What should our emphasis be as believers? Should we only focus on the positive, or is there a place to also highlight the negative? For example, should we only talk about righteousness, goodness and God’s love, and so on, or should we also talk about sin and its damaging effects, judgment, etc?
Plenty of Christians believe we should only focus on the positive stuff, and just ignore the negative. They claim that the emphasis in the Bible is only on the positive, so we should also be doing this. But are they in fact correct? Is it really the case that the Bible does not talk much about sin and the negative, and instead mainly emphasises the positive?
I mention all this because of a recent exchange which occurred elsewhere. It is amazing when you simply post a Bible verse or a one-line Christian quote how various believers will almost spring out of the woodwork and give you some flak.
They almost seem to think they can improve upon Scripture. Now that is something that really baffles me. They almost think they are somehow more spiritual, wise and loving than even Jesus is! They will often insist on making false dilemmas as they try to force us to take just one of two complementary biblical truths.
On this issue they insist that we should only latch on to the positive, and dismiss the negative, as if Scripture commands us to do that. But in fact Scripture nowhere makes that demand. Indeed, the Bible speaks to the issue of sin, judgment, holiness and wrath just as much as it speaks to the opposite.
Yet some believers think we must choose one or the other. Sorry, but I am not buying this unbiblical either/or baloney. I am taking the biblical both/and position. I have written before about how the emergent church movement is especially guilty of this silly false polarisation:
But since these unnecessary battles keep cropping up, let me once again seek to address this issue. The text which resulted in this recent debate was 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
I had simply posted it along with this remark: “So could this be one of the most well-known Bible verses amongst Christians but the least observed and practiced?” But then the critics started coming at me, insisting that we should not focus on sin and so on, but just concentrate on the positive.
They said Christianity is all about relationship and love, and that should be our main focus, not on negative things like sin and the need for demanding holiness and so on. Loving God and others and having good relationships should be our real goal, not concentrating on sin and our lack of holiness and righteousness.
This of course is all the usual stuff which the emergent church folks have been saying for years now. They latch on to some biblical truths, but at the heavy price of rejecting others. They foolishly take some important biblical themes but then seek to ignore or downplay other vital biblical themes.
Thus they end up being biblically unbalanced. And of course if that goes too far, then you end up with heresy. Indeed, every heretical and cultic teaching basically involves this sort of Scripture twisting. Some truths of Scripture are elevated at the expense of others, resulting in genuine distortion and faulty teaching.
So what about these claims: what’s it gonna be? Discussion of sin and holiness, or discussion of love and relationship? But why in the world should we be forced to choose here? Of course we can’t discuss one without the other – they go together. To love God is to simultaneously hate sin. The 2 Chron 7:14 text makes this perfectly clear. As do heaps of others.
The emphasis in the Bible is on both, so I prefer to go along with that emphasis, instead of making false dichotomies. There are as many warnings about avoiding and shunning sin in the Bible as there are about seeking righteousness. The Bible is full of these side-by-side listings.
Simply start with a passage like Galatians 5:19-26. There we find a list of the sins of the flesh and then a list of the fruit of the Spirit. And for what it is worth, there are around 15 sins mentioned, yet just nine fruit of the Spirit. My critics must be thinking that Paul has really got the wrong emphasis here, and he needs to start concentrating on the positive.
That is basically what these folks are at least implying here: Paul must have been mistaken to give both such a full emphasis. ‘If I were Paul, or God, I would have done things differently here.’ They seem to think they can do a better job than Paul who was inspired by the Spirit of God in giving the proper emphasis on these matters.
Or consider a passage like Deuteronomy 28 as another such text. There we find a long list of curses for disobedience, and a list of blessings for obedience. So simply by having both side by side the biblical writer sees it as quite important to emphasise both, and not just concentrate on the good stuff.
Indeed, it is quite interesting once again to observe that the negative stuff predominates here. The list of curses (vv. 15-68) is much longer than the list of blessings (vv. 1-14). In fact, you also get another list of curses in 27:14-26. Again my critics would be hard pressed to explain such a discrepancy. Some of them would likely want to delete the curses altogether, to make the text much more positive and uplifting.
Sorry, but I always prefer to take the biblical emphasis as it is, instead of thinking I can somehow improve upon it. God knew what he was doing when he gave us his inspired Word, so I am not sure why some believers think they can tinker with it and make some improvements to it.
In sum, our focus on sin (or the other “negative” bits of Scripture) should be just as much as Scripture itself focuses on – no more and no less. We get that balance throughout the Bible, just as we do in individual texts like 2 Chron 7:14. I just don’t see an either/or here. I see a clear both/and. The Bible is quite plain on this actually: we are to love God and we are to hate sin, beginning with our self of course.
And we do these things simultaneously and with equal passion and commitment. Both are part of the walk of the believer and neither can be ignored or jettisoned. There can be no real love of God and others without a corresponding hatred of sin and revulsion of evil.
The Bible never tells us to pick between a love relationship and holiness. It never insists that we dwell on the “good” stuff while ignoring the “bad” stuff. We are to embrace it all, and embrace the emphasis which the Bible itself provides. The Gospel always contains the bad news as well as the good news.
As Charles Spurgeon rightly taught in a slightly different context: “The Divine Spirit wounds before he heals, he kills before he makes alive. We usually draw a distinction between law-work and gospel-work; but law-work is the work of the Spirit of God, and is so far a true gospel-work that it is a frequent preliminary to the joy and peace of the gospel. The law is the needle, which draws after it the silken thread of blessing, and you cannot get the thread into the stuff without the needle: men do not receive the liberty wherewith Christ makes them free till, first of all, they have felt bondage within their own spirit driving them to cry for liberty to the great Emancipator, the Lord Jesus Christ. This sense or spirit of bondage works for our salvation by leading us to cry for mercy.”
But if this message is still not sinking in to some folks, one last scripture will have to suffice: “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9). Kinda says it all, don’t you think? There is the biblical balance for you. Why I needed 1400 words to make this point is unclear, but I guess some folks need some convincing here!