Continually Sharpening

A theological blog by Janelle Zeeb

Christianity is Not A Feel-Good Religion

There was a news article I read recently that has made me quite concerned for the future of Christianity and free speech in Canada.

In this article, two people were complaining that some teachings of Christianity regarding sin make people feel bad about themselves. They say that being told they are sinning made them feel shame, embarrassment, and even fear. Therefore, they say, such preaching and teaching about sin in church or in Christian schools should be a crime.

The exact quote from the article was "It should be a crime to preach against [a particular sin] in a church. It should be a crime to teach against [a particular sin] in a school." (with the particular sin redacted).

I will not provide a link to the article, because the exact issue it was discussing is not my main concern, and I don't want to offer it as a distraction from my argument here. What is my concern is the claim that Christians should never preach or teach anything that makes anyone feel bad about themselves. And I am especially concerned by the idea that such preaching or teaching should be illegal.

Unfortunately, while some might say that Christianity can adapt by being less negative about some sins or even by accepting certain sins, these people who suggest this are missing the entire point of Christianity, which is: Christianity is not meant to make you feel good about yourself!

In fact, preaching the true Christian gospel must include preaching about sin, which is actually meant to make us feel bad about ourselves, at least temporarily. And we should rightly feel bad about our sin.

But, despite this, Christianity does actually lead to true happiness, joy, peace, and love. Therefore, actually, if you do really want to feel truly good for eternity, then it's worth hearing the uncomfortable or unpleasant things that Christianity says about sin and about ourselves as sinners.

For if we stop preaching about sin, then true Christianity and the true gospel ceases to exist. If preaching or teaching about sin becomes illegal, then true Christianity also becomes illegal.

You Can't Have True Christianity Without Preaching About Sin

Those who say that Christians should never make people feel bad about themselves seem to have missed the entire point of Christianity.

Anyone who has heard the gospel should understand that Christians believe there is a problem with humanity. That problem is called sin. People have rebelled against God's desires for their lives, and have set ourselves up as our own judges of right and wrong. We think we can live in whatever way we want to, or that, if something makes us feel good temporarily, that it is good for us.

Then, when God says that certain things are sins and should not be done, we think God is just being mean, judgmental, and trying to deprive us of our fun. In fact, there's a funny saying that Puritanism (one of the 'strictest' versions of Christianity which was concerned about holy living), is "the fear that somewhere, somehow, someone is having fun."

People say that if God would just 'lighten up' a little about sin, then they might consider coming to church or becoming Christians. They say that sin is an imaginary problem that God invented, and if God would just get over His whole irrational sin issue, then God would be a much nicer guy. They ask why Christianity can't just preach "feel-good" doctrines like God's love and acceptance of all people, regardless of how we behave?

But the problem is that sin is a core doctrine of Christianity. Sin is the reason Jesus had to come die on the cross. Sin is the reason why people need to believe in Jesus as their savior in order to have eternal life, and avoid eternal death. Sin is why the gospel (the "good news") is summed up in John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

If Christianity stops talking about sin, then Christianity ceases to exist. The gospel makes no sense without teaching or preaching about sin. Jesus' death on the cross, the centerpiece of Christianity, becomes pointless, useless, and nonsensical.

But yes, being told that you are a sinner who deserves God's judgment is not a pleasant experience. Being told that we are doing something that makes God unhappy, or even angry, should lead to feelings of shame, embarrassment, and fear! If it doesn't, then there's something wrong with our consciences.

While the Bible says that God loves everyone, it never says that God loves our sinful behavior. Instead, our sins make God sad and angry, even though God still loves us. Let's learn why that is.

Sin Is Opposed To True Human Happiness and Well-Being

When people say that God should just get over His problem with sin, they show a fundamental misunderstanding of what sin is, and why it's a problem.

Sin is a problem because sin is inherently opposed to true human happiness and flourishing. The reason God forbids some things is not because they are enjoyable or good for us, but precisely because they are bad for us! No matter how 'good' a sin might appear on the surface, or how much brief pleasure it might bring, ultimately, all sin leads to suffering and death.

As James writes, "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death." (James 1:14-15)

So just because we might desire something doesn't mean it's always good for us. In fact, we wouldn't choose to sin unless we thought it was attractive or good for us! No one wants something which they think is disgusting or harmful. That's why sin always appears on the surface to be a good attractive thing.

