Probably the worst thing you could do when evangelizing to anyone is to use the word “sin.” It’s a word that has no meaning to anyone except Christians. Jesus never used it, but this is what He did do.
Ok, before I get a busload of angry Christians pulling up verses stating that I’m wrong in my conclusions, let me just say that yes, sin exists, yes, the church needs to do a better job of utilizing that word and yes, God, Jesus, and the Bible do talk about sin – but not to the non-believers. Let me explain with a caveat preceding my explanation to set the mood.
The Bible, as a whole, is primarily meant for Christians, especially the letters of Paul and the other Apostles. The books were mainly collected for the church and the body of believers during the first century and present believers. Non-believers won’t know what “errors” we (Christians) are talking about as they are “in the world.” If you closely read the New Testament and examine who Jesus and the writers were talking to, you will see that there is a distinction between non-believers and disciples. All of the letters of Paul, Peter, James, and the other Apostles were written to the various churches and believers scattered through the regions, and they were meant to be read to believers only. These letters were meant to inform, edify, correct, and in some cases, rebuke Christians by calling their behaviors “errors” or sin.
The biggest mistake and this is just my opinion, that I see is non-believers having access to things that are meant for Christians, not that they (non-believers) are undeserving, but that the majority of the text is meant for Christians and can be understood by Christians only.
As a side note, this puts a different spin on things, especially when bad stuff was happening IN the church that was quite sinful. All of the things about adultery, fornication, gluttony, and the like, were directed towards Christians. Non-believers, when doing these things, are “fulfilling their job description,” as it were, and correcting them, calling them “sinners” and their acts “sinful,” brings into play the law. Paul wrote quite a bit concerning the law of God and what effect it would have on those outside of the body of Christ in Romans 7.
“For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death.” ~Romans 7:5 NKJV
When we use the word “sin,” we (Christians) are using the law of God as a standard, and the law itself stirs up sin. In a nutshell, Christians are not doing anyone any favors by bringing the law to a criminal.
Ok, but didn’t Jesus use the word “sin” in His Ministry?
Again, we have to look at who Jesus was talking to, if he ever used the word at all. When Jesus rebuked anyone, it was either the Pharisees/Sadducees or his disciples – because they knew better, having access to the law or the Master. Hey, if you don’t believe me, believe the Gospels:
“Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.””
Matthew 4:12-17 NKJV
“Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.””
Mark 1:14-15 NKJV
“Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.”
Luke 4:14-15 NKJV
Jesus used the word “repent” a lot, but we’ll get into that word and what it means in a bit.
Ok, but didn’t he tell his disciples to talk about sin when they preached?
When we look at scripture, the commissions found throughout the Gospels can be divided up into what I call the “minor” and “Major” commissions. The “minor” commissions were given to Jesus’ disciples before he died on the cross and resurrected on the 3rd day.
The “minor” commissions:
“And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him. These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.”
Matthew 10:1-8 NKJV
“And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons: Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, that is, “Sons of Thunder”; Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananite; and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him. And they went into a house.”
Mark 3:13-19 NKJV
“And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them power over unclean spirits. He commanded them to take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bag, no bread, no copper in their money belts— but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics. Also He said to them, “In whatever place you enter a house, stay there till you depart from that place. And whoever will not receive you nor hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!” So they went out and preached that people should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them.”
Mark 6:7-13 NKJV
“Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. And He said to them, “Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece. “Whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And whoever will not receive you, when you go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” So they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.”
Luke 9:1-6 NKJV
“After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road. But whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” And He said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.””
Luke 10:1-9, 17-20 NKJV
The “Major” Commissions:
“Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.”
Matthew 28:16-20 NKJV
“Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.””
Mark 16:14-18 NKJV
“Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.””
John 20:19-23 NKJV
You can also read the various evangelisms done by various Apostles/disciples in the book of Acts, and they did not use the word “sin.” The best analogy of our situation and the 1st-century church can be found with Paul’s discussion with the Greeks, but you’ll also note that Paul never used the “s” word:
“Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.””
Acts 17:22-31 NKJV
OK, OK, I get it. so how should I talk to unbelievers about Jesus?
When I worked at the animal shelter, I encountered dogs that had known nothing but kennel life. A dog in a kennel has to contend with poo & pee in its space, and space is very low. They have to deal with a concrete floor and the smell of waste from other animals, not to mention the noise. All they get is a blanket, toys, food, water, and a volunteer to play with them if they’re lucky. Now I, and others, know that a dog’s life in an animal shelter is not as great as it could be in a good forever home, but the dog doesn’t know it. All the dog knows in its temporary shelter is the life it has now – it has no bases of comparison.
While I’m not comparing an unbeliever to a dog, the situations are the same.
Believers know what life is like with the Kingdom of Heaven residing within us. Believers know the purest form of joy, peace, love, and the other fruits of the Holy Spirit. Believers know that God is now our Father and not a Judge to be feared. We were “taken out of our kennels” and escorted to our new forever home in the here and now, as well as the hereafter by the gentle hand of Jesus Christ who willingly paid for our adoption with His obedience and His blood. Unbelievers are still in their particular kennels – their lives, and they think things are hunky-dory.
Ok, you’ve made your point, so how do we talk to them?
Well, we do what Jesus did, we tell them to stop and turn around from the destructive path that they are on – in other words, Jesus told them to repent, and we should do the same.
Every time I talked with an inmate at our jail, I NEVER used the word “sin,” but instead talked about the path that they were on and posed questions like, “how do you see this ending,” or “are you better off,” or ” are you truly where you want to be.” I would tell them that I don’t fear or have any worries about anything, that I can go to sleep at night without doubt or worry, that I don’t feel like the other shoe is about to drop. For them (the lost), this is a foreign state. Those questions, in the world of the spirit, remove obstacles and willingly brings the lost individual into the light where they get to hear aloud their own heart. From those questions, I bring Jesus “down to them,” just as God did for us – He met us in our state. I saw more response using this approach – this non-invasive approach than saying, “you’re a sinner and you need Jesus.”
It also helped when I showed them the love and power of the Lord by laying hands on them and healing them of sickness by the power of God.
Pose questions, tell unbelievers about what being a child of God is like, then offer them the story of Jesus – THE FULL STORY about why He willingly went to the cross, even when we didn’t want anything to do with God. All disciples are is glorified seed scatters, always in season with the Word so we can give a reason for the hope that lies within each of us (Christians), and that they (unbelievers) can have true joy, peace, love and the other fruits of the Holy Spirit, as well as the Kingdom of God when they accept Christ as their Lord and Savior.
All Christians are to do is to cast a net. Let God/Jesus worry about picking out the bad fish.