“And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.’ And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming.’ But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Rise and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he then said to the paralytic—‘Rise, pick up your bed and go home.’ And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.” (Matthew 9:1-8)
A couple years ago, I was struck by the comment of a pastor, who said most people today are not concerned about sin. Assuming the validity of his comment, this lack of concern has serious implications for what motivates people today to want to be Christians and join or remain in churches. It also could influence the content of worship and preaching. For example, if church growth and member retention are of paramount importance, will preachers deemphasize sin and God’s wrath to accommodate the interests and perceived needs of their members?
If I could ask a few follow up questions to this pastor, it would be these: Why would anyone in a post-Christendom America want to be a Christian, if not to rid oneself of sin and its temporal and eternal consequences? If one assumes that the Christian pursuit is an eternal relationship with Christ, can the foundation of such a relationship be built on anything other than Christ crucified for the forgiveness of our sins? If the church does away with sin, does it also do away with the Gospel as a consequence?
“Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”
When Jesus declares your sins forgiven, He says: “Take heart”. The KJV reads “be of good cheer”. The NASB reads “Take courage”. It is as though Jesus were to say: “I have cast all your sins into the depths of the sea (Mic 7:19). Since I no longer remember them, let them no longer burden your conscience.”
The forgiveness of sins consists of three indispensable parts: (1) sin; (2) forgiveness; and (3) proclamation.
There can be no forgiveness, no grace, and consequently no salvation – without sin. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (Matt 9:12) Without the knowledge of our sin, we are like the mass of mankind in the days of Noah: “For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark” (Matt 24:38).
Christians may read about humility in the Bible, may affirm its virtue, and may even attempt to become humble, but true humility is the work of God, worked in us through His word of Law which condemns our holiness, works, disobedience and arrogance as sin. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5)
Neither will the ignorance of sin excuse us before God: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)
Therefore, we must be and always remain sinners and fear the wrath of God on account of sin for as long as we live. We must not consider ourselves guilty of little infractions, but in truth of grievous, damnable sin. Because it is to real sinners that God pours out His grace, as Jesus said of the woman who anointed His feet: “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47)
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps 111:10)
After our sin is made known to us and justly condemns us, we will desire Christ and His medicine. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come from heaven and has been made man, has suffered and died for our sins. This is the cause, the means, and the treasure, through which we obtain the forgiveness of sin and for the sake of which the grace of God is bestowed upon us; for there is no other means of reconciliation between God and mankind.
All of us are born in sin and are the enemies of God. We have deserved eternal wrath and punishment. All that we are and have is condemned, and there is no help or way out of it. For sin is so grave that no man can quench it or appease it. Therefore, another Man must take our place, namely Jesus Christ, God and man, who through his suffering and death made satisfaction for our sins and paid for them. This is the price that was set and expended for us, by which sin has been quenched and the wrath of God appeased, the Father has been reconciled and made our friend.
Therefore, if we seize Christ as the One who has become our substitute, who has taken our sin upon himself, and who has given himself with all His righteousness for us, then no sin can harm us. Take heart: We are sinners, but our Christ is holy and is Lord over sin, death, Satan and hell, so that no sin can harm us, because in Christ “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col 1:14)
“And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” (Rom 10:14b)
There is only one Gospel – Christ crucified for the forgiveness of our sins, one Christian faith, and one Way to reconciliation between God and mankind, which we know because God has given us His God-breathed Scriptures (2 Tim 3:16). The proclamation of this Gospel must remain the principle mission of the Church and should be the form, rule and standard of all Christian preaching.
The reason for this is that God has ordained no other way to save sinful human beings other than through the proclamation of God’s two words of Law and Gospel. This proclamation has the power to apply the saving work of Christ’s atonement to the hearer by the power of the Holy Spirit who comes to us in the Word of God and gives us repentance and faith.
If people, including Christians, are no longer concerned about their sin, then the Gospel will no longer comfort or benefit them. In such a case, the answer is not less preaching of sin, by which the Gospel will be lost along with the sinners and the church, but churches and preachers should stand firm in the midst of secularism, humanism and post-Christendom and preach God’s words of Law and Gospel without compromise until the Lord returns. Amen.
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ ” (1 Cor 1:18-19) Amen.