If you're going to have a church that reaches out to the unchurched, things are going to get messy. Forget about the sins of the past which are now either ignored by many churches or else relegated into the recesses of the buildings where they are not dealt with any longer; focus instead upon the big sins today that both occupy the convictions of Christians and too often even motivate them to commit even more grievous sins in fighting against them. Sometimes a person has to wonder if there is more preaching in a church against sin than in preaching about the forgiveness of sin and the grace of Jesus.
Christians normally have an easy task in picking and choosing the scriptures that support what they already believe instead of allowing the scriptures to convey the teachings of Jesus to them. However, the problem with this kind of thinking is that it ignores all of the other sins listed in the Bible. Is one sin more heinous than another sin? If a person followed all of the Old Testament commandments, not just the well-known Ten Commandments, he or she would be living in sin all of his or her life. Scholars have identified over 600 Old Testament laws, and books have been written illuminating them.
So what's a person to do? Ignore sin and hope it goes away? Focus only upon the worst sins and ignore the lesser ones? But which sins are the worst? The New Testament teaches that it only takes one sin to send a person to eternal separation from God. This kind of thinking makes living messy, but thanks to God in Jesus there is an answer to this dilemma: While the law could adequately point out sin, it could never remove it; it took God coming to earth in the form of Jesus and his provision for forgiveness to allow people to have hope in salvation. Thus, although confession in the church has largely disappeared today, confessing our sins and shortcomings to God through Jesus His son is the way to overcome sin and to focus upon living a godly life.
Life gets messy when the focus is upon certain sins and the challenge to either make the people involved pay for their sins or to fight off any effort to support them. Although oversimplified, two of the largest sins being talked about in our churches today among Christian people deal with homosexuality and abortion. They have been proof-texted in the scriptures and yelled about from the street corners. I personally have family members and friends who are totally convinced that these people are going to be condemned forever. While I am not in support of either of these two sins, I cringe at the way Christians marginalize their convictions in order to get a guilty verdict. In order to do so, you have to throw out all of your beliefs about salvation and invent another definition of how a person is saved.
Christians have always believed that the way of salvation is "to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior," and to attempt to live like he taught. There is nowhere in the New Testament where it says that salvation is conditioned upon making sure you do not commit such and such sin. Of course, the sanctity of life is upheld in the scriptures, and all sins are condemned, but it gets pretty messy whenever a particular sin is identified or the way of salvation is conditioned. If our salvation rested upon not sinning, then who could be saved? We are all sinners, but thankfully, saved through the grace of Jesus.
Church life also gets messy whenever its members get caught up in fairness. This thinking suggests that "If we do this for one individual, then we have to do it for everyone else in the same way." But Jesus was not exactly fair. Consider that Jesus told the thief on the cross who was repentant that he would be with him in Paradise (heaven), but told the rich young man who had kept the commandments all his life that he had to sell everything and give his wealth away to the poor in order to follow him. Or, consider that Jesus chose only twelve disciples from literally hundreds of others to be close to him. Why those? He restored Lazarus from the dead, but he did not restore others. And he healed the man at the Pool of Bethsaida while ignoring all of the other people there hoping for healing. Life isn't fair and it is messy. As the little boy remarked when asked why he was throwing the starfish back into the water when so many could not be helped, "Well, it certainly means a lot to this one."
Life isn't easy; neither is Christianity. Both may be messy, but it is far better to focus upon how to help the people around you than to spend your time condemning sin. Following Jesus is far better than following our own personal inclinations.
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Robert Box has been a law enforcement chaplain for 29 years. He is a master-level chaplain with the International Conference of Police Chaplains and is an endorsed chaplain with the American Baptist Churches USA. He also currently serves as a deputy sheriff chaplain for the Benton County Sheriff's Office. Opinions expressed in the article are the opinions of the author and not the agencies he serves.