Mistakes As Sin: Does the Church Need a New Grace?


I keep wondering why the American Church seems to be having little or no impact on this nation. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that evangelism ain’t what it used to be. I’ve said before that in my younger days I was routinely approached by people trying to share Jesus with me, but that hasn’t happened in a long time.

Speaking of a long time ago, Cerulean Sanctum turns 10 this year, and back in the early days I wrote a post called “Whatever Happened to Sin?” The important line in that post stated the obvious: “In short, it used to be about sin.”

It used to be.

The Church’s main talking point was sin. Sin used to be obvious. We knew what sin was. And we knew who the sinners were.

Today, we think we know who the sinners are, but their sins are not always as clear as they once were. Or should I say that they aren’t so easily labeled sin as they once were.

Think about these “sins”:

The pharmaceutical company that releases a batch of tainted drugs that harm people.

The accountant who makes an error in a corporate spreadsheet that causes shareholder losses.

The bus driver who falls asleep, his bus careening off the road, killing a dozen passengers.

The politician who said one stupid thing amid a host of smart ones and derailed his election chances.

The school principal who responds to angry parents by banning a disputed book from a reading list, only to anger other parents.

People can do a million things right, but that one thing done wrong, that decision made in a flash and under pressure, comes back to haunt them. It’s what they fear more than the fires of hell when they go to bed at night.

Christians will argue that people have the wrong priorities. And maybe they do. Maybe the unbeliever SHOULD be more worried about the fires of hell.

But in a daily existence where every last one of us is bombarded by an endless series of choices our forefathers never had to contend with, most people are wary of every little decision they must make. Because we’ve ramped up the consequences of decision-making mistakes to a fever pitch.

I’d hate to be a doctor today. I can’t imagine the minefield most doctors must contend with. Make a tiny mistake—or even the patient perception of a mistake that actually isn’t—and you could be sued to within an inch of your life and lose everything you spent decades working for.

And it doesn’t have to be the doctor. It seems like each of us, no matter what our profession or life goals, is under a ridiculous amount of scrutiny, where even an innocent mistake can derail a lifetime of hard work, where the difference between success and failure may be one word more carefully chosen.

Beyond our own competency issues and the ever-present whip of punishment, what of the unforeseen?

I confess: I was an Enron investor. It wasn’t a lot of money, just $1,500, but I watched it vanish. I’d done all the research too. Even had a couple investment advisers commend the choice of that Houston company. 2+2=5All the stats about the company looked good. No one realized all the stats were lies foisted on the SEC by the company.

Life happens, right? It’s not always in your favor or mine.

But decisions matter, and sociologists are noting an increased fear of decision-making and a subsequent burnout with having to make an endless stream of choices daily. Each of those decisions may offer potential downsides, with the fallout from a mistaken choice not always obvious on the surface.

Sure, Boris Yeltsin wept from all the choices that bombarded him when he and George H.W. Bush visited an American supermarket. And yes, we have to contend with that decision overload every day.

But where is the grace for mistakes when making those decisions?

Also in the distant past of Cerulean Sanctum, I wrote “We Need a Gospel That Speaks to Failure.” More than at any time in history, I think meeting that need is critical.

It’s not that people don’t understand sin. It’s that we’ve conflated sin and mistakes. For the most part, the world at large can’t tell the difference anymore. Worse, we’ve elevated the cost of mistakes and we’ve made them the worse offense.

You make a goof at work that gets you fired and you yell at your kid because of it. The real sin is yelling at your kid, but the consequences of failing to carry the one that led to underestimating a project’s cost that dominoed into your job ouster seem far more oppressive and dire.

Or you chose the wrong major in college and spend the rest of your life in a series of dead-end jobs because of a decision you made at 18, when your head was full of Jell-O and your naiveté on overdrive.

Or you complimented that “nice” woman at work on her fashion sense and she slapped you with a six-figure lawsuit because of it.

Or all that you learned as a kid got turned upside-down by a changing society and you can’t adapt fast enough because none of your coping mechanisms work now that all the rules have changed.

Life is merciless anymore. There is no room for mistakes. Ever.

Can we blame people for thinking that maybe a mistake is worse than a sin? Or that we’ve made the two synonymous? And how can we get back to talking about sin, grace, and where people spend eternity if we can’t get past this issue of simple mistakes that carry nasty, earthly consequences?

We STILL need a gospel that speaks to failure. As far as I see, though, we don’t have one. The American Church continues to deal poorly with failure. Witness how church leaders who goof, whether by actually sinning or just making a simple mistake, often suffer the worst consequences of all and find the grace they heard about constantly now in preciously short supply.

Here’s the thing: What Jesus said about the measure we judge with being the measure we will be judged by extends beyond sin. If we hold every little non-sin mistake against people, that will come back to bite us some day.

