Jesus Contradicts Contemporary Culture

Title: Jesus Contradicts Contemporary Culture


Text: Matthew 9:9-13

Date: November 16thth, 2008

Last week I talked about how frankly Jesus spoke about calling people “sinners” and how blunt he was in labeling sinners “sick” in their sins and also how directly he claimed to be the cure for sin-sick sinners. I also mentioned how out-of-step this language is with our modern, secular world today. People don’t talk very much about sin and sinners. Instead, they talk about “bad choices” and “people who make bad choices” but very little about sin and sinners. Even in churches, I noted, there is very little direct talk about sin and sinners – or at least accusing people directly of sinning and being sinners. This kind of language is hardly heard anywhere anymore today. But I didn’t go into an explanation as to why the language of sin, guilt and moral responsibility is hardly ever spoken today in our modern, secular world. Yes, I talked about the use of psychology and psychiatry to describe sin and guilt, how these two fields usually describe sin and guilt in value-neutral ways instead of assessing blame. I spoke of how Christians and the Christian church must not give themselves over to using the language of psychology instead of the language of sin because it actually changes the meaning of the original concepts and presents an entirely different message. If we translate the gospel into the language of modern therapy we will have no sin, no sinners, no guilt, nothing to confess or repent, no judgment to fear, no punishment to avoid, and ultimately no need of a savior to save us from all of these things. That’s how profound and detrimental is the shift from the language of sin to the language of therapy in the context of the Christian church. We must resist doing it for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of lost souls who need salvation, not just healing. Today, the language of psychology treats all soul problems as hurts in need of healing, but the biblical language of sin treats all moral problems as sin in need of confession, repentance and forgiveness. There is a huge difference between dealing with sin and dealing with a hurt. That is not to say that everyone is not hurt or wounded – everyone is to some extent. But that is a separate thing from everyone is a sinner in need of salvation. The process of being saved from sin is different from the process of being healed of hurts. Sin is an offense against God. Sin leads to the judgment of God, and then ultimately to condemnation and punishment from God. Unless the sin process is interrupted by confession, repentance and forgiveness it ends in ultimate death – eternal separation from God, the damnation of the soul. The process of being healed, on the other hand, is different. Being hurt or wounded or suffering from some inner imbalance is a problem within us. Hurts lead to disordered lives, or in the ultimate case, disordered society. The solution for hurts is healing. We find inner resolution of our emotional disorder. This is entirely different from the process of salvation from sin, in which God’s justice is satisfied over the resolution of our sins through the blood of Jesus. But the question is, “Why is our modern, secular world so opposed to using the traditional, biblical language of sin in describing the condition of man?” And, “Why are so many church teachers and leaders switching to the language of psychology and offering salvation through emotional healing rather than salvation from sin through confession and repentance and faith in Christ?” Well, the second question is easier to answer than the first – church leaders are copying the world in an effort to be relevant; they are willing to subtly change the gospel message in order to catch the ear of modern people who wouldn’t normally listen to them using the traditional, biblical language of sin and salvation. That’s wrong, but why is the modern world insisting the language of sin be eliminated and the language of psychology be used instead? Using Matthew 9:12-13 again, let me try to explain why? I’ll make three observations.

First, the language of sin is offensive to the modern, secular world. Matthew 9:12-13, “On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” There are all kinds of things that Jesus says in this short passage that the modern, secular world finds offensive. To name a few, Jesus calls people “sinners.” “For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” So that immediately offends nearly everyone who is truly modern today. Next, Jesus says that people are sick in their sins. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Now he’s not referring to people with physical sicknesses or actual bodily illnesses, he talking about sickness of the soul, sin sickness. He says that sinner’s need cured of their sin. Finally, generally speaking, he uses the concept of sin, which is implied in his use of the word “sinner.” “For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” A sinner is one who sins. Sin is violation of the holy law of God. So the word sinner presupposes the concept of sin. The concept of sin presupposes a violation of divine law. Divine law presupposes the existence of the Divine or God who gives laws. So we see wrapped up in this tiny passage in the Book of Matthew many words and ideas that utterly and absolutely offend the modern, secular world. Now church pastors and teachers understand enough about the modern, secular world to know that using the traditional, biblical language of sin, like Jesus used in this passage, is a surefire way of offending and turning away most people today from churches, so many or even most pastors and teachers switch to the language of psychology in teaching the Bible. Instead of talking about sins, many pastors today talk about “mistakes” or “bad choices” or failures.” Instead of warning people of the judgment of God to come for sins and therefore the necessity of confession and repentance of sins for forgiveness and salvation, pastors today will invite people to come to Jesus for healing of their hurts or the solving of their life problems for a fulfilled life. The ultimate appeal is not to please God but instead of please self. The goal becomes to satisfy self, to obtain the good life, a well adjusted, balanced self-fulfilled life with God’s help, rather than satisfying the justice of God through dealing with our sin offenses with the cross of Christ. The shift makes salvation “all about us” rather than primarily about God. By putting it this way modern church pastors and teachers can interest modern, secular people who care more about their own self-fulfillment than they care about satisfying God’s justice through confession and repentance of sin, faith in Christ for soul salvation. Today people seek salvation on earth through a better life over eternal salvation from sin as the Bible emphasizes. That’s a big reason why the language of sin, and words such as guilt, judgment, condemnation, punishment, are so distasteful today. But let’s go deeper as to why the world rejects the language of sin – and why we as Christians should still insist on it.

