What is your understanding of sin? I recently found myself involved in a conversation amongst non-Christians about sin and how they understood it. In his article, The Gospel in All Its Forms, Tim Keller suggests Christians need to be able to speak about it in different ways to different people. I would love to hear of your experiences but firstly, here is what he says:
Just as Paul spoke about a gospel for the more religious (the “circumcised”) and for the pagan, so I’ve found that my audience in Manhattan contains both those with moralist, religious backgrounds and those with postmodern, pluralistic worldviews.
There are people from other religions (Judaism, Islam) and people with strong Catholic backgrounds, as well as those raised in conservative Protestant churches. People with a religious upbringing can grasp the idea of sin as the violation of God’s moral law. That law can be explained in such a way that they realize they fall short of it. In that context, Christ and his salvation can be presented as the only hope of pardon for guilt. This, the traditional evangelical gospel of the last generation, is a “gospel for the circumcised.” However, Manhattan is also filled with postmodern listeners who consider all moral statements to be culturally relative and socially constructed. If you try to convict them of guilt for sexual lust, they will simply say, “You have your standards and I have mine.” If you respond with a diatribe on the dangers of relativism, your listeners will simply feel scolded and distanced. Of course, postmodern people must at some point be challenged about their mushy views of truth, but there is a way to make a credible and convicting gospel presentation to them even before you get into such apologetic issues.
I take a page from Søren Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death and define sin as building your identity— your self-worth and happiness—on anything other than God. That is, I use the biblical definition of sin as idolatry, which puts the emphasis not as much on “doing bad things” as on “making good things into ultimate things.”
Instead of telling these listeners they are sinning because they are sleeping with their girlfriend or boyfriend, I tell them that they are sinning because they are looking to their romances to give their lives meaning, to justify and save them, to give them what they should be looking for from God. This idolatry leads to anxiety, obsession, envy, and resentment. I have found that when you describe their lives in terms of idolatry, postmodern people do not resist much. Then Christ and his salvation can be presented not (at this point) so much as their only hope for forgiveness but as their only hope for freedom. This is my “gospel for the uncircumcised.”