(Editor’s Note: This had originally been intended to be a video series, but time constraints have forced us back to the standard issue written blog. Perhaps later posts will be video, but for now apologies to all those who had hopes of seeing this set to film.)

When I was in college, I switched majors from music education to religious studies. My music education friends just couldn’t understand this. One day we were walking together through campus, and they were asking me how I could sign up to be a part of a Church that seemed to them to be judgmental, snarky, mean, and angry. I told them that while there were unfortunately churches like that in the world, I felt like for the most part we tried to live out the message of Jesus, of forgiveness and grace and peace and mercy. Just then we rounded the corner into the main quad, and that’s when we saw them…

Three or four people had descended on our campus, carrying 30-40 foot banners that required holsters to hold, reading “Sinners go to hell!” and “God hates you!” and “Repent sinners!”

I never saw those friends again.

For this series on the blog, I want to answer a few questions. I allowed my Facebook friends to toss out some ideas for me to tackle, and the topic that overwhelmingly seemed to be on everyone’s mind was sin. I think our friends in the quad that day with the banners have a bad theology of sin, and that there are better ways to think about it. This is obviously a pretty big topic to tackle in a single blog post, but I’m going to try.

First, we need to make a distinction between sin and sinning.

See, the way the folks the in quad saw it, you were a sinner if you amassed a collection of sins. If you went to party every single Thursday night, that series of missteps collected to the point that you were deserving of being labeled a sinner. Not too subtly, this implies that they, the non-partiers, are righteous. It’s as if when they talk about sinners, they’re talking about “other people,” and not themselves. They had not yet amassed that many sins in their own eyes. They were ok.

But that’s actually the exact opposite of how things really are. You are not a sinner because you commit sins. You sin because you are a sinner. Scripture is beyond clear that all of the created order has fallen, that we are all under the spell of sin. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Paul tells us. The state of sin is not something we can run from. It’s not something that we can overcome. It is a part of us, something we carry with us every single place we go. As a result, we are prone to act from that sinful state. It’s not unlike a broken record player. Because the source is broken, there’s not going to be very good sound coming out. Because you and I are broken by the state of sin, our output is less than desirable. We sin because we are sinners.

Which is why it’s so very important that we not beat other people up about their sins. Certain people invite us to challenge them and keep them honest, and that’s a good thing. But beating up on people we have never met as if they are sinners and we are righteous is never the right way to go. Instead, we should do what we were made to as Christians, constantly putting our fellow humans caught in the cycle and state of sin to Jesus Christ, the only one capable of pulling us out of our brokenness and putting us back together. Pointing to individual sins and labeling people as sinners really only continues the cycle of shame and guilt, both of which by the by are direct results of the condition of sin. But pointing people to Jesus is what gives life, breath, and freedom. It’s quite simply a better way to go.

I doubt much that many people at Westminster are waving signs at “sinners” in their free time. I know our tribe well enough to know that’s not in the hearts of many. But whether that were true or not, we can all do a better job of pointing people in the direction of the lover of their souls. We can do a better job of pointing to Jesus Christ, his resurrection, and his life.

Next week: Why is there evil, and what can I do about it?

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