How Close Sin Lies
One of the challenges of Christian ministry and witness in the late-modern Western world is our reluctance to speak of sin. The fear of hypocrisy is significant in this. We are so used to accusations about the double standards of Christians, of sexual abuse scandals in the church, of the excesses – the sins! – of prominent Christian leaders, that for us to talk about the sins of others is difficult. I wonder if a bigger problem, though, is that we don’t really believe people are sinners, in need of saving. Most of the people I know outside church are ‘good’ – they are decent, generally kind and honest, care about their kids, and are fun to be with. Really, what we see is the triumph of Pelagianism – the assumption that everyone is essentially good, and what is not good can be fixed by better schools and hospitals. It’s difficult to push against the force of that cultural stream.
Sometimes the mask comes off though. It has certainly come off during the fallout from the Brexit vote: suddenly what lies beneath was brought to the surface, and we saw just how close sin crouches at the door.
This was evident in the spate of racist incidents that were uncorked by the Leave vote. In Britain we are proud of our tolerance, but it became very clear that there are some – albeit a minority – who are anything but tolerant, and have some very ugly attitudes towards other ethnicities. That was horrible. And it was sinful.
But on the other side of the coin – the side my friends are more likely to fall – sin was revealed in other ways. The foul invective poured out against Leave voters on social media was clearly sinful, but more interesting to me was the hypocrisy of the social virtue signalling crowd: those who before the vote refused to drink coffee at Starbucks in protest at corporate greed, and were quick to complain about big business, and the banks, but in the aftermath of the vote were loudly lamenting the fall in the FTSE and the weakening of the pound, and the impact on house prices. Suddenly ‘goodness’ didn’t look so deep; sin appeared nearer the surface.
Last Sunday I was preaching on the repentance of Nineveh when Jonah proclaimed the word of the Lord there. The command of the king was that everyone in the city should repent of their evil and violence, in hope that God would be merciful. It is easy to see why the Assyrians needed to repent of their evil and violence; it’s usually easy to spot the sin of other cultures and generations. We tend to be far more myopic about our own generation, our own culture, but sin is still crouching at the door, just as it always has, and Man has not ruled over it. So there is still a need to proclaim the message of repentance of sin, and the mercy of God that can still be found, because one Man has ruled over sin, and crushed it.