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Sin is only depressing for those who have no hope. We have faith because of Jesus. And being in Christ positions us for a better perspective about the darker side of our lives while giving us more ability to overcome the disappointing truths about our depravity (1 Corinthians 15:19-20; Romans 8:37).
Let’s self-assess: Read the following sentence and tell me where you usually put the accent mark:
You have sinned, and you need restoration.
You have two choices. You can place the accent mark on the fact of a person’s sin, or you can set the mark on the truth of the gospel’s restorative powers.
Where you place the accent mark in your relationships will tell you a lot about how you think about those relationships, as well as how you believe about the gospel. If you usually place the accent on a person’s sin rather than the restorative power of the gospel, you need a gospel reorientation of the mind.
In this chapter, I am going to give you three potential conditions of a person’s heart that fuels the motivation to place the accent mark on the sin committed rather than on the power and the hope found in the gospel.
To be surprised, astonished, or amazed when a person sins is an insufficient understanding of the gospel. Way back in the garden of Eden a man and woman chose to sin (Genesis 3:7).
Their decision to not believe God, choosing to trust Satan, became a big problem for us because they were the people who produced us. A clean thing cannot come out of an unclean thing (Job 14:4), which means sin spread to all of us. See Romans 5:12, 3:10-12, 3:23.
The universality of sin does not allow anyone to escape from committing it. And it does not matter who you are. A preacher or a peasant, for all have sinned. Christian or non-Christian, we all have a common problem (1 John 1:7-10).
The last thing that should happen to us when we hear about a person sinning is shock. To place the accent mark on their sin, rather than being ready to restore them, is woefully inadequate in any relationship.
Personally, I would not want to surround myself with people who are surprised at my ongoing battles with sin. I don’t need their astonishment; I need their help. Each time I have started a small group, I have told the members of those groups that I will sin against every person in the group.
Sadly, I have kept my word.
Another way a person places the accent mark on sin, rather than on the restorative efforts the sinning person needs, is by choosing anger as a response to someone’s mistakes. This reaction to another’s failure does not help, and, to be honest, it does not make sense.
If you’re mad with me because I sin, I would assume your anger is because you don’t want me to sin, but if you don’t want me to sin, may I give you a tip: getting angry with me does not help. It’s an illogical approach to soul restoration.
The person who chooses sinful anger as a response to someone’s sin is sabotaging the redemptive process of change. If this is happening, it would be wise to explore what is going on in the heart of the sinfully angry responder (James 4:3).
The angry person is more interested in themselves than the person who has fallen in the great cosmic battle that engages all of us. Rather than mobilizing all their energy and resources to pick up the fallen Christian, the angry person stands over the fallen while berating them for falling.
It’s like approaching a car accident, getting out of your vehicle, and yelling at the people who are strewn all over the highway. This reaction is not a wise move, but when it is the move, there is a definite disconnect in the mind of the first-responder–the person who should be mobilizing to be redemptive rather than antagonistic.
You who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. – Galatians 6:1
The sin of others is our call to restore, which is what Paul told us to do in Galatians 6:1. He says that restoration efforts are for those who are spiritual. The implication is that if a person is more angry at the sin committed than engaged in the redemptive efforts needed to restore, there is something wrong with their spirituality.
It could be the person is not a Christian, thus they are not spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:14). Without the Spirit of God illuminating their minds regarding redemptive opportunities, they will never be able to see opportunities that are perceived spiritually.
If the person is a Christian but is still more focused on the sin committed rather than the redemptive needs of the person who sinned, there is a functional idol that someone needs to dig out of the responder’s heart.
There is something the angry person wants that is more important to them than what the sinning person needs. The most common place where you’ll find this kind of “false worship” is within family constructs.
Typically, it is when a family member’s sin is interfering with what the angry person wants. Their idol is being neglected, which is the cause of their anger (James 4:1-3).
The Anger Spectrum
A common form of anger is condemnation. I have pulled this word out of the anger basket to highlight it because it is one of the more accessible manifestations of anger to grab to beat up a fallen Christian. Anger, as used in the previous section, says,
What you’re doing is keeping me from getting my idol stroked, so I’m going to let you have it.
