We’re born sinners. That’s what some Christians think. (Or is this what many Christians think? It appears so.)
Most evangelicals say our sin nature is total depravity and the only thing that can save us is the grace of God.
A common belief is that you “accept Christ,” and then you are saved.
“Jesus offers us the gift of eternal life,” they say, “and we must accept this gift by repenting of our sin and believing in Jesus as our savior.”
“I’m a sinner,” Franklin Graham said, “but I’ve been forgiven, and I’ve turned from my sins. For any person that’s willing to repent in turn, God will forgive.”
Graham inherited the family business from his better known father, Billy Graham. Both of them would encourage people to say “the sinners prayer” which goes something like this:
Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name. Amen.
(Christians who are created by saying this prayer can often have a faith as deep and complex as the page of a phone book, and as theologically sound.)
The sinner’s prayer obviously isn’t in the Bible, but it has origins in this scripture Paul writes in his letter to the church in Rome: “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” You’ll notice it says nothing about Jesus dying for our sins.
You must “come to Christ,” is another popular term.
After the sermon, the minister invites people forward to profess their faith and “come to Christ.” An alter call, is the phrase. We sinners are moved to step beyond our sin and into the waiting arms of Jesus.
We are drowning in a world of sin and the Lord offers us a life preserver in the form of Jesus. All we have to do is reach out and take hold of the life preserver.
You can take the metaphor a step further and say we are already drowned by our sin and only the life preserver can save us.
That’s the prevailing thought in much of mainstream Christianity.
Accepting Christ and saying the sinner’s prayer puts all of the responsibility on us. After it’s been firmly established that we are sinners drowning in a life of bad choices who really shouldn’t be trusted.
The idea of accepting Christ is as ridiculous as the idea that we are “born sinners.”
It’s not Biblical.
The Bible says we are created in the image of God.
“So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.” – Gen. 1:27
It’s right there, in the first chapter of the Bible. Basically the first page, and Christians get it wrong. Admittedly, people got it wrong subsequently, that’s why Jesus came to Earth – to try to straighten out the humanity created in God’s image. Humanity so caught up in the legalities of scripture that it lost contact with the God of creation. (Does that sound like some Christians you know?)
Later in Genesis, Adam is banished from the Garden, but there’s no mention of sin, or Adam’s so-called fall affecting the rest of humanity. Go look for yourself.
Three hundred years after Jesus, Augustine of Hippo latched onto a few lines of Paul’s letters and developed the idea of “original sin.”
Later, the idea of a sin nature got traction with John Calvin:
“Original sin, therefore, seems to be a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable for God’s wrath, then also brings forth in us those works which Scripture calls “works of the flesh” [Gal. 5:19]. And that is properly what Paul often calls sin. The works that come forth from it such as adulteries, fornications, thefts, hatreds, murders, carousings he accordingly calls “fruits of sin” [Gal. 5:19-21], although they are also commonly called “sins” in Scripture, and even by Paul himself. . . . For, since it is said that we became subject to God’s judgment through Adam’s sin, we are to understand it not as if we, guiltless and undeserving, bore the guilt of his offense but in the sense that, since we through his transgression have become entangled in the curse, he is said to have made us guilty. Yet not only has punishment fallen upon us from Adam, but a contagion imparted by him resides in us, which justly deserves punishment.”
And there you have it. A theology of sin that ignores the fact that God created humanity in the image of God.
Our view of a “sin nature” and the perceived need to “accept Jesus” reflects our personal view of other people more than it reflects the message and ministry of Jesus.
It’s through this view of others that we look for a sin nature where it isn’t. It isn’t in the teaching of Jesus. (Notice how John Calvin had to quote Paul’s letters, and not the words of Jesus.)
Jesus said “. . . I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10. Jesus goes on to say, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.” – John 10:17. Nothing there about dying for our sins. More like Jesus died, so that he made be resurrected. Which is what happened. And even after the resurrection, there was still no talk from Jesus about him dying for our sins. Or our need to accept him. Jesus being the Son of God is not influenced at all by humanity’s acceptance of that fact. So why would he demand that we accept it for our sins to be forgiven? Jesus doesn’t.
Repeatedly Scripture tells us that God doesn’t remember our sins.
“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” – Jeremiah 31:31-34 (Paul quotes this scripture in his letter to the Hebrews, and interjects Christ into the mix.)
God doesn’t remember our sins, but we do.
Some well-meaning Christians think the only way we can be free of these sins is by going back to them, remembering them, repenting of them, and asking God to forgive us of our sins – sins God has already forgotten.
During his state-sanctioned execution, Jesus is asked by a fellow prisoner, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” – Luke 23:42-43
No sinner’s prayer. No baptism. No inviting Jesus into his heart.
The thief on the cross with Jesus was assured paradise, before Jesus died.
God created the thief and you and me in God’s image, because God loves us.
There’s nothing we can do to not be forgiven and loved by God. Even denying Jesus three times before the sun rises isn’t enough for God to forsake you.
Jesus rejoices when we have faith and he weeps when we don’t. But he loves us all the same.
It’s true, whether you accept it or not.
