I come from a church tradition marked by sin. We are sin-focused, and focused on managing behavior within that. We do not discuss “sin” in terms of status (are you “in guilt” or “in Christ”) or “sin” in terms of pollution (the effect of sin on the world), but mainly as a code or system of behavior. Sometimes those conversations and the language therein stumbles upon relational language – how we relate to each other is broken down by sin.
I am suggesting that the Gospel message is about a resolution of sin, in terms of behavior, sin, pollution, and otherwise, and it is also about several other very important narratives. The Gospel message is about hope, peace, love, joy, and our new identity and person in the Kingdom. It is a Kingdom message, a new reality, and on and on. The least of which, I argue, is the Gospel about the problem of sin.
God did not filter his solution through the problem. That gives the problem of sin too much power. As if the problem of sin had its grip on God, who had no other choice but to give sin what it demands. As if the problem of sin was equal in power to God’s love. As if sin itself was equal with God, and that goodness and evil are equal in our world.
What I am suggesting is, many healing professionals of all kinds have stumbled upon the language and truth expressed by such language that is already available in the Bible. Jesus’s “stop sinning” messages came after profound, public, relational healing events. Jesus’s labeling of “good” and “bad” was not a deconstruction only, but a restoration of the way things ought to be. He offered solutions.
What good does it say to an addict that their addiction is bad? Be honest. You can disagree with my rhetoric, and point out to some degree people may not recognize that their behavior is bad in some way. Has that worked for you in the past? Someone may have confronted you and pointed out how your words, actions, behaviors, or attitudes are not helpful. Personally, I have found that messages where someone points out a problem elicits resistance. People dig in and defend themselves. It is a natural reaction to any kind of conflict. Many times in the case of sin, these are not behaviors that exist in a vacuum, but they are means by which people cope with a confusing and fallen world.
I am suggesting that there is a well-developed way to invite people into solutions without even attacking the problem.
First, look at the life of Jesus. How many times did he start with the problem of sin in a person’s life? Other people started there, such as with the man born blind. He sometimes ended up there, at the very end of the conversation with the person, such as with the woman at the well. He did confront sin, it was just usually the 20th step, long after showing up in their world, in their town, in their space, after listening, after healing, after asking good questions, after demonstrating a life of love… then he pointed out what they were doing. “The man you are living with is not your husband…” is not an accusatory statement, it does not lay blame, it is just a matter of fact. And, it was information he received prophetically. He supernaturally knew this information, this was not an accountability group where this woman was checking in with everyone on her messed up sex life. What about this is repeatable for you? If you receive prophetic information, a word of knowledge from God about a problem in someone’s life, maybe, and only maybe, would you be welcome to share it.
Does it take a genius to point out problems in the world? No! Of course not. Pastors who find creative new ways to lament the sin of this world are taking the easy way. I give them the benefit of the doubt, they don’t know how to find solutions to sin, or many ministers are just tired. Tired of telling people to stop smoking and drinking so much, tired of hearing young people’s porn addictions and unfaithfulness, tired of walking people through divorce. Look at all the problems… yes, there are so, so many problems. What do we do about it?
It takes a giant of the faith to point people closer to God. This is the solution. When pointing out people’s sin makes them feel further from God, you have failed in sharing the Gospel. Pointing out problems, when it is done, ought to be with the design of drawing people closer into the community of faith and to God himself. This is how Jesus did it.
This word from God to the woman at the well was the 20th step (maybe, if we are to go very literal, we could count up the actual steps Jesus took to get there in the conversation with the woman on the well, and we would find that it was the 2000th step) on the way to many more steps. Look at what she did with this talk about her problems. What else could she do but be restored to God? And then to her community. Praise God!
From “1001 solution-focused questions,” which is a wonderful book by Fredrike Bannink, I give you a sampling of questions from a secular text. I believe this is how we could point fellow believers closer to God:
- What are your best hopes?
- How has your hope influenced your decisions recently?
- How would (more) hope help you reach your goal?
- What has helped you pull through up to now?
For churches, I imagine that it would follow the same for individuals and communities both. What is working well for you, for us as a community? What do we want to do more of? What are our best hopes as individuals and as a community? What do we have in common, what unites us? What has kept us together up to this point? Where have you seen God’s justice lately? Where have you seen God’s hope? (and love, and joy, and peace… )
From a spiritual standpoint, ask yourself this. Where have you seen God show up lately? What have you seen Father doing in your life? How has God healed you recently, and in the past? Name any miracle, supernatural event, good feeling, good thought, sign, or anything else, name anything for which you can give God credit and glory. Tell your people about the glories of God. It will change you, because this focus on God (who is the solution) will change the way you think about God.