If it is true that many who call themselves Christians are merely professors and not possessors of eternal life, then one of the major causes must be a misunderstanding of sin. The enemy’s oldest trick is to minimize sin. He tries to reduce our sense of the severity of disobedience. He plays down the harm of rebellion by calling it anything but rebellion; he hides the reality of sin’s consequences and judgment.
Sadly, but interestingly, many modern preachers do the same. When preachers avoid the subject of sin altogether, as many do today, the result is a good many false Christians. In modern preaching, the word sin is taboo or redefined, and the act of sin is tolerated by both pulpit and pew. The wicked are soothed and made to feel no alarm. The moment someone is troubled about his soul’s jeopardy, he is consoled and told how wonderful he is and how much God loves him. Grief over sin is as unwanted as the plague in most church buildings.
The one thing that must precede true salvation is a biblical understanding of sin. We must see sin the way God sees it. It must reek with the foul odor it truly has and not be fumigated by a lying preacher’s lips. Until the sinner sees and feels the ownership of his sin he will not see the need for his conversion. Until the terribleness of sin grips his heart, any conversion he seeks will be the assurance of his eternal safety without deliverance from sin. The word salvation will only mean escape from judgment. It will never be equated with the saving from sin itself.
But when a sinner is made to realize his absolute unworthiness and reprehensibility, when he is made to know his utter wickedness, then he will see Jesus in an entirely different way. Christ will become more than attractive; He will become a necessary Savior without whom the sinner will perish, and perish deservedly. When sin becomes real to a man he finally understands his good works are a sham. To see sin as it really is motivates the convinced heart that there is no hope and smashes all places of refuge where the sinner might hide himself in self-righteousness.
Charles Spurgeon affirmed this principle when he said,
In the beginning, the preacher’s business is not to convert men, but the very reverse. It is idle to attempt to heal those who are not wounded, to attempt to clothe those who have never been stripped, and to make those rich who have never realized their poverty. As long as the world stands, we shall need the Holy Ghost, not only as the Comforter, but also as the Convincer, who will ‘reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.’
This goal is not accomplished by treating people like filth and nitpicking their faults, constantly telling them how wrong they are. But the subject of sin cannot be bypassed; for the sake of the sinner we must address it. Rather than trying to appease the non-believer let us hold before him the truth about the perfect righteousness of God. Let men see the infinite holiness of Christ and His sinless nature. Clearly declare the Lord’s royal robes of righteousness in order to expose their filthy and threadbare rags. Compare men to Him who knew no sin but became sin for us. Make men to know His beauty and purity, and surely they will know their ugliness and sin. And when they know and own their sin, they will make their way to the Savior and desire to know and own Him as their own righteousness.
The knowledge of the divine reveals the truth about sin and the sinner. If Satan’s work is the downplaying of sin, then surely it is the work of the preacher to show the exceeding sinfulness of sin by magnifying the exceeding greatness of God. This is the kind of preaching God owns. If we fail in this, then all we can expect are more false converts.