Most Sinners Are Very Nice People

The Contemplative Pastor
Eugene Peterson

The word sinner is a theological designation.  It is essential to insist on this.  It is not a moralistic judgment.  It is not a word that places humans somewhere along a continuum ranging from angel to ape, assessing them as relatively “good” or “bad.”  It designates humans in relation to God and sees them separated from God.  Sinner means something is awry between humans and God.  In that state people may be wicked, unhappy, anxious, and poor.  Or, they may be virtuous, happy, and affluent.  Those items are not part of the judgment.  The theological fact is that humans are not close to God and are not serving God.

To see a person as sinner, then, is not to see him or her as hypocritical, disgusting, or evil.  Most sinners are very nice people.  To call a man a sinner is not a blast at his manners or his morals.  It is a theological belief that the thing that matters most to him is forgiveness and grace…

An understanding of people as sinners enables a pastoral ministry to function without anger.  Accumulated resentment (a constant threat to pastors) is dissolved when unreal – that is, untheological – presuppositions are abandoned.  If people are sinners then pastors can concentrate on talking about God’s action in Jesus Christ instead of sitting around lamenting how bad the people are.  We already know they can’t make it.  We already have accepted their depravity.  We didn’t engage to be pastor to relax in their care or entrust ourselves to their saintly ways…

The happy result of a theological understanding of people as sinners is that the pastor is saved from continual surprise that they are in fact sinners….

Simply to be against sin is a poor basis for pastoral ministry.  But to see people as sinners – as rebels against God, missers of the mark, wanderers from the way – that establishes a basis for pastoral ministry that can proceed with great joy because it is announcing God’s great action in Jesus Christ “for sinners.”

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No One in Charge

The God Who is There Leader’s Guide
D.A. Carson

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

– Psalm 14:1a

A little over a year ago the British Humanist Association ran ads on London buses reading, “There’s probably no God.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”  It is fascinating that the Association felt it wise to insert “probably”; if the person who says there is no God is a fool, I suppose this slogan represents cautious folly.  But why the British Humanist Association thinks that the nonexistence of God should reduce worry is more than a little puzzling.  If there is no God, it is hard to see how there is transcendent meaning.  Worse, no one is in charge, so there is no assurance that justice will be served at the end; there is no one to look after me, no one I can trust.

Less Awesome

The Contemplative Pastor
Eugene Peterson

Prayer is not a work that pastors are often asked to do except in ceremonial ways.  Most pastoral work actually erodes prayer.  The reason is obvious: people are not comfortable with God in their lives.  They prefer something less awesome and more informal.  Something, in fact, like a pastor.  Reassuring, accessible, easygoing.  People would rather talk to the pastor than to God.  And so it happens that without anyone actually intending it, prayer is pushed to the sidelines.

Defining a Miracle

The God Who is There Leader’s Guide
D.A. Carson

In the controlled universe of Christian theism, God remains sovereignly in control of everything, but he operates in an ordered way and often through many secondary causes.  Biblical writers know of the water cycle, but they are happy to say that God sends the rain; Jesus knows birds can fall dead from old age, starvation, and disease, but he insists that not a sparrow falls from the heavens apart from his heavenly Father’s sanction.  The orderliness of God’s activity is, from a Christian’s perspective, what makes science possible: the discovery of how things work in the natural/material world is nothing other than the uncovering of how God normally does things in this physical world.  But that does not prevent him, should he choose to do so, from doing something in an entirely extraordinary way – like raising Jesus from the dead.  And that is one way of defining a miracle.

We Have Run

The Cross and Christian Ministry
D.A. Carson

[14] The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

– 1 Corinthians 2:14

 

It is not that God makes us constitutionally unable to understand him, and then toys with us for his own amusement.  Rather, he has made us for himself, but we have run from him.  The heart of our lostness is our profound self-focus.  We do not want to know him, if knowing him is on his terms.  We are happy to have a god we can more or less manipulate; we do not want a god to whom we admit that we are rebels in heart and mind, that we do not deserve his favor, and that our only hope is in his pardoning and transforming grace.  We certainly cannot fathom a powerful Creator who takes the place of an odious criminal in order to save us from the judgment we deserve.

Boasting About the Wrong Things

The Cross and Christian Ministry
D.A. Carson

[26] For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. [27] But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong…

– 1 Corinthians 1:26–27

God’s grace can reach anyone.  But being well regarded in the surrounding pagan society is in no sense an advantage.  If anyone approaches God on the basis of some putative wisdom or “pull” or wealth, he or she is necessarily excluded.  If God accepted people on such grounds, he would compromise himself.  He would be the worst kind of snob, the kind that is impressed by entirely superficial advantages – like a panting, third-rate social climber in a pinstripe suit, desperate to be approved and eager to fawn all over anyone who speaks with a posh accent.  Paul insists that such a vision of God is utter nonsense.  God is not impressed by the public philosophies, political clout, and the extravagant wealth that the world so greatly admires.  And the Corinthian believers should have recognized the point and disavowed such pagan allegiances themselves.  After all, the commonness of their own predominant backgrounds should have alerted them to the kind of people God frequently pursues…

Paul is not saying that Christians have nothing to boast about.  Rather, he is saying that if they boast about the things the world boasts about, they are boasting about the wrong things.

He Plans the Future

All the Prophets Proclaimed These Days
John Piper

[17] “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. [18] But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled.

– Acts 3:17–18

…in Peter’s view the fulfillment of prophecy was not due so much to God’s foreknowledge of history as to his action in history…What God foretold God fulfilled. God knows the future because he plans the future.

The Holiness of God

No Place for Truth
David Wells

Divorced from the holiness of God, sin is merely self-defeating behavior or a breach in etiquette.  Divorced from the holiness of God, grace is merely empty rhetoric, pious window dressing for the modern technique by which sinners work out their own salvation.  Divorced from the holiness of God, our gospel becomes indistinguishable from any of a host of alternative self-help doctrines.  Divorced from the holiness of God, our public morality is reduced to little more than an accumulation of trade-offs between competing private interests.  Divorced from the holiness of God, our worship becomes mere entertainment.  The holiness of God is the very cornerstone of Christian faith, for it is the foundation of reality.  Sin is defiance of God’s holiness, the Cross is the outworking and victory of God’s holiness, and faith is the recognition of God’s holiness.  Knowing that God is holy is therefore the key to knowing life as it truly is, knowing Christ as he truly is, knowing why he came, and knowing how life will end.

It’s More Than That

Psalm 103:12

as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

1 Peter 2:24

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

The gift of God is forgiveness.  God can make us clean and he does so at great cost.  The sinless Son of God takes on the punishment for the sins of the world that we might be forgiven.

Sometimes people say that this is like a judge who sentences a criminal to jail time and then takes his place.  But it’s more than that.  It’s more like a victim of a drunk driver going to jail for the drunk driver.  Or an an assault victim willingly taking the punishment for their attacker.

Every sin is against God but He sends His Son for sinners.