There are always, in every age, innumerable opinions regarding the church’s most pressing need. Many of these are valid: fearless proclamation, greater community, stronger leadership and better theological training. But, in my opinion, something we rarely consider is an altogether different need: preaching that addresses sin.
Ignoring ‘Little’ Sins
I am not referring to the obvious and public sins. For those are commonly challenged. But there are many, far more subtle sins, that we fail to shed God’s light on. Going unnoticed and unaddressed they fester in the hearts of many believers. Without godly repentance of all sin, the church will not experience spiritual maturity and revival.
Whenever the subject of sin pops up among Christians, two lists usually spring to mind. The ugly, and the official
Whenever the subject of sin pops up among Christians, two lists usually spring to mind. Firstly, there is the ugly list in Galatians 5:19-21, ‘sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissension, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies.’
Secondly, we have the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3-17). We treat these as serious or ‘official’ sins. But our application of the doctrine of sin needs to go far deeper than offering a list or two.
We will confront the woman who repeatedly lies. Yet when a man makes passes at women we turn a blind eye.
Sin Must Be Addressed
There are countless biblical truths, dearly loved and defended by Christians, that we ignore when it comes to challenging sin and inspiring holiness. The problem may lie in both our pews and the pulpit. Bible believing churches tend to display a high level of commitment to church discipline. Yet many sins go unaddressed.
The congregant in an open affair is publicly rebuked. But the old lady who habitually gossips is tolerated. We will confront the woman who repeatedly lies. Yet when a man makes passes at women we turn a blind eye. In other words, we are selective, even when it comes to sins that are explicitly addressed in Scripture.
What Is Sin?
One final reason I believe many sins are overlooked in the church is that we have a weak theology of obedience and the Christian life. As question 7 of the New City Catechism says, “What God forbids should never be done.” Most of us agree. But it continues, “what God commands should always be done.”
Sin is not merely moral failure and transgression. It includes falling short of what God commands
Thus sin is not merely moral failure and transgression. It includes falling short of what God commands, failing in active obedience. The Christian life is both putting off sin (Colossians 3:5) and putting on Christian character (Colossians 3:12).
4 ‘Little’ Sins We Tend To Overlook
In this article I want to outline a few of the sins we tend to overlook. These are, for the most part, areas where an increased obedience to our Lord is necessary.
1. Avoiding Evangelism and Proclamation
The command to share the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ to a lost world is explicit. The great commission is for every Christian (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). You don’t need to be a Charles Spurgeon or Billy Graham to share your salvation story. After accomplishing his mission at Calvary, the Saviour of the world handed over the responsibility for gospel proclamation to his church. He set his church on mission. Therefore we are all ministers of reconciliation. All of us are ambassadors of heaven.
In light of this, it is hardly a small thing that we withhold the gospel from our neighbours and cities. We are far more likely to hear a Christian confess to lying, theft and sexual sin than failing to share the gospel with a work colleague. Some may admit to not evangelising enough. But we don’t see this failure as sinful; as falling short of God’s commission.
We are all ministers of reconciliation. All of us are ambassadors of heaven
Should this lack of evangelism not be viewed as notable disobedience? Should people who never attend outreach efforts in their local churches not be helped towards repentance? The old saints mourned wasted opportunities to witness for Christ. One hymn writer wrote, “Must I go, and empty handed? Must I meet my Saviour so? Not one soul with which to greet him: must I empty handed go?” Evangelistic events in most churches are poorly attended. Even the celebrated one-to-one method of evangelism is slowly becoming a lost art.
Therefore the church needs to recognise the depth of this issue. We need the Holy Spirit to show us the future state of our unconverted relatives, friends, neighbours and colleagues. The thought of eternity in hell because we did not share the good news of salvation must move us to this urgent work.
2. Loveless Churches
Secondly, throughout the New Testament we read the command to love other members of the household of faith (John 13:34-35; Romans 13:8; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11; 4:11-12; 2 John 5). Yet in many churches it is common to see the deaconate at odds with its eldership. Members go to war with their pastors. It is equally common to see pastors of other churches refusing to attend collective meetings or enter into gospel partnerships.
