Sin has become a very religious word. I suspect it might always have been. According to the dictionaries, it is derived from an Old German word “sunta”, which signifies a failure to comply with religious standards. Of course, in the Middle Ages, when the English borrowed the word, all standard were religious anyway.
The problem with sin being a religious word is that it carries a lot of baggage, which people who are not religious pick up when we use it in conversation with them. When we say someone has sinned, our words caries a sense of judgement, implying that we are better than they are because they have done something that is anathema to God. They usually pick up the shame and condemnation that the word conveys, even if they regret their actions. When we say that an action is sinful, it makes it seem far worse than if we just said that it is wrong, or a mistake.
Calling an action sinful implies that it deserves the full weight of God’s disapproval and that those who do it should be ashamed. Good people should probably stay away from them. Declaring that an action is sin leaves the person who has done it feeling condemned by our conversation with them.
This is a serious problem for sharing the gospel in the modern world, where people hate religious judgments. If we use the word “sin” when explaining what Jesus has done, the listener picks up a burden of shame and condemnation. Adding this to the shame that they already carry can make it hard for them to believe that Jesus loves them because our language implies that he has condemned them. Shame and condemnation come from the powers of evil, so we must avoid language that makes it seem like they come from Jesus.
Some evangelists believe that they have to convict people of “their sinfulness” as the first step in receiving the good news of Jesus. This “bad news” before “good news” creates a barrier to the gospel in the modern world, because many people are unable to get beyond the bad news. It also contradicts the way that Jesus shared the good news.
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