Does a person have to understand sin to be saved?


I was asked at one point in my life, “Does a person have to understand his sin to be saved?”  My generation has been taught, unashamedly, that it’s all about Jesus.  It’s about knowing Jesus, and His love.  Gone are the days of revivals teaching Hell, fire and brimstone.  Now are the days of acceptance, tolerance and love.  We may acknowledge sin in a general sense, but there is no specific naming of it.  Except, of course, when we get on our political high horse.

So the question is honest and characteristic of a tolerant, loving millennial who wants to find hope for eternity.

In short the answer is yes.  A resounding yes.  It is sin alone that separates us from God.  It is our wickedness and sinful nature that God will judge and for which God will condemn to Hell.  Adam and Eve lived in communion with God and it was only for the sin of eating the forbidden fruit that they were condemned, kicked out of the garden, separated from God, cursed and damnation to Hell became the standard for unrepentant humanity.  We are all born with a sinful nature, we are all born condemned; “conceived in sin” David says (Ps 51.5).

God is sovereign and He is the judge.  Yes, He is love and the fact that He has left us on this Earth to have an opportunity to hear of Him and repent is the most loving and gracious act possible.  He did not wipe us off the face of the earth when we ate that cookie our mother said not to eat, the first time we lied, the first time we hit our sister.  No, He is patient towards us (2 Peter 3.9).  But His patience will run out, and when we stand before the judgment seat, He will condemn the sinner to Hell; the sinner who is not covered in the blood of Jesus.

But acknowledging sin is not enough.  We must develop (be given) God’s heart and perspective on it.  We have all met the “Christian” who is fascinated with salvation stories, but who dwells on the wickedness that was before the conversion.  That person who says He believes the Gospel, but still thinks if he is good enough, if he goes to church and does all the right things, if he plays the game, he will be saved.

“A sign of sanctification is an antipathy against sin.  A hypocrite may leave sin, yet love it.  As a serpent sheds its coat, but keeps its sting.  But a sanctified person can say he not only leaves sin, he loathes it.”

– Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity

Thomas Watson, one of the puritans, wrote so clearly on the subject.  We must loathe our sin.  Detest it, hate it, abandon it and think of it as God thinks of it:  worthy of damnation.  If we truly believed our sin worthy of damnation, we would not cheat on our income taxes.  We would not break the speed limit.  We would not tell white lies or steal to feed the poor.  And we would refrain from these sins because we hate them.  Watson points out that the hypocrite leaves his sin, but remembers it fondly.  It is only the unrepentant who continues in it.

So what are you?  Are you being sanctified?  Is God saving you?  Or are you a hypocrite?  Or are you the unrepentant?  We are all sinners, we will all continue to sin until the day that we die.  But God is concerned about your heart towards it and the resulting resolution to die to it.

“Then the Lord appeared to Solomon at night and said to him, ‘I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice.  If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.'”

– 2 Chr 7.12-14

God Himself said that if we humble ourselves, pray, seek Him and turn away from our sin, we will be saved.  Yes, we must understand our sin.  That it breaks the heart of God.  That every sinful action puts Jesus back on the cross.  That He hates it and will justly judge it by eternal damnation.  But that He also took the punishment we deserve for our sin and offers us Christ’s righteousness.  Jesus took our place.  So let us consider your actions today.  Ask God to reveal to you His heart about your decisions.  Rely on His strength to honor Him, and loathe your sin.



You’ve done it again.

You lied about honorariums and tips on your income taxes and two years have passed without a thought, but you just received a notice from the IRS that you are being investigated.

You returned once again to that alluring pornographic website where you fantasize about women and situations other than your wife, but you forgot to clear the cookies in your browser and it popped up when your child turned on the computer.

That heat wave of primal instinct to fight or flee is washing over your body from head to toe and panic is settling into your heart.  Everyone is going to know.  You are ruined.

Shame is a unique experience, because it often is the resulting feeling of being caught in a sin.  Guilt is the conscience of the self condemning the sinner for his actions, but shame is the weight of the burden associated with losing one’s reputation.  Shame is not typically a concession to the sinfulness of the action committed but rather the grief of the knowledge that the action is sinful and it is now known to the world that the offender has acted without remorse.

As we mature, we become more crafty in covering our sins.  I saw a video floating around the internet this week of a young girl, perhaps five years old, who was telling her mother that a ghost had drawn on the table with a permanent marker.  “Call the police” she said, because the culprit needed to be caught.  By the time we are adults, we learn to redefine our terms and manipulate the facts so that we can assert that we have had not had sex with someone – meaning natural, vaginal intercourse – but oral sex preformed under the desk of the oval office slips by.

“Be sure that your sin will find you out.”

 – Num 32.23

Unfortunately, no matter how crafty we become in manipulation and self-justification, there will come a day when everything will be laid bare.  Our sin will find us out.  God will judge.  Everything.

“For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light.”

– Luke 8.17

But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.  Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops.

– Luke 12.2-3

And shame, while it deals primarily with pride and not the heart of the sin preformed, can be a factor that leads to our repentance and salvation.  One day whatever act you are doing right this moment will be made known – shouted from the housetops, as it were, and all who are standing in line for judgment will hear.  Now, we might try to appease ourselves to know that everyone will be in the same boat, but the standard is our holy and perfect God.  He will not be put to shame.

If your pride is your concern, it will be shattered.  But do you know that there is hope?

But there is forgiveness with You,
That You may be feared.

– Ps 130.4

Seek the Lord while He may be found;
Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return to the Lord,
And He will have compassion on him,
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.

– Is 55.6-7

If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

– 1 John 1.9

Our pride and fear of being shamed can lead us to salvation.  As we confess that we know that we have sinned and ask God for His forgiveness of those sins, He puts His Holy Spirit within us who will convict us of sin such that we despise the very act of it.  It will no longer be the fear of being caught the drives us, but the hatred for doing that which God forbids because we love Him and want to honor Him.

Test yourself today.  Why do you do what you do?  Do you keep the rules?  And if so, do you keep them for your pride?  Or do you keep them because you love God and want to make Him happy?  Do you break the rules and cover it up?  If so, do you know that one day everything will be brought to light, if not on this earth than at the judgment?  There is hope.  Come to Jesus while there is still time.