Don’t Start with “You’re a Sinner”

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When pastors preach or someone shares the gospel, they start with, “your’re a sinner and need Jesus.” On the one hand, this makes sense. Apart from Jesus we are sinners. We need a Savior and we can’t save ourselves.

The problem in our culture is that the idea of being a sinner is not something everyone agrees with, nor can they relate to.

This past Sunday, I started preaching through the gospel of John at Revolution Church and was struck with how John takes Jesus back to creation. John talks about Jesus being at creation, with God the Father, creating all things.

He does this for an important reason and one that impacts preaching and sharing the gospel. Zach Eswine in his book Preaching to a Post-Everything World points out that within all of us is a longing for the garden. If you think about relationships and community, we long for community where we are known and know others. We want to be accepted. We strive for that. We long for the relationship with God that Adam and Eve experienced in the garden. We long for our work to be meaningful and purposeful. We long for rest that is truly restful.

We long for the way God created life to be lived.

When you preach, you need to start with the garden, where Scripture starts. Scripture does not start with “you are a sinner in need of grace.” It starts with God, in a world created as it should be. Show the desire that are universal to all people. Show them why they have the longings they have. Then, how sin has tainted and ruined those things. Then, how Jesus is the answer to those things, how Jesus changes everything. 

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8 thoughts on “Don’t Start with “You’re a Sinner”

  1. Josh, while I agree with the fact that everyone has a longing for transcendence, and starting there with sharing the gospel is ONE method of sharing the gospel, I respectfully disagree that that is where EVERY gospel presentation should start. There are several examples in Scripture where Jesus, especially to the proud who thought they had no sin, Jesus showed them their sin first (for example, the “Rich Young Ruler”). If we have practical examples in the Scriptures of Jesus sharing the gospel by pointing to a person’s sin first, I would be hesitant to rule that out as a viable method of us sharing the gospel as well.

    • Danny,

      That’s true. I think the problem I’m trying to point out is most of our sermons and presentations start there. Especially sermons is what I’m zeroing in on. In the culture we live in today, people don’t live in their sin, they don’t think it exists or is very bad. Starting with God given desires put in us as creation, as made in the image of God, it puts a more level playing field so to speak. It shows them that they were created and why they have the desires they do. Just a different approach to it. Great reminder though. Thanks Danny.

  2. Do you ever feel that this approach feeds the post-modern mind set that it’s not “our fault”? that we are victims rather than those responsible? that a vague ambiguous sin that happened in the garden has ruined my relationships and my community?

    I love that John goes back to the garden. Its amazing how the eternity God has placed in in our hearts gives us an even playing field. But when talking to someone (or preaching a sermon) how do I get from creation to a specific call to see Jesus? how to I get to He is the one who took punishment for us that we personally deserve and in turn giving us not only eternal life but His righteousness that we lack?

    • It can feed that, but that’s why you continue the biblical story and get to Genesis 3. Genesis 3 happens, sin comes into play and we are told Jesus is coming. I think if you stop at Genesis 2, you’ll never show them why it’s broken.

  3. Great thoughts!
    I believe one purpose of preaching, maybe one of the main purposes, is to inspire people to want the Christian message to be true and real. I explicitly spend time talking about Eden, and the relationship we were meant to have with God, each other, ourselves, and the world every couple of months and try to trace some theme through the whole thing.

    Other times, this structure is more implicit in my messages. I often say, “In the beginning we were..” and I’d try to connect what life with God was like to the “Eternity” God set in their hearts (Ecc 3:11) to get them yearning for what we once had. I then try to show how sin (I often just call it rebellion) is what keeps us from what we all yearn for. Then I show how Jesus is sufficient to restore us to what we yearn for, once had, and will now have, because of him, in the New Creation.

    Sometimes I never use the word “Sin” in a sermon and use some synonym for it. The vast majority of the time, I use some synonym for sin and as the message goes on I reveal that this problem we have is Sin. So in a way, I present a definition of sin (Without calling it that), then I try to get people to agree that they do that and that it is a problem, then I show that this problem is what the bible calls sin. So every week, in a way, I am teaching people what sin is rather than just throwing out the word and have people tune out because of it.

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