But God, as the designer of humanity, knows that certain behaviors are ultimately harmful to humans as individuals, or harmful to human interpersonal relationships, or harmful to human society as a whole. This is why God forbids these things.

For example, let's imagine an engineer creates a little robot with artificial intelligence and free will, and then explains to the robot "Ok, I've made you this way, and this is what you're meant for. You're going to be happy and feel good if you operate according to this instruction manual I'm going to give you. But, watch out for these certain things because they are not compatible with your systems. If you go into water, you're going to short circuit. If you plug into the wrong socket, you're going to blow out your electrical system. If you don't tighten your screws regularly, your arm or leg might eventually fall off. And remember to charge yourself daily."

Now, let's imagine the robot says to its creator "No, I'm not going to follow your instruction manual! You're just trying to control me and keep me from having fun! Who are you to tell me what is good for me? I'm smarter than you are. I'm going swimming... WEEEEE!"

Yeah, and we know what happens next.

That's essentially what humanity does whenever we rebel against God's instructions for our lives. It might feel fun or good temporarily, but ultimately it's going to hurt us. But unfortunately, when we sin we don't just hurt ourselves - we also hurt others, and hurt our society as a whole.

The problem is that—unlike the immediate destructive effect of a robot jumping into water—these negative effects of sin can take a while to appear. So people see only the immediate pleasures of sin and forget that it is actually harmful until negative consequences of it eventually pop up in their lives or in society as a whole.

So Why DOES God Hate Sin So Much?

Sin makes God sad because God knows what he has designed humanity for, and this can be summarized as living in loving relationships with God and with all others. We find our ultimate happiness and true fulfillment when we do these two things.

So any sin is ultimately a violation of one of these three things: loving God, loving others, or (truly) loving ourselves.

After all, Jesus said: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 22:37-40).

Or as Paul says, "For the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,' and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." (Rom. 13:9-10).

So every commandment of God, in some way or another, was meant (or is meant) for the good and flourishing of humans and human society.

Yes, some commands in the Old Testament no longer apply to Christians today, such as the ceremonial sacrifices or the purity and food laws. But back then these laws were important given the ancient Israelite culture, the surrounding cultures, and the limited knowledge of health and hygiene that people had. The ceremonial laws taught how God wanted people to relate to Him, to teach them about sin and foreshadow what Christ would do for us. Now that Jesus has come, those laws no longer apply.

So, for example, Christians no longer have to keep the Sabbath (Ex. 20:8), because technically, the Sabbath is Saturday. Even though the principle that we should have at least one day off per week to rest, relax, and worship God is still a good idea for human well-being.

But there are still some things that we know God does not want people to do because these are repeated in the New Testament, mostly involving our ethical behavior. For example, see some lists of sins in Mark 7:21-22, Galatians 5:19-21, Romans 1:28-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Timothy 1:9-10, and Revelation 21:8.

And even having a sinful thought counts as a sin (Matt. 5:27-28).

So yes, if you read those verses, you'll probably feel convicted of at least one sin, if not more than one sin. You might even feel bad about that. That's good!

Now comes the good news. After the 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 list of sins, Paul writes that if you believe in Jesus as your savior, then: "And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified [i.e. made holy], you were justified [i.e. counted as righteous or sinless] in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Cor. 6:11, brackets mine for clarity on technical terms).

Jesus takes our sin and gives us His righteousness/sinlessness, for God "made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Cor. 5:21).

That's why the gospel is good news, even though it begins with some bad news. All people are sinners and deserve God's judgment (Rom. 3:23). But, we can be entirely forgiven because of Jesus' death on the cross for our sins.

When we believe that Jesus died for us so that God can forgive us, then:

  • your sins are taken away from you as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12)
  • your sins which previously were a red stain have been washed as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18)
  • you are now clothed with Christ's righteousness (Isaiah 61:10), which is a good thing, because God expects us to be perfect (Matt. 5:48, Matt. 5:20), and no one has ever been perfect except Jesus
  • you are now a new creation, your old sinful self is considered dead and gone as far as God is concerned (2 Cor. 5:17), even though we are still stuck with our old sinful selves to some extent in this life (Rom. 7:14-25).

Therefore, only people who do not have their sins forgiven on the basis of Christ's death will be punished for their sin.

But Why Does God Have to Punish Sin?

