Last week we talked about rights and how we often don’t define our terms. So, we end up talking about different things. This happens in so many areas of life. It happens in the home, it happens in friendships, it happens in the workplace, where we end up talking past each other because we’re using words in different ways, but using the same words.
This week, I want to talk a little more about words. I know that probably sounds boring, but I think these will be words that you’ve heard, and may have even used. I want to talk about words like “broken”, and “brokenness”, and “messy”, and “mistakes”, and things like that. In recent years, these are all words that have become more mainstream to describe a person’s problem. If we’re talking about what Jesus needed to do, why we need Jesus, or what a person’s problem is apart from Jesus, oftentimes that gets expressed in terms of brokenness. “Well, you’re a broken person. You need Jesus to make you whole. Or your life’s messy. We need Jesus to bring order there. Or maybe that you’re hurt or you’re damaged, and so you need Jesus to bring healing. Or you’ve made mistakes.”
All of these things may be true. They may very well be true in some certain ways. But they’re all also non-biblical terms for the problem a person has, apart from Jesus. In fact, what you might say is all of these are results or consequences of the fundamental problem a person has. Oftentimes, when we talk about the gospel, we elevate secondary or even non-biblical things to be the results of believing the gospel. We’ve talked about that in the past with the prosperity gospel, where people who try to couch the gospel, primarily in terms of bringing peach or happiness to someone. They’re elevating what may or may not be secondary benefits to a primary place.
When it comes to talking about brokenness, and messiness, and mistakes, and hurt, and things like that, we’re elevating secondary consequences over the person’s primary problem. So what is the primary problem? If brokenness, messiness, and mistakes, and hurt, and those sorts of things aren’t really biblical language for describing a person’s problem apart from Christ, what is the problem? What is that language? This is not revolutionary, I assure you, but it’s things like sin, and rebellion, and iniquity and lawlessness. We might even toss in treason, while that’s not necessarily a biblical word, I definitely think that concept is picked up in Scripture.
Contrast sin, rebellion and iniquity to brokenness, messiness and mistakes. Broken is what a vase is when I knock it off of the table. Messy might very well describe my closet. But it’s not an apt metaphor or term to describe a person in their relationship to God or the problem they have in their relationship to God. Others have also pointed out that you can’t really repent of being broken. If you’re broken, you need something to fix you. How can you repent of brokenness? You can repent of sin, things you did in rebellion to God (Rebellion, there’s another word) so it’s kind of hard to repent of mistakes. “I tried really hard. I gave it my all, and I just kind of tripped as I was crossing the finish line, so I didn’t come in first.” That doesn’t really sound like something you should repent of. But choosing, while knowing God’s law, to not live in light of his law, that is something that needs repentance.
Often, non-biblical terms beget other non-biblical terms. Non-biblical ideas and concepts lead to believing and talking about other non-biblical concepts and ideas. Or at the very least, elevating secondary things, either benefits or consequences, over the primary benefit of consequence when it comes to talking about the gospel. Often, this language also leads to us focusing on ourselves. Who is broken? What is the primary problem if we’re talking about a person’s brokenness? Them. They’re the thing that needs fixing, and not the fact that they’ve sinned against a holy God and have a sin debt that needs to be paid for. No, the issue is them.
Often, when we talk about brokenness, we’re talking about sadness and loneliness and hurt, and things like that. Once again, the primary thing in view there is the person and what they need, not the fact that God has been sinned against. Hurt is a very real thing. We should care about that. It’s just not the primary problem a person has apart from Christ. The same with messiness. If you’re messy, you need to get your life in order, but once again, the focus is on you or the person you’re talking with.
One of the interesting things about words is that words are an attempt to reflect reality. Our language, when we use it, is true only inasmuch as it corresponds to reality. If I say the wall is green, and it’s actually yellow, I have not used words appropriately, or I have not expressed the truth because what I said does not actually match reality.
It’s interesting, when we talk about a person’s state apart from Christ, we can use words that either soften and downplay their condition. We can use words that make their condition seem more extreme than it is. We could use words that accurately represent their condition. Obviously, we should endeavor to do the third thing. We don’t want to downplay, we don’t want to make more extreme, we want to accurately represent.
The very first thing we should consider doing is using biblical terms. You can use a biblical term and use it a non-biblical way. The second thing we have to consider doing is using a biblical term, yes, but using it in the way that the bible uses it, because a person’s problem, the fundamental issue that man has apart from Christ, has not actually changed since the day of Jesus. If the terms and the ideas were appropriate then, they’re appropriate now. And actually appropriate is too weak of a word, because appropriate is kind of the idea of, “well, you could wear that outfit to the dinner. That would be an appropriate choice.” No, I would actually say it’s the best thing to use biblical terms in biblical ways, especially when we’re describing the problem a sinner has apart from being reconciled to his holy God. Because once again, we talked about this a minute ago, brokenness and messiness, they aren’t things that actually lead to a biblical type of response.
