As Christians, how we talk about sin has a way of being misunderstood or abused, creating unnecessary guilt and neglecting the goodness of God’s creation (Gen. 1-2) and the final vision of restoration (Rev. 21-22). And worse, fearing we’ll think too highly of ourselves, personal holiness can get twisted, measured by how badly we think of ourselves with a focus on how deserving we are of God’s wrath. Only once the absolute depth of sin is understood can we explore the gift of forgiveness and salvation - the “wages of sin is death” after all (Rom. 6:23).
But in the process we can forget that sin is NOT the main message of Christianity.
But this doesn’t mean stop talking about sin. How we talk about sin is the problem.
A friend shared a prayer this week that helps frame what I’m thinking:
Father in Heaven!
Hold not our sins up against us
but hold us up against our sins
so that the thought of You
when it wakens in our soul,
and each time it wakens,
should not remind us
of what we have committed
but of what You did forgive,
not of how we went astray
but of how You did save us!
This prayer highlights where our discussion and focus on sin should lead - to God’s gift of forgiveness. The problem of talking about sin is when, often unintentionally, the focus stays on us. We can’t forget about sin (I agree with this), so we talk about our sinfulness and do things like confession and preach/teach to better understand how sin is a problem today. But the bad news (sin and death) gets more attention than the good news (Jesus and salvation). And here’s my concern: sin ends up being held up “against us” as Kierkegaard reflects. The focus on sin ends with guilt, not God.
Kierkegaard’s prayer offers an alternative. Talk about sin (step 1) doesn’t lead to talk forgiveness (step 2); talk of sin must be talk of forgiveness. Sin and forgiveness at the same time - the good news of Jesus bringing reconciliation, peace, holiness, freedom, faith, and hope (Col. 1:15-23).