So why does God have to punish sin with death? Isn't that a bit extreme? Yes, God might get angry or sad at sin, but can't He just get over it?

Let's look at this from the angle of parent-child relationships. To most parents, their child is the most precious thing in the universe, which they love so much that they would be willing to die to protect their child. Parents generally want their children to grow up well and learn what they need to in order to have fulfilling, happy, pain-free lives.

Now, let's say someone comes along and hurts their child. A parent is usually going to be absolutely furious at the individual who hurts their child, and will probably wish to inflict equal if not greater suffering upon the perpetrator. If the parent does not become angry when their child is hurt, then that's probably a sign that they do not truly love their child.

Parents also hate it when their child does things to hurt themselves. For example, when teenagers start drinking alcohol, doing drugs, or participating in risky behaviors, loving parents are going to be concerned, and loving parents will get angry with their teenager if the teenager hurts themselves through these activities. Not because the parents hate their teenager, but because they love their teenager!

And God loves all people even more than parents love their children!

So when we hurt one another, God becomes passionately angry on behalf of the victim, wanting justice to be done and the perpetrator to be punished. When we hurt ourselves, God is angry with us, while simultaneously loving us. And I believe that all sin will eventually hurt someone else besides just the individual sinner, and all sin hurts our relationship with God, which is the very reason why God created us in the first place!

God is perfectly good and holy. Therefore, God simply cannot tolerate evil of any sort, no matter how small or inconsequential it might seem to us. He can't just pretend it didn't happen, or overlook it. He must punish it and destroy it, and if He did not, then God would be partly evil Himself. Like a judge who just lets a criminal go without punishment, even though the criminal has hurt the victim and the victim's family, and even though the criminal is probably going to go right back out and do more things that hurt others.

It would actually be terrifying if a God who can tolerate sin or evil was in control of the universe, and so, it's a good thing that God cannot tolerate evil—not even one tiny bit; not even a haughty or prideful look (Prov. 6:16-17). Despite all the emphasis on tolerance in our culture today, Christians can say that God is actually an intolerant God, and this intolerance of sin is what makes God fully holy, righteous, trustworthy, and beautiful.

But, God also loves humanity. Therefore, God faced a conundrum. How can God satisfy God's perfect justice which His love for the victims of evil compels Him to achieve, while upholding God's love for the sinner who perpetrated the evil? How can God punish sin without destroying sinners?

That's why God sent Jesus, who was God's eternal Son, one of the three Persons within God, to live a sinless human life. All sin deserves the penalty of death (Romans 6:23), because God is Life and Goodness which means He cannot allow sin or evil to exist.

Then, because Jesus lived a perfect, sinless human life, God could transfer our sins to Jesus so that Jesus could experience all the punishment that our sins deserve on our behalf. But God wasn't just punishing some innocent guy. Jesus, because He was fully human and fully God, was totally on-board with this plan, and did it out of His love for all the rest of humanity! So on the cross, God is actually absorbing His own wrath and anger at our sin, enabling forgiveness for us while satisfying God's holy and good need for justice.1

Now, if there were no sin, there is no reason for Jesus to die, and no reason for God to punish anyone with death, and thus, no need for a savior. And thus, no need for Christianity.

So Christians simply cannot stop preaching or teaching about sin. If someone were to make a law saying Christians can't talk about sin because it makes some people feel bad, then that law would essentially be making Christianity itself illegal.

Satan's Tactics To Persecute and Destroy Christianity

In fact, I think this idea that preaching about sin should be illegal because it makes people feel bad about themselves comes straight from Satan himself.

Satan was a high-ranking angel who decided that he would rather be worshipped instead of worshipping God (Ezek. 28:12-19). This pride led him to lead a revolt against God, which inspired a third of the angels also to rebel against God (Rev. 12:4, 7-9). Satan hates God and hates everything that God stands for, such as life, goodness, justice, and love. (And yes, I do believe Satan is a real being, and demons are real spirits, and thus, spiritual warfare is very real, even if we don't see it because it happens on the spiritual side of reality.)

Therefore, Satan also hates what God loves, which is humanity, who are made in God's image (Gen. 1:27) and who are made to love God and enjoy God forever. But unlike God, we are not invulnerable or omnipotent. And so just like the villains in superhero movies, if the superhero is invincible, the villain goes after what the superhero loves most — family, friends, or a significant other — because by hurting or killing a person that the superhero loves, they are inflicting pain on the superhero.

