top of page
  • Writer's pictureDwight Smith

A Few Thoughts On Sin And Salvation From John Stott: “The Cross Of Christ”

A few thoughts on sin and salvation from John Stott: “The Cross of Christ”

“Karl Menninger….has written about it in his book Whatever Became of Sin? Describing the malaise of western society, its general mood of gloom and doom, he adds that “one misses any mention of ‘sin.’” “It was a word once in everyone’s mind, but is now rarely if ever heard. Does that mean,” he asks, “that no sin is involved in all our troubles. . .? Has no one committed any sins? Where, indeed, did sin go? What became of it?” 7 Enquiring into the causes of sin’s disappearance, Menninger notes first that “many former sins have become crimes,” so that responsibility for dealing with them has passed from church to state, from priest to policeman, while others have dissipated into sicknesses, or at least into symptoms of sickness, so that in their case punishment has been replaced by treatment. 8 A third convenient device called “collective irresponsibility” has enabled us to transfer the blame for some of our deviant behavior from ourselves as individuals to society as a whole or to one of its many groupings.”

“Dr. Menninger goes on to plead not only for the reinstatement of the word sin in our vocabulary but also for a recognition of the reality which the word expresses. Sin cannot be dismissed as merely a cultural taboo or social blunder. It must be taken seriously. He takes preachers to task for soft-pedaling it, and adds, “The clergyman cannot minimize sin and maintain his proper role in our culture.” 10 For sin is “an implicitly aggressive quality—a ruthlessness, a hurting, a breaking away from God and from the rest of humanity, a partial alienation, or act of rebellion. . .. Sin has a willful, defiant or disloyal quality: someone is defied or offended or hurt.” 11 To ignore this would be dishonest. To confess it would enable us to do something about it. Moreover, the reinstatement of sin would lead inevitably to “the revival or reassertion of personal responsibility.” In fact, the “usefulness” of reviving sin is that responsibility would be revived with it. 12” The Cross of Christ by John R. W. Stott

But, Menninger does not go far enough. When this new reasserted awareness of sin is only connected to a new level of self awareness, but does not lead to divine forgiveness and salvation, it leads to an empty promise.

“The Bible takes sin seriously because it takes humanity seriously. As we have seen, Christians do not deny the fact—in some circumstances—of diminished responsibility, but we affirm that diminished responsibility always entails diminished humanity. To say that somebody “is not responsible for his actions” is to demean him or her as a human being. It is part of the glory of being human that we are held responsible for our actions. Then, when we also acknowledge our sin and guilt, we receive God’s forgiveness, enter into the joy of his salvation, and so become yet more completely human and healthy. What is unhealthy is every wallowing in guilt which does not lead to confession, repentance, faith in Jesus Christ and so forgiveness.”

The Cross of Christ by John R. W. Stott

“To be human is to be responsible. “In his justly famous essay “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment,” C. S. Lewis bemoans the modern tendency to abandon the notion of just retribution and replace it with humanitarian concerns both for the criminal (reform) and for society as a whole (deterrence). For this means, he argues, that every lawbreaker “is deprived of the rights of a human being. The reason is this. The Humanitarian theory removes from punishment the concept of desert. But the concept of desert is the only connecting link between punishment and justice. It is only as deserved or undeserved that a sentence can be just or unjust.” Again, “when we cease to consider what the criminal deserves and consider only what will cure him or deter others, we have tacitly removed him from the sphere of justice altogether; instead of a person, a subject of rights, we now have a mere object, a patient, a ‘case.’” By what right may we use force to impose treatment on a criminal, either to cure him or to protect society, unless he deserves it? To be “cured” against one’s will, and cured of states which we may not regard as disease, is to be put on a level with those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals. But to be punished, however severely, because we have deserved it, because we “ought to have known better,” is to be treated as a human person made in God’s image.

"The essential background to the cross, therefore, is a balanced understanding of the gravity of sin and the majesty of God. If we diminish either, we thereby diminish the cross. If we reinterpret sin as a lapse instead of a rebellion, and God as indulgent instead of indignant, then naturally the cross appears superfluous. But to dethrone God and enthrone ourselves not only dispenses with the cross; it also degrades both God and humans"

— The Cross of Christ by John R. W. Stott


Recent Posts
bottom of page