What the Doctrine of Sin Means for Our Evangelism
In Frederick Douglass’s first autobiography, he admits he doesn’t know the day of his birth. Birthdays are a token of self-knowledge that most of us take for granted. But Douglass was born into slavery, and so his life was regarded as unworthy of celebration. Similar to Douglass, I recently met a young lady who just found out that her “parents” were actually her grandparents. She’d been lied to all her life. She’d lived not knowing her full identity. The young lady felt deceived by what she was told; Douglass felt deceived by what he wasn’t told.
Perhaps you’ve never intentionally withheld this kind of information from anyone, but what if your methods of evangelism unintentionally withheld pertinent information that deceived people about their spiritual identities?
God’s Word tells us that when he saves someone that person is a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Most of us will be clear about this when evangelizing, but do we communicate that certain characteristics like contrition, remorse over sin, and a striving for holiness will show up in those who have been made new? I fear we often fail to communicate that contrition and remorse over sin is necessary. I fear we understate the need for an ongoing hatred for sin which compels those who are “made new” not only to strive for holiness, but also to view Christ and the gospel in a particular way.
What do I mean about viewing the gospel in a “particular” way? I mean that Christians must agree with the gospel’s assertion about what sin is—it’s not merely a victimizing dilemma that humans face. Instead, it’s a personal contribution of immorality, a personal transgression of God’s order, and a personal affront to God’s character. Each individual brings sin into the world and must subjectively repent of it. But that’s not all. Christians as “new creations” must also rightly view Christ as the Rescuer of guilty offenders, not pitied victims. Finally, they must rightly view the gospel as news of undeserved grace, not justifiably offered favor.
You cannot share the gospel of Jesus without mentioning the reality of sin. When we do, we deceive people about what the gospel is (even if it’s unintentional). When our evangelism offers a partial gospel, it’s not evangelism at all. So as we evangelize, we need to consider: 1) the gospel’s message, 2) the person’s eternity, and 3) the Lord’s burden.
1. Consider the gospel’s message.
Most faithful evangelists are well-intended. They want to see people find eternal life in Christ. But good intentions don’t always result in faithful practice. If we want people to experience true salvation, then we must share the full message of salvation. This message is just as much about being saved out of sin and death as it is about being saved into glory and life. If sin is the root of the human problem, then it must be considered in the proposed resolution.
2. Consider the person’s eternity.
We should also consider the eternal standing of the people we’re evangelizing. If repentance and faith are necessary for salvation, then we must not forget to mention sin so that prospective converts have the chance to truly repent and forsake their sinful lives.
We certainly wouldn’t want to be responsible for the unintended deception which could cause one to misunderstand their spiritual identity, or worse, to end up in hell after finding assurance of heaven from our half-baked gospel. We need to share an unveiled gospel by telling people that they’re sinful and in need of salvation through Christ. Then we can trust that, by the Spirit’s power, they’ll better grasp their identity as sinners, which is a prerequisite to a new identity as saints.
3. Consider the Lord’s burden.
Lastly, we want to consider God’s burden for the potential converts. He wants to see people saved into church that offer pictures of purity and newness. If this is God’s burden, then shouldn’t it be ours?
God saves his people by enlightening them to the reality of their sin. We don’t need to protect God when we share the gospel. He presents his own standards in his Word, so we should do the same.
Again, you cannot share the gospel without mentioning sin. It’s necessary. People need to know their true identities. So we need to take care to not unintentionally deceive them. Let’s avoid that. They’re sinners, and so are we. Yet this bad news makes the good news good: Christ recreates our identities and makes us new by atoning for our sin and giving us new hearts that love his righteousness.