So Satan, to hurt God, tempted Adam and Eve to sin (Gen. 3:1-5), knowing that it would lead to all the rest of humanity being born with a tendency to sin, in a state of separation from God, and under threat of eternal destruction unless we accept God's offer of salvation through Christ. Since Satan knows that God loves people, Satan tries to convince people to do harmful, hurtful things to themselves, to one another, and ultimately, to end up being eternally destroyed because people reject God's love and God's purpose for themselves.

Therefore, Satan wants as many people to be eternally destroyed as possible. To do so, Satan must attack Christianity to keep Christians from preaching to people about how to be saved through faith in Jesus. Before Christians existed, Satan would attack Israel and the Jews, because they were preaching essentially the same message to the world as Christianity does. (Christianity is just an apocalyptic, messianic sect of Judaism, as one of my professors liked to say.)

Today it seems that the way Satan is attacking and attempting to destroy Christianity in Western countries is not by outright violent persecution like in other countries, where Christians are frequently killed for their faith.

Instead, Satan turns the Christian values which have become a core part of Western civilization against Christianity itself. It's ingenious, really. And the accusation made by the people in the news article I referred to is part of that plan, whether these people know it or not.

The Bible describes God as love (1 John 4:7-8), and God commands Christians to love others, as we have seen.

So then, Satan turns the Christian value of love for others against Christians themselves! Satan says it is 'unloving' to make anyone feel bad about themselves. It is 'unloving' to tell someone that they should not do what they want to do, even if God says that thing is going to hurt themselves and others. Therefore, to be 'loving', Christians should just tolerate all sorts of evil and sin.

The problem is, that then, out of 'love', Christians give in to this idea. They say, well, if the sin doesn't seem to be hurting anyone else, then why not let people do what they want to do?

But then, more and more people start acting in sinful ways. As these people grow in number, they start making demands. Now, their sin being tolerated by society is not good enough. Now they want their sin to be publicly acceptable so that they are not looked down on by anyone else, or insulted, or excluded by anyone because of their sin.

Then Christians, again, out of 'love', say yes, well, we should love these people, and should not look down on them or exclude them or deny them 'rights' to practice their sins in whatever way these people want to do. So the sinners become even more bold, and start expecting society to outright recognize, enable and even celebrate their sin.

But then, when most Christians refuse to go that far and appeal to freedom of speech and freedom of religion as our defense, then the final step is to claim that even speaking negatively about sin should be a crime. They say, it's 'unloving' to make people feel bad about themselves and their sin by saying that God dislikes what they do. They accuse Christians, who are attempting to love others as God loves us, of being 'unloving', 'intolerant', and even 'hateful' for not agreeing with them that their sin is not really sin at all.

Then, they appeal to government to try to make Christian preaching about sin illegal, knowing that by doing so, they are essentially making Christianity itself illegal. They know that Christians do not want to be thought of as 'unloving', and so, by accusing anyone who might stand up against such a proposed law as 'hateful', most Christians will want to be quiet to not be labelled in such a negative way.

There were Christian movies made back in the 1990s which predicted that in the end-times Christians will be called "Haters", and that it will be the law that people must report "Haters" to the anti-Christian government. Back in the '90s this idea seemed bizarre. How could anyone label Christians, who preach about God's amazing love for us, and who attempt to love all other people as "Haters"?

But now, it seems that is indeed the way of the future. Very soon, it seems that when any Christians stand up against sin we will be called "Haters", and potentially fined or jailed.

Thus, we can see the subtle, Satanic progression from tolerance of sin to oppression of Christians who stand for righteousness and the gospel.

And although it might seem I'm writing this article with one particular sin in mind, I believe the same pattern would hold for any other sin.

It is just unfortunate that in our culture a particular sin takes pride in boasting about its 'loving' ways, and claims that by opposing 'love', Christians are being especially "hateful" and "intolerant".

Never mind that those who endorse said sin are not being particularly loving or tolerant towards Christians when they call us names or attempt to take away our freedom of speech or freedom of religion under the guise of 'hate speech' and 'making people feel bad about themselves'!

Christianity Is Inherentely 'Offensive'

But Christianity IS an offensive idea. If society wants to ban all ideas that are 'offensive', then Christianity will be targeted for sure.