I am better than you are, and my criticalness is one of the ways that I can remind you how I am better than you are.
While anger and condemnation flow out of the same self-righteous heart, they have different objectives.
Anger Is Manipulation – “It is a way to get the person to change so I can get what I want rather than helping the person change because they need restoration.”
Condemnation Is Flaunted Arrogance – “Whenever I critique a person, I’m saying I’m better than they are.”
There could be a few reasons for this kind of critical, condemning spirit. Here are two of the more common ones:
I believe I’m better than you are, so it is natural for me to remind you of your failures critically. This is who I am—a self-righteous, arrogant person.
I want to feel better about myself, and one of the ways I can feed my pride is by letting you know how awful you are.
Either way, a person’s failure is a self-righteous person’s opportunity to mobilize by highlighting what the person did wrong. Within this schema, a person’s sin becomes the fodder to feed the wicked heart of the self-righteous idolater.
A person who understands the gospel may be disappointed by the sin of others, but those sins do not control them. There is no surprise in the heart of the gospel-centered person who experiences people’s sin.
They expect fallen people to fall, though they do not uncharitably judge them and are not cynical or suspicious regarding them. They are true biblicists. They know Adam fell, and we all fell with him. They have experienced the profundity of the gospel and are being transformed by its power.
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. – 2 Timothy 2:3
Like a steadied soldier, they are vigilant and ready for the call to action. When the flaming darts of the evil one pierces and fells a comrade (Ephesians 6:16), the gospelized man or woman girds up their loins and enlists in the battle.
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded. – 1 Peter 1:13
They are ready, willing, and able to set aside whatever they hoped for, while seeking the greater good of a friend in need. This “setting aside” what you want for the good of others is at the heart of the gospel. It’s the mind God wants us to have (Philippians 2:3-6).
The gospel person places the accent mark on restoration because spiritual people are empowered to do this, which is why Christians have the advantage over our culture. We have an answer. We’re not stuck on sin; we have already moved forward toward redemptive solutions. Only the gospel can give us this kind of access and power.
It is crucial that we give people broad borders to be who they are. To trim grace down to what you want, expect, demand, or what you think you deserve will circumvent your role in what the gospel can do through you for others.
There is no sinner or sin outside of God’s ability to redeem. We must not restrict it by expecting people not to sin. Give them room to wobble. Give them space to be who they are.
If you don’t, you may tempt them to seek other means to meet your unreasonable expectations. For example, if your standard response to a person’s sin is surprise, anger, or condemnation, you will tempt them to lie.
If I responded to my children in any of the ways above, I would be training them to guard themselves against letting me know about their failures. Why would they want to tell me the truth if all they are going to get from me is a verbal assault? Who wants someone yelling at them?
Sinning in response to sin is the quickest way to disqualify yourself from being on God’s restoration team. The “poor sin-responder” will not get the call from the sinning person the next time they make a mistake.
If they have sinned, they certainly don’t need your sin on top of their sin. Shall I state the obvious here? It does not help. The gospel gives us more intelligence than this.
With that said, the truth is that I will sin and so will you. We must move past the ever-present reality of personal failure, and think more about how to be ready when the inevitable happens. If you don’t do that, you will not be able to help the person you want to stop sinning.
There is something intellectually dishonest about a person who says they want their friend to stop sinning but does not manifest the grace to help them to cease from sinning.
Intellectually dishonest is a fanciful way of saying there is some wickedness operating in the heart of the person who claims Christ but does not act like Christ to others. To not be willing to show a similar kind of mercy that God has revealed to you is missing the mark of the gospel (Matthew 18:33), by a mile.
Back to my self-assessment question. If you’re more apt to place the accent mark on the sin rather than the gospel, please take a look at the following questions as a helpful way to examine why you aren’t doing this. And I appeal to you to get some help. Stop shooting yourself in the foot, as well as the foot of those you should be restoring.