen paperclips from work? Yes? Then you've broken the law at one point. And if you've broken the law at one point you've broken the law at every point. Should law-breakers go to heaven or hell?
Hell! But... Jesus paid on the cross and made a way so that you can escape the flames for stealing paperclips...”
Do you hear how petty the evangelist has made God out to be? How irrational His judgement? How miniscule is Christ's cross? (And how Christ merely clears the way for you to make the epic journey to heaven?)
Now perhaps your way of convicting people goes a little deeper. You manage to uncover some more serious sins than tiny thefts, white lies and lustful fantasies. But nonetheless, if your approach aims at sins committed you will pervert the gospel.
Our condemnation goes much deeper than behaviour. It's about our being. We don’t have life in ourselves. It’s not about convicting people of this crime or that. It’s saying “You have no life in yourself (your bad behaviour is the fruit of that disconnection), but now get connected to the only life-source.”
I will often confess to bad behaviours in my preaching but only so as to say "You know what's scary? That sin comes from somewhere deep in me. Somewhere bigger than me. There's a power that's over me and in me and it comes out in this way and that. But I can't just choose to do better. It's not merely what I do, there's something desperately wrong with who I am."
And as the Spirit works on people they realise they have no life in themselves. They realize that they don’t know God. They're cut off, estranged, alienated, disconnected. It's not so much that their sins separate them, it's that their separation leads to sin.
If our sinful acts were the problem then surely righteous acts would be the solution. But no, our problem was not caused by us, and neither will our solution be. We didn't have the power to make ourselves sinners, and we don't have the power to make ourselves saved. Our problem was out of our hands and so is our solution. Adam has made us perish, only Christ can rescue.
In all this we see that the way we pose the problem powerfully shapes the solution we offer. If we shy away from original sin and focus instead on committed sin - we shift the focus from Christ to us, from being to behaviour and we misconstrue our plight before God.
Much more could be said (perhaps you can add your own thoughts in comments). But I think these reasons alone mean we should put original sin back into our gospel explanations...
If only we had such a gospel explanation... perhaps one that was easy to memorise and share with friends...
i f o n l y . . . i f o n l y . . .