July 1, 2011
Nobody Talks About Sin Anymore
As a biblical studies professor at North Park University in Chicago, I teach a class called “Jesus of Nazareth.” At the end of each class, we recite the Lord’s Prayer together. I do this with my students for two basic reasons: because the Lord’s Prayer sums up the entire teaching ministry of Jesus, and because the word “sin” is found in it.
Though Matthew’s version normally uses the word “transgression” in “forgive us our transgressions,” Luke’s version has the word “sins.” I ask my students to import that word into Matthew’s version because I feel they need to hear the word “sin” over and over.
Two student conversations represent the responses I usually get. One student told me he had almost never heard of sin in any church service. A second student told me she was offended that I would import the word “sin” into the Lord’s Prayer because it was so negative and harmful.
Not only did I urge her to take a good long look at the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11:1-4, I urged her to reconsider what she was saying. Saying that each of us sins isn’t harmful; it is true—it tells the true story of who we are and what the Gospel is designed to accomplish.
To many, sin has fallen into grace. What does that mean? When we talk about God’s grace, we are assuming the reality of sin—that we are sinners and that God has forgiven us. But in our language today, sin is not only an assumption—it is an accepted assumption. And not only is it an accepted assumption—it also doesn’t seem to matter.
It’s as if we’re saying, “Yes, of course we sin” and then do nothing about it.
Widespread apathy toward sin reveals itself in the lack of interest in holiness. Your grandparents’ generation overdid it—going to movies, dancing and drinking alcohol became the tell-tale signs of unholiness. Damning those who did such things became the legalistic, judgmental context for church life. So your parents’ generation, inspired in part by the ’60s, jaunted its way into the free- dom of the Christian life. Which meant, often enough, “I can do whatever I want because of God’s grace.”
That generation’s lack of zeal for holiness has produced a trend: acceptance of sin, igno- rance of its impact and weakened relation- ships with God, people and the world.