Three great soundbites that make terrible theology


Matt Fuller:

Punchy sound bites are great—they’re memorable and help us get some things clear in our head. Jesus often used punchy sentences without any nuance: “If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out.” Yet most of us recognize that if we turned that sentence of great preaching into an absolute statement, then there would be a lot of Christians stumbling around without any eyes.

There are other very helpful sound bites that often get used in church. They are good preaching and make a helpful impression upon us. But, again, we don’t want to turn them into absolute statements or our faith will similarly stumble. Let me mention three common ones related to sin.

1. “There’s nothing I can do to make God love me more, or love me less.”

On one hand that is wonderfully true! Our status before the LORD is secured by our union with Christ. The Christian is one who is justified, adopted and dearly loved by the Father, not because of our performance, but because of Christ’s performance. Jesus is sat down at God’s right hand; we are united to Jesus and so that’s where we belong. Nothing can ever move us.

So, Yes! Nothing I do affects the status of God’s love for me.

And yet…

We can bring the Lord pleasure and we are able to bring him grief. It is not the case that our actions are completely without consequence. As one example, we can bring more pleasure to the Lord by giving sacrificially:

“I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” (Philippians 4 v 18)

On the other hand, we can also bring grief to the LORD:

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Philippians 4 v 30)

Although consideration needs to be given to how God accommodates his language to us, the headline here is clear: We can bring pleasure to God. Isn’t that fabulous! Despite our motives always being mixed, despite our sin, the things we do for the Lord matter and can please him.

The status we have as a loved child cannot vary, but the pleasure we bring to the Lord can. When you’re united to Christ you can do things that make God proud of you as his child.

2. “Christians shouldn’t feel guilty. Jesus has taken it all.”

Again, this is wonderfully true. When we’ve confessed our sin, we are meant to know liberation from guilt.

However, we do need to confess our sin!

I recently was involved with a man who had been having an extra-marital affair for more than a year. He felt that his marriage was sexually disappointing and so he deserved to have sex outside of his marriage. He lived guilt free for over a year.

I really wish he had felt guilty. That particular Christian should have felt guilty. He was guilty! Until the point where he cracked and felt guilt and then confessed his sin, he could have no assurance that Jesus had paid for his sin. He was very much in the category of 1 Corinthians 6 v 9:

“Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?”

“Christians shouldn’t feel guilty” is a good sound bite for the repentant Christian, but a terrible one for the person who remains in their guilt and is unrepentant.

3. “God hates the sin but loves the sinner.”

Again, there’s helpful truth here. Every sin naturally cuts us off from the living God, but the Christian knows that Jesus has atoned for each and every sin so that God’s love cannot be removed from us.

The Christian, who is united to Christ, can say: “God loves me, even though he hates my sins.” Yet it is not a true statement for someone who is not yet a Christian:

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” (John 3 v 36)

Although God loves the sinful world—that’s his general stance or disposition—he also hates those who have rebelled against him. God loves every human being as one of his creatures, yet he hates them as sinners. When you become a Christian, you know that God’s wrath has fallen upon Christ and so now God loves you, not merely as his creation, but as his child.

So it’s a true sound bite… for some people.

So, punchy sound bites can be of great use in communicating one biblical truth vividly. We don’t want to nuance every sentence we say. Jesus didn’t. Yet we do also need to be aware that if we hold onto some Biblical truths at the expense of others, then we may end up blinding ourselves.

Discover more in Matt Fuller’s new book, Perfect Sinners: See yourself as God sees you.

Peter serves as a pastor-teacher, at home and abroad, resourcing gospel-centred communities.