Christianity is offensive to non-Christians because humans are inherently prideful. We don't like the idea that there could be something wrong with us, or that we might do things that are not good or that deserve God's punishment or wrath. We prefer to blame anyone else for our mistake rather than admit that we did something wrong.

So people generally do not like how Christians go around preaching that people are not perfect just the way they are. They don't like it when we say that God is unhappy about some things that people like to do, and that those things are not good for individuals or society and should not be allowed.

Jesus warned that some would find Him offensive (Matt. 11:6, Luke 7:23). He offended the religious leaders of His day (Matt. 15:12) by saying that they had misplaced their priorities and were really just religious hypocrites who wanted to look good to the rest of society, but did not actually love God or love others. They hated Him so much that they conspired to have him killed.

And so Jesus warned that if the sinful, prideful, self-loving world hated Him, then it will also hate Christians (John 15:18-23). In fact, we should expect this, and it should not surprise us (1 John 3:13), and it is fulfilling Jesus' prophecies about the approaching end-times (Matt. 24:9-10).

If Christians found ourselves being congratulated and loved by the world, it probably means we've compromised the gospel in one way or another. Instead, we are actually blessed when the world hates us (Luke 6:22)! Being hated for being Christians actually shows us that we're right on target. As the military saying goes: "If you're taking flak, you're over the target", meaning that, if we are encountering resistance, it's because we are correctly pointing out the problem.

Even though such hatred by the world is ultimately irrational, for by rejecting God's purpose for their lives, they are rejecting the only true source of happiness and joy and peace, as well as eternal life. Rejecting God for the sake of personal pleasure is about as smart as bashing one's head into a brick wall in order to feel good.

But The Gospel Is Greater Than The 'Offense' of Sin

So even though Christianity preaches about sin, it also preaches a much greater message, which is that God does not leave us in our sin.

God loves us so much that rather than destroy us, He came down to suffer death in our place, so that we can have eternal life in a perfect society, leading to perfect happiness, and total freedom from evil or sin.

By knowing that God loves us and forgives our sin, and that we are guaranteed to have eternal life from believing in Jesus as our savior, Christians can find true happiness, true peace, and true joy. But, we can't have these things without recognizing our sin as sinful.

Christianity also teaches us that God loves us even though we are sinners. Christians are still sinners too, and we all are born with temptations to sin in various ways that seem 'natural' to us. So Christians do not "hate" sinners. We all are still sinners, and will be until we are finally perfected in heaven!

So Christians love sinners just as much as God does, who was willing to come die for sinners (1 John 4:10)! Therefore, it is not out of "hate" for anyone that Christians preach against sin.

It is because we love people, and want them to see that sin is only going to lead to suffering and death, and that they need God's forgiveness so that they can have true happiness in heaven, forever and ever. This applies to all types of sin, not just whatever is currently the hot-topic sin of the day.

Conclusion

As Christians, let's not give in to those who want Christians to just roll over and shut up about sin. If we do, then the gospel disappears, because the gospel is only good news precisely because of sin!

If we give up preaching about sin and the need for a savior because we are sinners, then all that is left are 'feel-good' sermons: "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Self-esteem, self-affirmation, sinful self-love at the expense of others, and tolerance of evil and sin are not a part of the Christian gospel.

But the gospel offers something far greater than feeling good about ourselves:

  • It offers knowledge of God's love for us, which is so great that God would rather suffer and die than have us suffer and die.
  • It offers the peace of knowing that we can be accepted by God because Christ has absorbed God's wrath at our sin, so that we can be forgiven and look forward to a wonderful eternity in heaven, in a society of perfect love with all other perfected people, angels and the Triune God of perfect holiness, where we will be truly eternally happy and free of all sin and evil and the suffering these things bring.
  • It offers the love we gain through having a personal loving relationship with God who will never leave us or forsake us, so that we will never be alone or unloved ever again.

If you get rid of sin, you get rid of all of this. We can't have all the good of the gospel without the 'bad news' of sin.

Therefore, please, let us all stand up against attacks on the Christian faith by those who want to wallow in their sin and don't want to hear any warnings of what their sin leads to.

Let's stand up for true tolerance by upholding freedom of speech, even offensive speech if necessary, because the gospel is an offensive thing that people don't like to hear, even though it is for our own good.

For if we don't stand up for the right of Christians to preach about sin, then we might very well be facing the criminalization of true Christianity in the near future in Western countries.

Footnotes:

  • 1. Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2008), 194-195.

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