Romans 6:23 - "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
I've noticed something in my work as a campus pastor and mission redeveloper, something that disturbs me. Many so-called evangelists, though they're hardly worthy of such a title that means "messenger of good news," tend to tell half of the story. What do I mean?
Consider the Romans passage above. Whenever I hear this, it's almost exclusively quoted as "the wages of sin is death," and the second part of the sentence, the God focused part of the sentence, is left off. We tell only half the story! We focus on sin and death and guilt and shame when the message of God in Christ Jesus is the free gift of life abundant. Why would we do such a thing?
As I interact with millennials, those typically (but not exclusively) younger adults whose digital savvy and hipster trends make me feel quite at home, I've noticed something else. We don't need to be reminded of our sin. We are, in fact, quite aware of our imperfections, our faults, our failures to be the kind of people we ought to be. We don't need to be reminded of the wages of sin, because we see the effects of death in our every day lives. Personal death in relationship. Corporate death in the environmental crisis. Political death in the gridlock of Congress and the wars that embroil our the headlines, our tax dollars, and most importantly, our peers, friends, and family members who chose to enter the military. The effects of sin are inescapably everywhere.
As a pastor, this makes tons of sense to me. If our focus is solely on sin, then we in no way communicate a commitment to salvation. Even if we give heavy weight to sin and share the good news of Christ's compassion as an ancillary second part, we've relegated the Gospel to a hiding place under the Law.
What we need is the whole story, the one that tells us of deliverance, of a free gift of God, of life eternal on the other side of death. In a culture of scarcity, share with us words of abundance. We can acknowledge sin and have real, substantive conversations about the work of sin in our lives, but we must emphasize the trajectory of liberation available in Jesus. We must give weight to the promise that sin does not define us or our future, We must tell the whole story, one that is truly good news, an act that makes us all evangelists.
What this means is that we can actually address sin robustly from an insider's perspective. We all know the wages of sin, and so in that shared brokenness, we may talk about the shared gift of freedom in Christ. This isn't a justification to ignore sin. It's an encouragement to contextualize sin in light of the cross, where sin has lost it's power and death has lost it's sting.
As we witness to the work of Christ, be sure that we're sharing the whole story. We may have to forsake pithy one liners, but isn't the full content much, much better? A free gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus, all despite our sin, is precisely the good news the church is called to share in every age. Especially this one.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.