I remember playing with lawn darts when I was a kid in the 1980s. Larger than regular darts and weighted at the tip, these projectile of death were the source of 6,100 emergency room visits and several deaths over the course of just a few years.[i] Playing with them was a lot of fun—when they hit their target. But when they hit people, they could do a lot of damage. Sin is like lawn darts. It looks like a lot of fun—until it hurts someone.
Preaching on sin is a lot like lawn darts, too. When a pastor preaches on sin, he can hit his target— in which case, people feel convicted and convinced to change their ways. If he misses his target, people just go home saying, “I have no idea what the sermon was about today.” But sometimes the preacher misses the target completely and hits someone by accident. Those kinds of sermons can do a lot of damage. Ministers must remember that when they preach on sin, the target is sin, not the sinner. In our faithfulness to God’s word and zeal to condemn sinful activity, we must be careful to condemn no one. We have to live by Jesus’ words, “Judge not, that you be not judged (Matthew 7.1[ii]).”
It’s tough to preach on sin these days. Fifty years ago, when the preacher spoke about sin, people felt convicted. Today when the preacher talks about sin, they just get offended. D.L. Moody said:
John Wesley used to ask two questions of the young men whom he sent out to preach. The first was, "Has anyone been converted?" The second question was, "Did anyone get angry?"If the answer was, "No," he told them he did not think the Lord had called them to preach the Gospel, and he sent them back to their business. When the Holy Ghost convicts of sin, people are either converted or--they don't like it and get mad.”[iii]
But still, we must preach on sin. To be faithful witnesses of the Good News, we must first declare the bad news: that sin is real, and there’s a price to pay for our perversity. In Jeremiah 17:1-10, the prophet warned the people of Judah of the problem of sin. He told them that their sins were written both on the altars of God, and on their own hearts. In their idolatry they had gone to the pagan high places in their search for truth. Today we also go to our high places. We idolize people like doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists, authors, scientists, and celebrities who we think have the truth. When we listen to what the world tells us rather than what God’s Word says, we find ourselves to be like the people of Judah—and God’s warnings for them apply to us as well.
Jeremiah warned of the penalty for sin. He said that if the people persisted in their way, they would lose their wealth, their heritage, their freedom, and their blessing. He cautioned them not to follow their own hearts as their source of truth—but to seek God for life’s answers. Today, the world tells us that if you want truth you should “follow your heart.” Our culture no longer believes in absolute truth, insisting that truth is relative rather than fixed. “Your truth might be different from my truth,” says the world. Since there’s no reliable source of absolute truth, society tells us to look to our own hearts for guidance. But God’s Word says differently. Jeremiah 17.9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Our hearts will mislead us. They will deceive us. But God’s Word shows us unfailing truth for every day of our lives.
Jeremiah 17.7-8 promises that there is a source of real truth. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” This echoes Psalm 1:2, which adds the dimension of meditation on God’s Word. Trusting in God and learning His Word are the ways to gain truth in this world. Your heart will mislead you, but God and His Word will not.
Instead of looking to our culture’s “high places” for false truth that justifies sin and renames it as disease or lifestyle or compulsion, take a look at what God’s Word calls it. Instead of trusting the word of society about the Bible, try trusting the Bible’s word about the world. Then, instead of getting offended when you hear about sin, you’ll be convicted of your need for a Savior. We can never be saved from sin unless we get honest with ourselves about sin’s reality in our lives. But when we do admit our faults to God and ask forgiveness, receiving the pardon of Jesus as God’s free gift, then we will know the truth—and the truth will set us free (John 8.32).
[i] Soniak, Matt. "How One Dad Got Lawn Darts Banned." 2012. http://mentalfloss.com/article/31176/how-one-dad-got-lawn-darts-banned. August 3, 2014.
[ii] All scriptures taken from the ESV.
[iii] D.L. Moody, in Resource, July/August, 1990.