Evangelical Christianity teaches that humans are, by nature, sinners. Humans do not become sinners, they are sinners. Humans are born with a sin nature. From the very moment they come into this world they are sinners. This is the lot of the human race. No one, except Jesus, is exempt.
What is sin? Sin is transgression of the law of God. God is Holy. He hates sin and those who do it. When Jesus came to earth he came to settle humanity’s sin debt. Humans deserve to be eternally punished in the Lake of Fire for their sin and Jesus came to earth to take that punishment upon himself.
When Jesus was on the cross the wrath of God the Father was poured out on Him. Wrath that humans deserved. With his death on the cross, Jesus satisfied humanity’s sin debt. (unless you are a Calvinist, then Jesus only satisfied the elect’s sin debt)
Evangelicals believe in justification by faith. Simply put, justification by faith means that God looks at a saved (born again) sinner “just as if they never sinned.”
How is this possible? God hasn’t changed! He still hates sin and those who do it. He still throws people in the Lake of Fire to be tormented for eternity. God is God and this is what God does.
Even after salvation, God still views sin and and the sinner the same way. But now there is a go-between, Jesus the crucified and risen Savior. Jesus stands between God the Father and the saved sinner. God doesn’t see the saved sinner’s sin. All he sees is his son Jesus and his atoning work on the cross.
What I have just written is Evangelicalism 101. It is classic substitutionary atonement, justified by faith, Protestant theology. Understanding this will be key to what I write next.
How is the Evangelical to understand themselves?
- I am a sinner. I sin daily in word, thought, and deed.
- Even now, I deserve hell and punishment from God.
- The only difference between me and the worst of sinners is that I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. The blood of Jesus covers my sin.
- No matter what suffering and pain comes in my life, I should be grateful that I am saved and that I have escaped the eternal punishment of the Lake of Fire.
Most Evangelical pastors, especially the extreme Fundamentalists, spend a lot of time preaching about sin. They really can’t be faulted for doing this. As People of the Book, they must preach what is found in the Bible and the Bible spends a lot of time talking about sin.
In the Old Testament alone there is 635 laws. Then there is the New Testament with all the new laws Jesus, Paul, John and Peter added. Add to this the pastor or the church’s personal interpretation of the laws, commands, and precepts found in the Bible…….well there’s plenty of sin to preach about.
Needless to say there is a lot of guilt in Evangelical churches. For all their talk about grace, guilt permeates the Evangelical church. Despite being miraculously saved, the Evangelical still sins. No matter how often the pastor preaches on this or that sin they still sin. In fact, the Evangelical sins as much and as often as non-Evangelicals. Evangelicals commit sexual sin, get divorced, commit felony crimes, etc. at the same level as non-religious people do. In every way they are just as sinful as the next person.
But….they are not supposed to….the preacher thunders from the pulpit. How DARE they sin……look at what Jesus did for them! How dare they, who have been freed from sin, continue any longer therein?
God even gave the Evangelical a sin meter called the Holy Spirit. When temptation comes the sin meter starts saying, NO! NO! Don’t do this! Turn! Run! Leave! Stop!
Yet, even with Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, and a thundering Preacher, Evangelicals still sin like everyone else does. This ever-present reality results in a lifetime of guilt.
Altars are routinely lined with people “getting right with God.” Churches hold revival services so Church members can get their lives straightened out and return to walking the straight and narrow. Pastors spend hours each week counseling church members who find themselves ensnared by Satan, caught up in temptation and sin. Preachers themselves are routinely caught up in this or that sin. If the preacher can’t walk the talk how can anyone do so?
For all the talk about forgiveness and deliverance, sin is still the number one problem the Evangelical faces in their day to day life. No matter how much they pray and ask forgiveness, sin keeps returning, spoiling their attempt to live a Godly life.
A lifetime of this kind of living makes a people an emotional train wreck. Over time, they learn how to “hide” their sin. They learn the right things to say when asked about how things are in their lives. They learn how to play the “I am right with God” game. They, like most who have come before them, learn to have an outward façade that masks the reality of their life.
They know they are a fraud, a hypocrite, yet they dare not admit this to anyone. Little do they know that EVERYONE, including the pastor, is just like them.
Getting off the roller coaster is not easy. The emotional baggage weighs the person down. Isn’t their walking away the BIGGEST sin of them all? Doesn’t this prove they never were a real, bought-by-the-blood, sanctified follower of Jesus? The church, the pastor, and their Evangelical family will condemn them for leaving. Someone will surely quote the Bible, they went out from us because they were not of us. For if they were of us, they would have continued with us.” Leaving is PROOF they never were the real deal. No matter how many years they faithfully walked the straight and narrow…….their life was a fraud.
Once free……….an interesting thing happens. The guilt begins to recede. The emotions start to settle. For the first times in years they experience peace. It took leaving the Prince of Peace for them to experience peace.
Instead of a life dominated by a sin nature, they learn to live their life by doing good. They learn that many of the actions the Bible, the pastor, and the church called sin is not sin at all.
As time goes on their list of “sins” becomes smaller and smaller. Perhaps they learn that there isn’t really any such thing as sin. People do good and bad and should be judged, not by a moral standard found in an antiquated book, but by a basic humanistic, common morality. A morality that respects the private acts of consenting adults. A morality that recognizes that many of the acts of other human beings are none of their business.
They now have the freedom to live their life on their own terms, according to their own morality. People from their past warn them that they have made themselves their own God and that if they are not careful they will become a reprobate. The threatening’s no longer have the desired effect.
The preaching, Bible quoting, and condemnation falls on deaf ears. Freedom is sweet and like the Israelites of the Old Testament, having left Egypt on a journey to the Promised Land, they have no desire to return to the bondage of Evangelicalism.
Once free…….having experienced the peace that passeth all Evangelicalism…..they will never return……Like the old Southern Gospel song…….They have gone to far to turn back now!
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Bruce Gerencser spent 25 years pastoring Independent Fundamental Baptist, Southern Baptist, and Christian Union churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. Bruce attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. He is a writer and operates The Way Forward blog. Bruce lives in NW Ohio with his wife of 32 years. They have 6 children, and five grandchildren.
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