Most Americans misunderstand God greatly. The god most Americans worship is the man upstairs who doesn’t take much seriously, who will always bow to the desires of his creation, and has the first and foremost goal of giving happiness to everyone. Americans worship a puny god who doesn’t have infinite power, infinite wisdom, or infinite anything. Oh, you wonder how I know this? Well, Americans have said it. Lifeway Research and Ligonier Ministries recently came out with the results of their research entitled, The State of Theology. And the results? Frightening.
Even among self-professing evangelicals, the results are eye-opening and concerning. No longer do evangelicals reference Scripture to find out what God is like. Instead, they consult their own opinions that have been influenced by half-listened-to sermons, documentaries on Netflix, and the latest book by ultra happy, always smiling, good ole Joel. So, the problem doesn’t just stem within the American unchurched. The problem stems in the pews of small church America all the way to the stadium seats of megachurch America.
The Overwhelming Majority of Americans Misunderstand God (and it’s a Big Deal)
I believe one of the greatest findings of this research was what Americans believe about sin. Because here’s the thing: what you believe about sin says a lot about what you believe about God. When Lifeway and Ligonier set out to discover what Americans believe about sin, they had people say whether or not they agreed or disagreed (and to what degree) with this statement:
Even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation.
How did people respond? 61% disagreed strongly. And another 12% disagreed somewhat. So consider the consequences of this kind of thinking. The overwhelming majority of Americans believe that the smallest sin (and of course the smallness of a sin is determined by the individual) does not deserve eternal damnation. If you asked ten strangers if they would call themselves a bad person, most if not all would say, of course not! Bad people, to most, are those who hurt people, steal from people, cheat people, lie habitually (not occasionally), and do the obvious like murder and rape.
That’s the thing with us humans. We have a sliding scale of what is good and bad. We are only as bad to the degree in which we are worse than the person next to us. We are only as good as to the degree in which we can convince ourselves of it.
We like to assume that we’re all good people and that there is nothing to worry about when it comes to our small little sins that don’t hurt anybody, or if they do, as long as we feel sorry for being caught or for hurting someone, it’s okay.
If we don’t believe our sin actually deserves eternal punishment, then we won’t seek eternal grace through the blood of Christ. We’ll just assume all our loved ones are in a better place, and we’re headed there, too.
Jesus Was Clear About Sin’s Consequences (Even the Smallest Sin)
“And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43).
That’s kind of extreme, don’t you think Jesus?
“And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell” (Mark 9:45).
But. Come on. Seriously?
“And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched’” (Mark 9:47-48).
Of course, you’re just using hyperbole with us, Jesus. I know this tactic…
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21-22).
This is getting out of hand. Jesus, you seem to take this sin thing a little too seriously.
Our Problem Isn’t What We Think About Sin
It’s what we think about God.
We apparently have God all wrong. The God of the Bible is the God who created the entire Universe, who holds the laws of nature in his grasp, who sustains all of life, who is outside of time and space, who has the authority to declare what sin is and what its consequences will be. And He takes sin extremely seriously. Why? Because, as R.C. Sproul has said, “Sin is cosmic treason.” We think the consequences of treason against a country are bad? They don’t even begin to compare to the consequences of treason against the Creator God.
One day, all of us will come face to face with this God. And our reaction will be that of Isaiah’s when he saw God (read about it in Isaiah 6), “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Simply being in God’s presence caused Isaiah to fall on his face. His sin was too great and God’s holiness was too great for him to be in God’s presence. And so it will be when we encounter the King of kings.
Sin Isn’t the End of the Story
You may be wondering, but what about God being loving and all that?! Well, to that I say, Christ crucified, Christ risen. To read more about why Jesus died on the cross and why this is paramount for us to understand and believe, click here.
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