January 23, 2011

"Sinless Jesus" - Why so negative?

A bad swimming pool lifeguard says, "Don't run!" Half the phrase is subliminally counterproductive, and the last word the kid hears reinforces what he's already doing. Instead, a good lifeguard says, "Walk!" Try both, some time. It's amazing, what a difference it makes. It also works in school and at home, with all kinds of topics.

In some discussions, however, sometimes points need to be made with a "not". It's very different to say "good" versus "not bad". And ZERO is a "non-negative" number, but not the seeming opposite of a non-negative. That is, zero is also "non-positive". Therefore, sometimes precision requires mathematicians to say "non-negative". And so forth.

Theologians appreciate precision also. Sometimes a bit too much, maybe.

Now, the following scriptures are true and I fully believe them. Paul says, "he who knew no sin". Peter says, "He committed no sin". John says, "In him is no sin". Hebrews says he was "without sin". Even Pilate said, "I find no fault in this man." And Jesus himself said, "Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?"

All true. All necessarily negative. All make a more absolute point than anything that would approach an opposite, "more positive" rendering. But all these are not all that scripture says.

A bad preacher spends an hour or so declaring how it might have been possible that Jesus "did not sin". What a horrible thing to talk about for a whole hour! There's no need for all that!  There's certainly no passage of scripture that remains totally negative for even a half-page! But during such preaching, what must be the predominant thought in the audience's mind. As we listen to such a message, are we thinking about Jesus? Or are we thinking about sin? And what must we begin to imagine was on Jesus' mind all those years?

 "Not sinning"? Is that how Jesus lived? He was thinking "Avoid sin"? No. That could not possibly have been his lifelong most predominant thought.  So why should we speak about his whole life in such terms?

So then, here is a better alternative.

It may or may not be the precise theological equation with "not sin" to proclaim instead that Jesus loved - that Jesus loved God, and that Jesus loved others. But it's true. Jesus did. And which of these two messages is more inspiring? More encouraging? More effective? More helpful?  Jesus loved.  Plus, in terms of the forest being more than a few trees, the more positive message is by far the more scriptural.

Jesus loved his Father and his neighbors, daily. But how? And how do we?  Ah, yes, I think that is what scares us.

Subconsciously, resisting sin is a better message to preach because it's a self-perpetuating problem and message. If we focus on sin, we'll always be resisting, and we'll always need reminders to keep right on resisting. Thus, preachers maintain job security. Thus, christendom found institutional sustainability. Thus, christianity floundered into muddling humanism.

In contrast, proclaiming the more positive message [of what Jesus' life must have been like] should rightly cause any preacher (and audience) to fall down on their faces and repent before God. We can't live like he lived. Glory! Oh, how he lived!!!

Resist sin? Yeah, he did that. But not by focusing on sin. Jesus simply cared more about God, and about pleasing God, than he cared about anything else. Or, to put that another way, He was simply the number one "fan" God has ever had.

Preachers, as often as you preach, talk about God and Jesus in a way that might make us care more about him. Don't merely make us focus more on our own behavior.  If you must preach, preachers, be good preachers. Don't challenge us to resist sin. Inspire us to please him.

Be more positive, about God. Make us bigger fans of Him. Please.

It might even... possibly... perhaps often... make us less sinful.  But you know that's NOT my point.  ;-)


Anonymous said...

Great article, very helpful! I was thinking for days about how it was possible for Jesus to not sin during his life on earth.


Bill Heroman said...

I'm glad to hear this, Johan. I hope you also followed the blue hyperlinks, for some more of my earlier thoughts.

Stop back by, anytime...

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