I find an energy in much of what you say that makes me think I don’t have to turn to something completely alien from the way i was raised – something like Buddhist meditation or The Steiner Movement – in order to see my way to a spiritual home. I’m thinking about it. By the way, since you refer to your faith as being in some sense “Celtic” are you a Van Morrison fan perchance? I myself am a huge Van Morrison fan. Also a big fan of Leonard Cohen who’s a bit more “Buddhist”.
A broken clock is right twice a day . . . meaning just because some aspects of our history is flawed, doesn’t mean there wasn’t something of value there.
It’s important take what we can use, and leave the rest behind.
Van Morrison is great.
Thanks for reading!
I see an energy running through your response to the “good news” of Christ’s death and resurrection that I don’t see or feel from the inerrantist crowd. It “almost” makes me feel that God himself might be accessible and available even to me but I’ve been so long in my own darkness I just don’t know really. My mind gets it and a little light gets in but my heart holds me fast to the ground like a stone.
Fantastic article, Jim! Simple and easy to understand, yet powerful enough to make one think! Thanks for a great article.
Thank you so much!
Pingback: “Accepting Christ” | jeanie Boyd
B.J. – Thanks for the comments. Sorry it took so long to respond.
I agree, there are many Jewish scriptures that imply sin can be passed down generation to generation. Aren’t we glad those scriptures, like others in the Bible, only applied to certain people at a certain time, and not to all of humanity, forever?
Jesus frequently mentions Jewish scripture, and then offers a different way of being – “You have heard it said . . . . But I say to you . . .”
Isn’t the entire Gospel Jesus brought – the Good News – a different way of being? A different way that left Jewish traditions behind . . . except for Adam’s Fall.
The theology of original sin has its roots historically in Adam’s Fall. Which is one way of interpreting scripture, but not the only way. It implies that humanity is inherently evil, born of and in sin.
I see the message of Christ, and the message of God, in totality, to be that humanity is created in God’s image — inherently good.
As a Protestant, I don’t believe my baby was born with original sin, sin that needed to be washed off with infant baptism. I believe my baby was born as perfect and as full of love as the God from whom she came, and to whom we will all return.
Individual scriptures and stories are just that, individual. The overarching message is God’s love for God’s creation.
God doesn’t need the faith of non-believers to exist. So why does God’s forgiveness need acceptance?
The overarching message of the Bible is that God loves God’s creation. A secondary message is that God’s creation gets it wrong, over and over and over again.
Repeatedly throughout scripture, God asks creation to respond, and humanity gets it wrong. From Adam to the Israelites demanding a king, to Peter denying Christ, to the disagreements between Paul and the Apostles, humanity gets it wrong.
Of the repeated covenants throughout history, the Bible tells us humanity can never uphold our end of the deal.
Jesus died for humanity. Jesus conquered death. And a Holy Spirit was sent among humanity. All of these things were independent of humanity, despite humanity. Because God loves us so much. I wouldn’t call it non-consensual love, I would call it love that is sometimes not reciprocated.
Accepting Christ means we must accept God’s love, we must respond.
But I don’t think that’s the message of Christ. The message is God loves you, love each other, as I have loved you.
When we truly behave in the way of God, by loving each other, we allow ourselves to come into alignment with God’s love. And then we can’t help but be the people God created us to be.
I can tell from your first paragraph of your response that we may be too far apart theologically to come to a place of agreement.
“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I would be interested in how you manage the numerous scriptures and teachings of Jesus that seem to suggest there are certain behaviors for which Jesus and/or God might turn away from an individual. Some examples would include Luke 12:5, Matthew 7:23, 18:6, and 23 (nearly the entire chapter)… and most especially Mark 3:28-30 and Matthew 12:31-32. This seems to present a direct contradiction to your claim that “God doesn’t remember our sins.” Also, if you look beyond the words of Jesus (which I know you would prefer not to), the tradition in which Jesus does ministry recognizes original/inherited sin: Exodus 20:5, 34:7, Numbers 14:18, Deut. 5:9, etc. Even the apostle Paul (Jew of all Jews) describes inherited sin as the proper understanding of the state of all people (Romans 5). Additionally, Jesus describes judgment for the sins of past generations (Matt 23:35-36). This also seems to present a direct contradiction to your claim against original/inherited sin. Although the garden narrative in Genesis does not mention original sin (which I’m not sure it would have to necessarily for a theology of original sin to be accurate), clearly the Jewish tradition included some understanding of the consequences of past generations being passed down (I also don’t see how original sin negates being created in God’s image. Couldn’t sin distort the image of God within us after initial creation?) Likewise, there was/is a strong understanding of forgiveness through merit goods in Judaism. These conscious actions (presumably decided upon) work towards the purification of individuals necessary because of (inherited?) sin. Although “accepting Christ” seems to be contrary to God’s mission as you’ve described it, it certainly fits in the Hebrew understanding of consciously choosing to do merit goods. If we understand Jesus to redefine what those merit goods are, then why is it “wrong” and “not biblical” to believe one “accepts Christ”? Repentance certainly is a “turning of the mind”, which could imply an “accepting” of one path over and against other paths. If we believe in a covenantal-partnership between God and God’s people, wouldn’t it make sense that humanity would have responsibility to respond to the outstretched hand of God? After all, I’m not certain nonconsensual love… is really love.