I keep wondering if we Christians need to reexamine our theology to work up a new grace that addresses non-sin mistakes. Because, honestly, those mistakes trouble people immensely, and the guy who made the wrong choice of contractor in the heat of the moment and ended up costing his company dearly for that decision still needs grace for his mistake.

And if the Church can’t offer that kind of grace, who will?

One Outstanding Characteristic of Great Christians


It is with great humility that I share that God has richly blessed me through the lives of great Christian people I have known personally. It is with great sadness also that I confess that I have not known many such people, far fewer than I should, and not through any fault of my own.

That unique person who seems to walk with God in some deep relationship that appears unfathomable is a rarity. More than anything else, I wish I could be one of those people, though it seems like my own failings and the circumstances I encounter daily conspire against me. I still hope though.

In meditating on these great Christian people I have known, one characteristic shines brightly: Every last one of them always tried to see the best in people they encountered. It didn’t matter if those people they encountered were worthy of being thought of as best in anything, outstretched handthose great Christian people treated them as if they were.

If there is a sign of our times, it’s that we always tend to think the worst of others. We see them only as foes, as sinners, as people of low thinking, idiots, fools, perverts, jerks, libertines, and a host of other labels easily applied and—potentially—accurate.

But great Christians choose not to see people that way. They see them as they could be. They see them as they should be. They offer respect when none is deserved. And they respond to people in such a way that their caring and love helps raise others to the level of vision those great Christians possess. Great Christians elevate everyone around them and make them want to be better people.

I knew a great Christian once who was certainly not someone who at first glance would seem to be an exemplar of distinction. In a crowd, you would miss him. He didn’t talk fast or use big words. He never got beyond a high school education, and he lived in some podunk town off the beaten path. But I watched that man embrace a known drug dealer one day and the drug dealer called him “sir.” That great Christian knew who and what that man was and loved him anyway. I saw tears in that drug dealer’s eyes, and they were there because he saw past the insignificance of a great Christian’s exterior and saw Jesus Christ in all His glory in that great Christian’s interior. We all knew something happened to that drug dealer right then and there. He was convicted by Christ in another, all without a word needing to be spoken. Because of love. And because a simple man of God chose to reach out to the one person everyone else in the room avoided.

Great Christians don’t see the drug dealer. They see the person in pain who is lost and in need of Jesus. And those great Christians become Jesus to him or her.

We live in an age where the defense of our position, our rightness, our superiority over perceived foes and infidels, is the characteristic most admired in others. Yet the true nature of God is antithetical to this. Instead, He works through great Christians who are willing to see more in others than a practice or ideology opposed to their own.

Do you and I see the best in others? Does our presence raise up others? Are we winsome and attractive? Or do we scare off the spiritually needy with our need to be portrayed as paragons of truth and righteous ire?

When you and I were nothing, Jesus reached out to us and made us something. How can we offer anything less to those people who most need Him?

The Question Ignored By Christian Authorities, Leaders, Pundits, and Bloggers


The Internet is filled with words. The Christian section of it too.

To waltz into the Christian ghetto online will get you beaten about the head and neck with every sort of opinion, doctrinal refinement, and thought balloon. Yet it seems to me that for all the punditry and supposed solutions to all of life’s problems that the online Church says it answers, almost every source of solutions ignores the foundational question that most people in the world today ask:

Does anyone care that I exist?

Sadly, that’s not a question we are answering well in the contemporary Church. We can say “God loves you,” but we don’t offer most people much flesh and blood proof of that truth.Lonely in a crowd I suspect it’s all too common for a person to walk into a typical church on Sunday with that question burning in the heart and leave an hour later with it unresolved—and perhaps even unadressed entirely. That a person can be utterly alone in a church packed with people…well, it happens, doesn’t it?

So what difference does all the talk on the Internet make if all these authoritative voices have so little impact on that most pressing of all inquiries?

The tangential issue that bothers me most about that unresolved question is that I wonder if any of the Christians behind the voices on the Internet (and outside it) even bother to wonder what it is like to be someone else. Do we ever put ourselves into the lives of other people? Do we consider how they live, struggle, cope, and adjust?

It doesn’t seem as if we do. What else explains the hamfisted way in which we deal with others? What else answers how agendas, programs, and initiatives steamroll real people? Or how people can encounter us and not be changed by the Jesus we say lives in our hearts?

Other people simply are not on our radar.

I am convinced that the only thing that will snap us out of our cocoons of self is personal tragedy. We have to suffer greatly before we begin to wonder how other people live, especially if we find ourselves alone in the midst of that suffering.

I would think that it wouldn’t have to go that far, that the Holy Spirit would be enough to enlighten us to the need for dealing with humanity’s brutal question, but it doesn’t seem as if He is getting through to us. Not that He is somehow insufficient, only that we stuff our ears with “our lives” so as to block His shouts.

Someday in the American Church, a group of people will wake up and help others answer the question of whether or not anyone genuinely cares if they exist. Those pioneers will demonstrate that care too.

It can’t happen soon enough. More power to ’em.