In his chapter on sin from the book Holiness, J.C. Ryle offers 5 reasons why having a right understanding of sin is important. He writes, “It only remains for me to point out some practical uses to which the whole doctrine of sin may be profitably turned in the present day.” Now, his present day (mid-late 1800s) may not seem relevant for us. No doubt things were very different for those living near the turn of the 19th century (hard to imagine a world with no computers, cell phones, TVs, etc.), but when we peek into the lives of those living in previous centuries it’s clear that the effects of sin transcend time and technology. So let’s look at Ryle’s first practical use of having a biblical view of sin.
Antodote #1: Understanding Sin Guards Against Weak Theology
Ryle says, “I say…that a scriptural view of sin is one of the best antidotes to that vague, dim, misty, hazy kind of theology which is so painfully current in the present age.” We might call this a “wishy-washy” Christianity. It’s not all bad. It’s not without some truth. But in the end it’s incomplete. It’s a Christianity that teaches “something about Christ, something about grace, something about faith, something about repentance, and something about holiness”; but it’s a mere shadow of the true picture we get when confronted with the pages of scripture. It’s not the real thing. It’s counterfeit. And want to fight for what’s real.
So how does having a scriptural view of sin help us with this? Mr. Ryle writes, “people will never set their faces decidedly towards heaven, and live like pilgrims, until they really feel that they are in danger of hell.” We need the full gospel message in order to fully appreciate who God is and who we are. We need the bad news in order to fall on our faces at the proclamation of the good news. God loves us. This is a good thing. We love this truth. But it’s half the picture. The full picture is this: God loved us even when we were his enemy (Rom.5); when we hated Him, He came running for us. Doesn’t that add a whole new dimension to this truth? God’s love is so big, so vast, so relentless, that he would slay his only Son for those who, left to their own devices, would never love him. Understanding the wretchedness of our sin magnifies the boundless love of our God. This is what fuels our worship. This is what makes us fall down and say, thank you.
There are many pseudo-gospel messages being preached today. This wasn’t just a problem in Ryle’s day. May God help us be a discerning people. May He help us not be distracted by pretty lights and cool presentations at the expense of the unchangeable truth of the gospel. If the substance isn’t there, if the message is changed, run away. A half-gospel is no gospel. And where the gospel is absent, so is Jesus.