It is not fashionable to confront others about their sins. It can even be dangerous as two street preachers recently learned as they preached sin at a gay pride event in Seattle.
Consequently, many want to keep the message positive – sanitized of anything negative. Sin is negative, but sin is inseparable from the Gospel. The Gospel of salvation is not complete without mention of what we have been saved from! Without an understanding of sin and punishment, the Gospel will seem meaningless, perhaps even foolish. Grace has no meaning apart from an awareness of our need for grace. Besides, if we don’t see our need for forgiveness, the idea that God will forgive us is offensive.
When the church was most Spirit-empowered, there was no hesitation to confront the sinner with his sin. In his first evangelistic sermon, Peter pulled no punches:
- “Therefore let all Israel be assured [in light of the miraculous and biblical attestation] and of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
Why didn’t Peter keep the message positive? Why did he have to mention “Jesus, whom you crucified?” That would only turn off his audience or even send them into a violent rage, wouldn’t it? No! Instead, they were convicted of their sin, as Peter’s next words indicate:
- When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
I think that we have a distorted view of love. Perhaps instead of enabling, the most loving thing we can do is to “cut [them] to the heart?” The results argue in favor of this.
Peter also informed his “cut” audience that they had to “Repent and be baptized.” However, people tend to think that they are good and deserving. Therefore, they think that there is nothing they need to repent from. Oprah claims:
- A mistake we humans make is believing that there is only one way…There are many paths to what you call God…There couldn’t possibly be just one way…Do you think that if you never heard the name of Jesus but lived with a loving heart…you wouldn’t get to heaven?...Does God care about the heart or if you call His Son ‘Jesus?’”
Oprah, as do many other Western gurus, believes that God knows that we are basically good people who possess a “loving heart.” Result – the loving heart enters heaven!
Therefore, our preaching has to first demonstrate that we are not entitled by our allegedly “loving heart” to any of God’s blessings. As long as we think we are entitled, grace can no longer be grace but a payment that we deserve from God by virtue of our goodness (Rom. 4:1-12).
In his next sermon, Peter once again pounds his listeners about their sin:
- The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. (Acts 3:13-15)
Quite a heavy indictment! We don’t know the fruitage of this sermon, because Peter was immediately whisked away to court. However, before he was grabbed, he preached the only solution for their sin and guilt:
- Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord. (Acts 3:19)
Peter understood faith (3:16). However, it seems that he wanted to emphasize the flip side of the faith coin – repentance. Faith and repentance are inseparable. In order to turn to the Savior – our new life - in faith, we automatically turn from the old life of sin. It is impossible to turn to God without also turning away from something else at the same time! Peter understood that in order to turn to the light, it was imperative to turn from the darkness, and the Jewish people needed to know that they were in darkness, even though they were children of the covenant.
Even before the Sanhedrin, he confronted the leadership with their sin:
- “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone (Psalm 118:22).’” (Acts 4:10-11)
Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit. Consequently, he feared God and not men. I think that we need to always pray and examine ourselves. We need to ask God to reveal to us whether we are unduly concerned about the opinions of others at the expense of the opinions of our Lord. Peter brought this message home on his next visit to the Sanhedrin:
- “We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. (Acts 5:29-31)
According to Peter, even the Sanhedrin had to repent in order to receive the mercy of God. One pastor told me that Israel had their own covenant and therefore didn’t need Jesus. However, the entire New Testament demises such a notion. According to Peter, Jesus’ death and resurrection are essential to the forgiveness of all sins, not simply Gentile sins!
Stephen was also filled with the Spirit, but this didn’t lead him to preach a kinder and gentler gospel. He devoted a lengthy sermon (Acts 6 and 7) to show his self-righteous opposition what great sinners they were:
- “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.” (Acts 7:51-53)
In order to make his point, Stephen rehearsed the rebellious history of Israel, made plain by Scripture. With this he was preaching to the choir and the choir was listening. He was building a bridge to his ultimate point – that his protagonists were “just like your ancestors!”
All of this doesn’t mean I’m ready to wade into the midst of a gay pride event with a bullhorn. However, it does mean that preaching sin cannot be separated from the Gospel. Stephen’s sermon also suggests that it might be difficult to preach sin and repentance without first having established a beachhead – areas of agreement.
Peter’s and Stephen’s listeners all shared the same Scriptures. This made the accusation of sin easier than it would be at the gay pride rally. I think that this means that we must be in prayer about how and when we speak about sin, but not whether we will speak about it.