Second, all spiritual and moral judgments are offensive to the modern, secular world. Matthew 9:12-13, “On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” If you think about it, not only did Jesus use the language of sin, calling people sinners and saying sinners needed fixed or helped, he also made judgments about people in the process. I’m always amazed at how people today can casually point to Jesus and say, “I wish Christians would follow the example of their Lord Jesus by never pointing the finger or judging people.” These people however don’t read the Bible close enough to know that Jesus did judge people! He judged people in ways that would be totally offensive to secular modern people today. Besides simply using the language of sin, another offensive thing the world cannot stand today is the use of judgmental language. But look at how Jesus judges people in this verse. “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Jesus judges, or makes a judgment that there are sinners and that he’s come to call them. He also makes the judgment that these same sinners are sick and need fixed. That’s another judgment that our secular, modern, 21st century world finds highly offensive. Is it any wonder why church pastors and teachers are tempted to stay away from the language of sin or any judgmental language in presenting the gospel? But the question is, why is the language of sin and judgmental language so offensive today when it was accepted just 50 years ago? Why is talking about sin and making moral judgments about sinners – even in church – so offensive today when it wasn’t in the past? Here’s the answer. Today, more and more people believe that all religion is man-made. More and more people in our secular age believe God is a man-made idea, all revelation such as the Bible is man-made, they believe. Now most people don’t say that today, a few do, but most people doubt or question the truthfulness of the Bible and of Christianity, or for that matter all religious beliefs. More and more people are believing and acting as if all religion is man-made. So if all religion is made-man, it isn’t absolute truth. If the truths of Christianity and the Bible aren’t absolute truth, then one can’t make absolute moral judgments about people using the Bible as the authority. Sin becomes just some man-made category or value – men created a category, valued it, and judged everyone who didn’t follow it a sinner, or one who sins. That’s what people are thinking today. People also point out that not everyone values the same things; different religions consider different things sins. What is a sin in one religion isn’t a sin in another, and vice versa. So we see moral relativism is the result. Sin presupposes there are moral absolutes; people question this today. So people today find moral and spiritual judgments offensive because they see these judgments as arbitrary. For the Christian, it’s simply a matter of either following our Lord Jesus who used the language of sin and made moral and spiritual judgments, or following after the secular world. Jesus presupposed moral absolutes and eternal truth in his use of language – so should we too. We must not give up our language to please a lost, dying world. We must continue to use the language Jesus used, continue to call sinners to repent and be saved. But there’s another factor why modern, secular people are offended by the language of sin.

Third, all public moral and spiritual judgments are especially offensive to the modern, secular world. Matthew 9:12-13, “On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” Jesus said all of this in public, not private. He made public pronouncements in his ministry. He did private teaching also, but he didn’t limit his teachings to private talks, but taught openly – in fact, that’s what he said at his trial, “I have taught openly in the Temple, not in secret.” Another thing modern, secular people are highly offended at is public moral and spiritual judgments. Now according to the contemporary wisdom of our age, all religion is man-made, but everyone has a right to believe whatever they want to believe, but they don’t have a right to impose it on others. So what really offends people today in our modern, secular world is not only the language of sin, not only moral or spiritual judgments, but most importantly, public moral and spiritual pronouncements about sin. If all religion is man-made, which is really what atheist’s believe, then all moral and spiritual judgments are arbitrary. If all religious and moral values are arbitrary then nobody has a right to impose these values on anyone else. Everyone has a right to believe and practice these spiritual and moral values themselves, but they don’t have a right to promote them publicly in a way that offends anyone else. This is essentially the policy the secular governments of the world, including the U.S., are now following. But the problem for Christians and the Christian church is that this attitude is spreading among the people of the world while everyone has a right to follow any moral, spiritual or religious value, nobody has a right to judge anyone else by that value because that would mean making the judgment public, that would be imposing the value on others. In other words, modern secular people are more and more offended when Christians make public judgments about sin and truth. They think the only place appropriate for religious faith and values is within the individual believer or in church – and there is even pressure now to curtail the language of sin and public judgments on spiritual and moral truths in the church as well! But again, we must go back to Jesus as our example, not the modern, secular world. Jesus used the language of sin, Jesus made judgments about people in respect to sin, and Jesus did all of this in public. We need to resist the pressures of the modern world to tone down the biblical definition of sin; psychology does not present an accurate substitute understanding of it. We must not refrain from making moral judgments in favor of value-neutral language. And finally, we must not stop speaking God’s will in public because it offends modern, secular people. There is a reason why God’s truth is offensive today – modern, self-centered pride. We’ve accomplished so much humanly speaking in the modern world that we’ve grown proud of the fact. We don’t think we need God anymore, that we can solve our own problems our own way. For that matter, we don’t need God or God’s Word or God’s church anymore. That’s pride! The antidote for our modern self-centered pride is not the soft, comforting, politically correct language of therapy, but the offensive, confrontational language of God found in the Bible. Pride needs to be discouraged, not encouraged. Churches must never give way to the temptation to soften the truth of God in order for it to be more comfortable and acceptable to the modern world today. No. We must speak the truth God has spoken and deal with the consequences in the best way possible. That is the only way to truly help people.

Note: Psychotherapy and psychological counseling have their place in treating specific mental and emotional illnesses within the life of the Christian within the context of the Christian church. But the language of psychology should never be substituted for biblical language because to do so would distort God’s Word with human concepts and ideas. No therapeutic treatment should ever contradict biblical teachings no matter how “successful” it may be at treating an illness. Theology should always lead psychology, never the reverse. Problems develop in the church when psychology is allowed to lead or substitute for theology.


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