Biblically speaking, brokenness and messiness don’t really seem like they fit with repentance and and faith. What do I need faith for if I’m broken? Why would that make sense? Why do I need a savior if my life is messy? No, I need an organizer or a therapist. But what those words don’t make me seem like I need is a savior or a king, or they also don’t make me seem like I’m accountable to a lord. And yet that fundamentally speaking, biblically speaking, is the major idea behind sin, and rebellion, and iniquity, and the lawlessness. All of these presuppose a moral law giver, a king, a sovereign of the universe to whom I am accountable, to whom the person I am talking with is accountable. If I use words, language as ordained by God, in that capacity that God has given me, to downplay the sinner’s plight in front of him, woe be it for me to have done that. Shame on me, if I use words and language in a different way to make it seem like a person’s condition is less severe than it is.
It would be kind of like coming and seeing a dying person and knowing they’re dying, and knowing what the solution is to their death, their impending death, and not describing their situation accurately enough for them to actually see the situation, realize the problem and take that next step. That’s what often we do, when we use words that soften, and obscure, and obfuscate a person’s condition. There are consequences to a person’s condition apart from Christ. If we use words like brokenness, messiness and mistake, the biblical language for the consequences don’t seem like they fit. For instance, what would wrath, and punishment, and death, and atonement have to do with being messy? Those seem like far overreactions. Death for being messy? Needing to be atoned for or wrath exhibited towards me because I’m broken? Those seem like overreactions. Those biblical terms used in biblical ways seem like they don’t fit when we use non-biblical language, like brokenness, and messiness, and mistake and hurt, and things like that.
But when we use words like sin, rebellion and iniquity, will wrath, punishment and justice actually seem more fitting, in terms of describing our plight? God’s response towards sin, rebellion, iniquity and lawlessness fits with wrath, punishment, justice, death and the need for atonement. That last one is actually really key. If the way we describe a person’s problem, understood in a biblical context from a biblical point of view, does not make it seem like that person’s sin needs to be atoned for, then why would they see the need to place their trust in Jesus, who was the atoning sacrifice on the cross for what? For sin, not for brokenness.
All of this fits together. We talk about sin, and that necessitates talking about wrath, which necessitates talking about punishment, and justice, and death, and spiritual death, which ultimately leads us to talking about atonement. Jesus on the cross was not just a man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was the lamb of God, come to be the sacrifice, the atoning sacrifice, for sinners, not just broken people, not messy people, but for sinners.
The issue, also, is that we will be broken and messy in some ways, depending on how you define that term, the rest of our lives. The fundamental problem is not that, it’s our separation from God. The cross at the atoning point, solves that problem. But we don’t make that seem glorious and necessary if we use words that don’t lead a person to see it as necessary and glorious. I think that’s something we really need to consider and talk about.
There are hateful ways to talk about a person’s position. You can be the person that seems like you’re not just communicating the message that God punishes sinners in hell, you actually want to be the one to punish the sinner in hell. That is inappropriate. That is not the way we are shown in scripture to communicate these truths. We are the messengers making an appeal, Paul says, in Second Corinthians, to be reconciled to God. We have been given the message of reconciliation. Broken people don’t need to be reconciled. People who are messy don’t need to be reconciled. People who have sinned against a sovereign God need to be reconciled. That’s where, once again, biblical terms and language come together to show us that in love, we appeal to people to be reconciled in Christ. Reconciliation implies there is a party who has a problem with you. That’s important.
There are even evangelistic kind of programs or methods out there that use non-biblical language to describe a person’s state apart from God, or to describe the reason that they should be a Christian. I think of the four spiritual laws. It actually starts out, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Find me any sermon in the bible that says anything similar to that, and I’ll post a retraction on, but that’s just not in the Bible. Nowhere, even in the Book of Acts, through the sermons of Paul or Peter, do any of them say, “You should be a Christian because God loves you.” No, the problem is you’re a sinner and you need to repent, and be baptized, and change your mind about your behavior and your life, and place your trust in Christ. Those are biblical terms.
The three circles (which is a helpful and actually simple way that anyone can learn to use as a tool to share the gospel) presents a person’s problem fundamentally as brokenness, and I think that that’s an issue. Once again, that puts the focus on me, and how I feel. A person, a non-Christian, could very well not feel broken. I think there’s some people out there who, from a secular point of view, are very successful. They might be wealthy, they might be healthy, they might have great relationships from their point of view, and so you could start talking to them about brokenness, and they’re like, “Hey, buddy, I’m not broken. Things are excellent for me. I do not have problems.” But when we use biblical language, everyone will realize they have done things that are wrong, even by their own conscience. That’s Paul’s argument in Romans two and three.
When we use terms like sin, rebellion, iniquity, they call for a response. They talk about the party who has been wronged, to God, and they ultimately lead us to being able to talk about the need for atonement, and that leads us to talk about Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross, and the trust that a person must place in him to be their sacrifice, because they cannot be that sacrifice. But all of this, in some very real ways, hinges on us talking in biblical ways, using biblical words.
I hope this has been helpful and I’ll talk with you next week on Unapologetic.