Over and over again in my conversations and counselling I see that so many of people’s problems come down to a right belief in the gospel. On certain points they are unable to see and believe the truth of God’s word. They have come to exchange that truth for a lie that distorts the gospel and damages their spiritual health. There are many ways the gospel can be distorted or denied, but here are two common and related lies that people fall prey to:
I’m Not Really Sinful
People love to say “I know I’m not perfect. I make mistakes.” Good they clarified. But even in that so humble of a clarification, they are suggesting that even if they are not perfect, they are close. Their greatest fault is some mistakes are occasionally made.
Our problem is not the occasional mistake, but sin against a holy God. Many people are unwilling to admit this, or give it much more than lip service. They may acknowledge with their lips that they are sinful, but they do not feel it in their heart. The lie that they believe in their soul is that they aren’t really sinful. Their sin is not sin, but simply their choices, their mistakes, their personality. The man indulging in pornography is not in sin, but is a victim of his unmet desires. The fighting couple are both innocent victims of their stubborn angry spouse. The selfish and greedy are simply enjoying what they deserve and have earned.
John urges us “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I John 1.8) and “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (I John 1.10). We cannot continue with this posture of innocence which is self-deceptive and accusatory against God. This claim to innocence is destructive.
As pastors we need to be helping people to see their sin as sin. We need them to feel the weight of their wrongdoing, to feel conviction. As long as they live in the delusion of their goodness they will not be able to repent and find grace. As long as they maintain their victim mentality, they will never address their own sinful heart.
I’m Not Really Forgiven
Once an individual does come to realize the sinfulness of their sin, many fall prey to this second lie: I’m not really forgiven. Feeling the full weight of their sinfulness, they are unable to believe the truth of God’s forgiveness. They may acknowledge that God forgives, but their heart is unable to really grab hold of that and come to believe the full truth of the gospel. Knowing that their abortion was wrong, they are unable to live free from the guilt of what they have done. Feeling the defilement and ugliness of their pornography and lust they are unable to accept the promises of God.
But sandwiched between John’s warnings about self-deception comes this beautiful promise: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1.9). Those who have felt the weight of their own sin will often struggle to receive the truth of God’s forgiveness. How can they really be called clean? Are they really, fully forgiven?
As pastors we need to help our people to really see and believe that if they are repentant, they are forgiven and cleansed by God. They are whole and new and clean and beautiful, not because of their moral record, but because of the death of Christ in their place.
We distort the gospel when we deny or downplay our own sin. We distort the gospel when we deny or downplay God’s forgiveness. As pastors we need to fight off these two lies and help our people to see the truth of who they are in Christ.