Today we honor the life of Martin Luther King Jr., who gave his life in hopes of racial equality and simple decency and love. As we look around at our country this year, we have to yearn for more growth in this area, especially as Christians. This morning, I want to discuss something much deeper than, yet intertwined with, racial equality: sin. What is your theology of sin? Does your theology of sin match up with how you live your life? And as always, what does this have to do with youth ministry?
Sin is one of those concepts that (hopefully) most Christians could define with some success. I’ve heard sin defined as missing the mark, disobedience, falling short of God’s standards, and more. We sin in our thoughts and actions, and commit sin by what we do as well as what we fail to do. The New City Catechism defines sin this way: “Sin is rejecting or ignoring God in the world he created, rebelling against him by living without reference to him, not being or doing what he requires in his law – resulting in the death and the disintegration of all creation.”
Simply put, sin is not good. But I think we often miss or gloss over just how not good it is. We have to understand that sin is not some kind of sliding scale, in which some of us are worse than others. While different sins have different consequences, and some are more horrific to us, Scripture is clear that we are all sinful and that sin separates us from God. In Romans 3, Paul writes, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Isaiah proclaims this about sin: “but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” While we all sin differently, the separation our sin creates between us and God is the same for all of us. And we are not allowed to sit back and say, “I’m not really sinful, that person is worse than me.” Sin is a great equalizer.
We also have a tendency to downplay our sin, acting as if the sin we commit is not a big deal. Martin Luther King Jr. said this about sin: “The more I thought about human nature, the more I saw how our tragic inclination for sin/mistakes causes us to use our minds to rationalize our action.” When we are confronted with our sin nature, we like to rationalize what we’ve done or not done. We give reasons, excuses, that we hope will lessen the seriousness of our sin. But when we do this, we demonstrate that we have a faulty theology of sin. Sin is not simply some bad thing that we need some help to overcome. Paul could not be any clearer when he says, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked”. Before God graciously intervenes, we are dead. Finito. The difference here is akin to asking someone to pass us the remote or being dead on the couch. Your sin is not some small task you need God’s help with – it is a nature of death!
Here’s what I think our theology of sin needs to include. Because of Adam’s sin, we are born with a sin nature. Sin is deadly, and is not a small hurdle we need help to overcome. We need resurrection, rebirth, regeneration. Because of his holy and perfect nature, sin separates us from God. Even with the best intentions, sin causes us to do the opposite: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” Understanding the depth of our sin is absolutely essential to our faith. When we understand what sin truly is, we are driven to honor and praise for our great God who has defeated sin. When we understand our sin, we are not able to have a laissez-faire attitude about our actions or our growth in likeness to Jesus. When we understand the death that sin brings, we ought to be motivated to avoid it like the plague that it is!
What does this have to do with youth ministry?
If you ask the average teenager in the Church to explain sin and its effects, I’m saddened that too often the answers will not be as grave as they need to be. Like many of us adults, teenagers have a tendency to downplay their sin. To view it as something to work on instead of a flat-line on the EKG. The primary way that a theology of sin relates to youth ministry is in the same way it relates to all of us. Teenagers need to clearly see sin for what it is and why they need a Savior. They need to see the seriousness of sin and how that impacts their relationship with God.
Those of us who are directly responsible for teaching God’s Word and discipling teenagers have to take our responsibility seriously. One reason why many of them do not have a proper understanding of their sin is because we have not found it necessary enough to help them understand. When our teaching is primarily “here’s an issue you might have, and some ways to work through it”, we’re basically telling them all they need to do to overcome sin is to try harder and ask God for a hand. We need to guide them in throwing themselves at the feet of their Savior and the only one who is able to beat sin!
Martin Luther, the man who MLK was named for, said this about our responsibility to preach about sin: “Always preach in such a way that if the people listening do not come to hate their sin, they will instead hate you.” Maybe if we were less concerned with the numbers in our youth ministries we would be more faithful in this.
I want to leave you with the words of a great song about sin, from the hip-hop group Beautiful Eulogy. The song, “The Size of Sin” is so good I’ll quote it in its entirety here:
The size of sin is as small as a grain of sand, but separates between Wide Ocean and dry land
It’s bigger than bad habits; it’s a matter of man seeking for God’s spot following in same pattern as Adam
Its deep rooted we are the seed of a broken family tree branching out limbs of disease. Look at this mess we leave
This weight of wickedness is heavy as lead trying to catch its descents like stopping a falling rock in a spider’s web
It’s thin silk thread begins to snap and all that’s left is the residue that sticks between the cracks
It all ends with a slip into a bottomless pit, grips the heart in the man’s chest till swallowing death
Sipping for the glass of God’s wrath and genuine justice a just judge must summons for infinite punishment
The smallest white lie is enough for being indictable
The size of sin so big it causes a cosmic fraction and Hell is the only relevant response to righteous reaction
This is what our sinful actions actually earned us, but God took upon himself the weight of sin reserved for us; a weight so significant that only the blood of an innocent one is acceptable and worthy
So rather than make light of it or minimize the size of it, we should marvel at the magnitude of mercy
 R.C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, 147
 The New City Catechism, 47
 Romans 3:10-11, 23 ESV
 Isaiah 59:2 ESV
 Ephesians 2:1-2a ESV
 Romans 7:18-20 ESV
 That includes unhealthy pressure church leaders for numerical growth over quality growth – which is not always the case but can be. At times, numerical standards are a good thing, but I don’t think they are at the expense of faithfulness.