Should grey issues on church government or 2nd and 3rd order matters of doctrine divide us so starkly?
Should grey issues on church government or second and third order matters of doctrine divide us so starkly? Yet it seems okay these days to overlook hostility towards other Christians. Just read the comments section on a blog post. Christians deride and insult those from different camps and traditions. But this is nothing other than disobedience. God clearly commands us to love one another. He even calls on us to love our enemies.
One aspect of the sin of Korah was hatred for established leadership (Numbers 16:1-24). Sadly, the ‘spirit of Korah’ is alive today. It can be seen in the voting out of elders and running pastors out of their churches. The accompanying acrimony brings disrepute to the name of the Lord. Yet little shame or remorse is witnessed.
How can Christians display so much hostility towards each other? We follow a Lord who loved those who hated him. Therefore Christians should never warrant the labels hateful, divisive or malicious.
3. Indifference to Church Gatherings
Though its application is debated, the command to remember the Sabbath day is clear in Scripture (Exodus 20:8-11; 23:12). The early church recognised and kept the first day of the week (Sunday) as its new ‘Sabbath.’ This was called “the Lord’s day.” This is a special day on which God invites his people to rest and worship him. Yet many professing Christians ignore God’s invitation. The worlds of entertainment, business and commerce have claimed this day, and sadly many Christians are falling into their trap.
It’s not uncommon for Christians to miss Sunday services on account of sport, entertainment, work or a family outing. It has become normal for Christians to plan business trips or visits to relatives and friends on Sundays. Fellowship (after service and in homes) is in decline because of private jobs that have to be done on Sundays or after morning services. Sadly, this is often done by Reformed Christians with no sense of remorse.
The worlds of entertainment, business and commerce have claimed Sunday. Many Christians are falling into their trap
This neglect of the Lord’s Day occurs with little censure in our churches. But we can easily witness the decline of attendance at Sunday evening services. No one would dare discipline someone who stays away from such services. For the majority of believers, a fornicator, murderer or drunkard is a worse sinner than one who stays away from church (see Hebrews 10:24-25). But we need to fear what this slide may mean for the next generation of Christians.
Is it unrealistic to imagine more evening services closing down and morning services being shortened to allow members to attend to their private affairs and interests?
4. Being Unfaithful with Wealth
Lastly, the consistent teaching of Scripture with regards to wealth is generous stewardship (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-21; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8:1-15; 9:6-13; 1 Timothy 6:17-19). There is nothing wrong with being wealthy. In fact, our churches need more Christians who are materially rich to support the advance of the gospel throughout Africa. The church would greatly benefit from well-off Christians who can support struggling pastors.
It is common knowledge that pastors often receive their limited monthly allowances in inadequate instalments. There are also a number of unfinished church buildings which could be completed with the help of wealthy Christians. Generous Christians can accomplish much in service of the gospel.
Often just 10% of what wealthy Christians spend on educating their children would make a significant difference in the financial position of their church
The church needs people with financial means in its ranks to provide support for the extension of God’s kingdom. The sad reality, however, is that giving to the work of God is at a very low level. This problem is true for all Christians. But those whom God has entrusted with more bear a bigger blame. Particularly when priority is given to buying the best of houses, farms, vehicles, education, holidays, food and entertainment.
Agreed, wealthy Christians have the right to enjoy all of these things without guilt. But the real concern is with the relative lack of money they invest in God’s work. It is evident from the annual collections of many churches that the prosperous Christians do not bring their full tithes into God’s house. Often just a tenth of what they spend on the education of their children would make a significant difference in the financial position of their local churches.
We Need A Genuine Return To The Lord
The challenge today for the church is a call for a genuine return to the Lord. Our Lord does not only have the right to determine the sins we put off. He exhorts us to active Christian obedience. We need a fresh understanding of who God is. Then our eyes will be opened and we shall not overlook these sins in our lives and the church.
May the pulpit in our land expose every sin so that God who is rich in mercy may heal his church and grant us revival. This will start with you, Christian brother or sister. For God calls you to fearlessly proclaim his gospel, show gospel love to the church by meeting regularly with them, and generously support gospel work.