I was talking with a co-worker recently, and he made it quite clear to me that “consequences” are what was missing from the sermons these days. He grew up going to a traditional (Methodist, I believe) church and, apparently, every sermon was full of “Don’t do [sin of the week] or you’re going to Hell!” That being what he was used to, it felt off to him to have a fluffy, feel-good sermon.
As a (self-proclaimed) disciple of Jesus, a student of the Bible, and a preacher of the Gospel, I was a little stunned to hear that.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve sat through my share of sermons like that. I won’t do it to myself anymore. It’s not what (or how) Jesus preached, and it’s not something I care to subject myself to. Preaching “sin consciousness” is the opposite of Jesus’ modus operandi. Jesus proclaimed the love and grace of Abba (Greek for daddy or father) for us. The people Jesus did speak to about their sins and the consequences of them were mainly the elders, the teachers, the (religious) lawyers, the scribes… in short, the religious elite (most specifically, the Pharisees). This select group of people that He talked harshly to were putting others in religious bondage, heaping guilt and condemnation on those that they deemed less than themselves, and making it nearly impossible to figure out the God stuff.
One of the things that gets said in most churches every Sunday morning is that you need to repent (a term which actually means to change your mind) of your sins and accept Jesus (rarely does anyone ever actually say what any of that means, though). Jesus and His Apostles declared the need for repentance to the Jews to let them know that they needed to have a different view of the Messiah and the Kingdom (of God) He which would reign over (concepts completely foreign to Gentiles).
I, personally, tend to weigh sin a little differently than a lot of my contemporaries – I actually use the One Commandment of Jesus as a measuring stick (or a bulls-eye, if you will, since sin actually means to miss the mark) – love others as I have have loved you.
I can use this metric (reflecting God’s Love) to determine if something is a sin or not: drug addiction, over-eating, alcoholism – all sin because they take your life away from your loved ones; pornography – a sin because it destroys the intimacy between you and your spouse; polluting the earth – a sin because it affects all future generations and their quality of life. (It’s really not rocket science.)
I do believe in consequences of sin. However, my interpretation of these consequences is also a little different than most – I actually believe that the Bible says that the sins of the world are eternally forgiven! To me, the consequences of sin are more corporeal – more of a hell-on-earth, you-made-your-bed-lie-in-it sort of consequence.
If I’m being completely honest, I struggle with the existence of, the qualifications for, and purpose (eternal torture and torment) of Hell as it’s been preached (marketed, really) to me in the “American Conservative Evangelical Church”. (I’m not 100% sure either way and I’m surely not trying to sway you one way or the other.)
Maybe I take the terms love and grace too literally. Maybe I go too far with the Gospel being Good News. Maybe I can see the Kingdom of God, Heaven (as well as Hell) on Earth, and Eternal Life all around me (as opposed to being a far-off, spiritual event). Maybe I’m more afraid of putting people in bondage because of their past than proclaiming their future in/with God. Maybe I have more faith in the words of Jesus than Dante. Maybe you’ll label me a heretic for this post… At some point I have to stop cowering in fear of that – you weren’t going to ask me to preach in your church anyway.
I’m not trying to convince you one way or the other about Hell. I’m simply offering my opinion based on the result of much study, prayer, and meditation on the consequences of sin and the necessity of sermonizing them.