David Letterman recently did an interview with Kanye West. The conversation was a thoughtful and insightful. I have never really listened to Kanye, so I didn’t quite know what to expect. I enjoyed hearing his perspective on life, mental health and culture.
At one point, Mr. West perfectly captured much of Western culture today. In talking about the goal of life he said, “I believe the best thing is to be yourself to the max. Be who you are completely”
Not many people argue with this sentiment today. It has become the aim of life in Western culture.
“You be you.” “Speak your truth” “The world is waiting for your full self” “Be your best self” “Everything I need is within me” “Never apologize for who you are.”
All these sentiments capture a foundational view within modern secular culture; that mankind is basically good and that the more we look inward, the more good we will find. The goal of life is to free ourselves from the oppression of other’s opinions or our own insecurity and self-doubt. We are to never apologize for who we are. To do so is akin to self-abuse and self-destruction. Expression of self is always a good to be pursued because we all, are good.
In the midst of this, I’ve talked to a lot of people recently about the Biblical concept of sin. For many people, declaring sin within us seems contrary to the modern religion of “you be you”. And it kind of is.
I know the doctrine of sin and repentance can be seen as a belief that contributes to mankind’s oppression. I once had someone tell me, “Christians ranting on about sin is a form of spiritual abuse”
I believe the opposite. I dare to say, the denial of sin is one of the most oppressive beliefs today.
Here is four reasons we desperately need a revival of the doctrine of sin.
People are valuable but broken.
The story of scripture screams a clear message, people are valuable, people are broken.
First, people are made in God’s image and therefore of incomparable worth and value. Nothing can decrease the value. Nothing can increase it. But, secondly, people are broken. We have hearts that sin. We are sinned against. This world is full of valuable and precious people but we hurt one another in small ways and ways so big we strain under the magnitude of it.
For many these concepts are muddled. We need a revival of a doctrine of sin because the value and worth of human beings does not capture the human reality. Just telling ourselves we are wonderful and precious, although true isn’t the whole story.
The modern religion of self-love falls short. There is no space to reckon with our own brokenness. That which we have done to others and that which has been done to us. A belief in sin is a requirement to truly believe in the worth of people. People have value… therefore we cannot be treated in just any way. We must be treated in accordance with our value. And when we are not, it is sin. We must call it what it is. Whether we do it or it is done to us. (And God must be treated in accordance with His value).
We can never be whole if we refuse to believe we are broken.
According to pop culture, our problem is not truly believing in our self-worth, truly loving ourselves. If I tell someone “I am a sinner” I might get a reaction of, “Don’t belittle yourself, you are amazing and don’t let anyone tell you different. You’ve got to love yourself!”
So, our core problem becomes bad self-esteem and not a sinful heart.
Thus we are all on, what I call, the hamster wheel of self-love. We aren’t broken, we just don’t love ourselves enough. And the hamster wheel goes on and on, never arriving at any destination. I’ve met hundreds of people striving to arrive at this elusive place of self-love, yet they never truly arrive. It looks exhausting.
Don’t get me wrong, loving what God has made is important. But it is not the whole picture. Accepting our own sinful hearts and actions is actually freeing. We don’t need to just love ourselves more. We also need the grace and forgiveness of God and others. We can’t fix ourselves, we need help from God and others.
What. A. Relief.
Denying sin is the luxury of the privileged.
As I have travelled the world, I’ve noticed a very clear pattern. The only cultures that deny a belief in sin are prosperous and privileged ones. Read that sentence again. People who live in poor or unjust societies know with intimacy that mankind is broken and sinful.
It is only people who are prosperous or in power that have the luxury of saying, “people are basically good and basically do the right thing. You be you!”
Tell that to women who live in nations where it is legal for their husbands to beat them. Tell that to children who work in sweatshops. Tell that to refugees who have been driven from their nation in fear of their very lives. Tell that to the millions die for their faith each year.
People are basically good! You be you! Speak your truth! This belief system is like throwing an anchor to drowning people.
Oppressed and poor people know intimately that mankind has something deeply broken within them that needs healing. They suffer at the hands of this every single day.
To deny sin is to tell these people there is no hope. Imagine saying to a human trafficking victim or abused wife, “People are basically good, the solution to man’s problems is to just for them to speak their truth” I can’t imagine something more hopeless.
The doctrine of sin gives hope to millions of oppressed people. It declares the truth to desperate people.
Accepting our sinfulness gives hope and health to our relationships.
In contrast to condemnation, accepting our sinfulness brings freedom. It scares me to be in a relationship with someone who believes people are basically good and all our problems lie in just loving ourselves more (Again, loving ourself is not bad at all!).
The healthiest relationships are two sinners repenting to one another daily. Accepting responsibility for ourselves instead of blame or denial. Saying sorry for harsh words, lies, greed or selfishness. Offering forgiveness.
I’m pretty sure that 90% of the health of my marriage is my husbands acceptance of his own sinfulness. He doesn’t deny it. He quickly apologizes for any sinful action towards me. I’m embarrassed to say he is quicker to apologize than me. I have incredible safety in knowing that if he hurts me, whether intentional or not, he will apologize. I will never hear, “Hey, I’m just being me! You’ve got to accept me as I am!” He knows he’s broken and valuable. So he can confidently own his sin without decreasing his self-worth. When he owns his sin, he declares my worth. To say, “I’m sorry I said those hurtful words” is built on a foundation of, “You are more valuable than that.”
How about you? How could an acceptance of sin bring more health and freedom to your life? If that seems like a contradiction, maybe you are seeing it wrong.