Víctor Chininin Buele
Why waste our collective time, writing and reading, if I know already that you won’t change your mind? Precisely because of that. And that matters because language matters. And because the gospel message, through language, is the only thing that will regenerate your mind.
Iosif Brodsky knows a bit about language since he was strongly urged to emigrate from the Soviet Union basically for being a poet, a free thinker. He once said, “You think evil is going to come into your houses wearing big black boots. It doesn’t come like that. Look at the language. It begins in the language.”
There is something going on that has been bothering me during this entire election cycle. It’s been going on for years, though.
I keep reading things like these:
“Evangelicals in general who support Donald Trump recognize, that he has character flaws.”
“All of us are human, and none of us are without sin, Trump is human like the rest of us.”
“I will vote for the policies I believe most accurately represent God’s will for human flourishing. I will not make a big show of it or make apologies for my chosen candidate’s character flaws.”
I could quote many more, and you may have just made similar statements. Granting all the context and nuance that these and other statements may offer, they magically transform sin into flaw. A line of reasoning is advocated that (1) all human beings sin, (2) Trump is a human just like the rest of us, and (3) at that point the necessary conclusion that Trump sins is not quite articulated but left in the air, hanging, unresolved yet implied. Logic fills the void. So, the need for explaining it away is needed. The air is then filled with a much more respectable-sounding word: flawed. And that is something we can all relate to easily. So, next! I am flawed, you are flawed. “We are a happy family!/With a great big hug/And a kiss from me to you/Won’t you say [you’re flawed], too?” Enough, Barney!
The obvious yet unfortunately necessary disclaimer: This is not an anti President Trump only tirade or a pro Biden motivational speech. I can do the same exercise with Vice President Biden or with Victor Chininin Buele. My point here is to use the caricature in front of us to illustrate something critical. And Trump makes for such a poignant illustration. He is us on steroids, naked and shamelessly unashamed, out in the open, and twitted at crazy hours.
The point is that there is absolutely nothing false about the biblical truth that all human beings sin (Romans 1-3). If this were not true, there would be absolutely no need for the gospel, and with there would be no need for Jesus Christ. Simple fact. What this truth is not, when we rightly understand the gospel, is an excuse to sin flagrantly. And since my wife always prefers that I would stick to biblical terms and descriptions of sin, let me rephrase: This simple fact that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God is not an excuse to live unrepentantly in sin.
We don’t need a lot to illustrate the need for justification. First, we go and do something super dumb, like watch a bad movie, buy something stupid, say something embarrassing, you name it. We immediately rush to find a way to explain it to ourselves. (Actually, we say, it was a great movie, a smart investment preparing for the future, the needed word that needed to be said).
This is a deep part of our sinful, fallen nature. Once we have found a way to deceive ourselves that wrong is right, bad is good and even desirable, we become evangelists because we desperately need others to affirm what we’ve done, approve of us, and close the cycle. We start telling others how wonderful that terrible movie was. Because we can’t just own it. We start telling others to go buy the product because we can’t face it that we made a mistake. Because we do this for relatively simple stuff like hoarding toilet paper during a global pandemic, for example, we don’t pay much attention to this sequence of self-justification and self-deceit.
And that is where I want you to hear the language.
This is how we allow sin in our lives. We tell ourselves it cannot possibly be a big deal because both everyone else sins and others, like Trump, for example, sin way more than us, or their sin is worse than ours. This is how we self-justify our walk away from the pursuit of holiness. We’ve taken our eyes off of Jesus and His Word and have diverted it instead to excuse-making. And in that simple line of argument with ourselves, we’ve deemed our sin to not be a sin. And as it becomes systemic and permanent in our hearts and lives, well, we just associate our identity with it—we are flawed! The societal expectation to require others to love us just as we are (that is, without calling us to repentance and change) comes in, and there we are: self-justified in our self-described flaws but needing to run to any and every instrument of self-medication possible to quiet a guilty conscience. Because we know that when the night comes, and the land is dark, and the moon is the only light we see, that’s when we know we’ve sinned. We can’t hide anymore from God. And even if we over medicate and fall asleep deadening our conscience, sooner or later, we wake up.
And that is also how we allow wolves into our churches. We are pragmatic. We are sinners, and yet we want to see change. We want to see the gospel at work. We want results. We want to see lives changed. But we get mixed up. The world’s definition of success gets into us as we trade the concept of sin in our personal lives for the more palatable idea of flaws or mistakes. Then, this infiltrates the church. We are far more likely to overlook sin when things look just like we want them. Or even trending up to look just like we want them. Actually, the promise of something is far more entangling than getting the thing itself. Especially if we are constantly persuaded that the goal is just over here, almost within reach. We can see that promised land, y’all!
And wolves come in, walk on the red carpet we set to welcome them, eat our food, drink our beer, come into our homes, get to know us and our sins and our secrets. They set shop in our church, get paid by us, give us what we want to hear and see. We see their anger, sure, their wrath, their immorality, their covetousness, their lusts, their greed. We see what John Piper highlighted as the New Testament sins of “unrepentant sexual immorality (porneia), unrepentant boastfulness (alazoneia), unrepentant vulgarity (aischrologia), unrepentant factiousness (dichostasiai), and the like,” but we explain them away. We lie and say to ourselves and then to others when we become evangelists for our guy that we are all sinners just like Pastor Steve up there. He is so vulnerable and raw, honest and transparent! He struggles like I do! We are all flawed and say silly things from time to time… It’s just the tone. Our man, he gets results! That’s what we say.
Never underestimate the things you will say and do to justify your own sin. The Word is true—the wages of sin is death. Devastation follows sin.
So, let’s watch our language, shall we? If we don’t call out sin without euphemisms, we will never be able to repent of it. And without repentance, there is no regeneration. No regeneration means no renewal.
Is that what we want to leave behind? Lives consumed by selfishness? Churches consumed by wolves? A nation consumed by sin?