Saturday, April 10, 2021

Sin and Gospel

I listened to the gospel call in a message preached by Billy Graham in the late 1950s. His focus was on sin and his promise was that all our sins can be forgiven. That message worked in his time, but it would not be so effective today, because the culture has changed.

The 1950s was a time when society was conservative and a rules-based culture dominated most people in the west. The church was part of the establishment and attempted to impose its moral standards on the people of the world. Most people had failed to comply with the social rules that were accepted. Many had rebelled at times against the accepted moral standards. So most people had a strong sense that they had missed the mark and failed to comply with the standards expected by society. Guilt was the prevailing mood. In this culture, a message about sin and failure to comply with moral standards resonated strongly.

Likewise, in Jesus’ time, the Pharisees had created a guilt culture by imposing impossible interpretations of the Torah as a burden on the people. Most felt that they could not live up to God’s standards, so Jesus had to deal with their shame by offering forgiveness of sins.<

The culture is different now. The rules that shaped society back them have mostly gone by the board. The church is no longer so influential and its standards are no longer seen as compelling. People have been taught to seek their own fulfilment instead of living by standards imposed by others. They do not see themselves as sinners who have failed to live according to the standards of the church, and they do not see God’s standards as relevant.

Modern people see themselves as victims of life. They need someone to rescue them from their struggles. They may have made mistakes that made their situation as worse, but they largely see themselves as victims of circumstances that they did not control. Many people have been battered and beaten by trials that were too great for them. They don’t see themselves as sinners needing forgiveness, so much as victims who someone to rescue. The prevailing mood is sickness and struggle.

In this situation, the gospel call will be more effective if it announces that Jesus has rescued those who will put their trust him from the attacks of the spiritual powers of evil and put them on a path that leads to victory from the world. Many people who are struggling with life want to be rescued.

We might need to stop using the word “saved”. The gospels are full of the word “sozo” which is usually translated as “save”. Unfortunately, we don’t use the word save much these days, apart from a religious context (or saving at a bank). Rescue is a valid translation for sozo, and it a word that has more resonance in the modern world. People who are drowning are rescued, not saved. Lifeguards rescue people who get into trouble at the beach, rather than save them. People who are lost in the bush are rescued, not saved.

We would get a better response if spoke of Jesus ability to rescue people from trouble and oppression. To modern ears, the word “saved” is less meaningful. The gospel promises,

Jesus came to seek and rescue the lost (Luke 19:10).
When dealing with people, Jesus mostly rescued them from their problems first. After they were delivered, he told them to stop sinning, if that was necessary.

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