“Westerners Don’t Believe in Sin!”

Guest contributor Dr. Cultir Pundit is an East Asian missions leader. He blogs at www.GuiltInnocence.com, a website equipping Global Christians for ministry in the Western guilt-innocence cultures.

Westerners believe in guilt, but not in sin. The other day I was riding in the car with my Christian friend Jim. As he drove, he followed all of the regulations. He wore his seatbelt, stopped at every stoplight, used his blinker, and stayed in his own lane—even if nobody was watching. Then we came upon a construction zone. We were waiting for 10 minutes, so I said, “Just drive onto the sidewalk and around the tractors.” He was completely perplexed, “I can’t do that, that is against the law.” So as we waited another 10 minutes in traffic, he began complaining. Jim got more and more angry, then opened his window and yelled at the construction workers. “Why is this taking forever! We are late for a meeting!”

I wanted to hide in my passenger seat. I couldn’t believe how verbally disgraceful he was towards that man working in the heat. His actions reminded me of Jeremiah 8:12, “Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush.”

Driving on the sidewalk, though completely harmless, was wrong to Jim. But verbally steamrolling another person in anger was somehow acceptable! There was no sense of sin; his conscious was completely numb. He had zero sense of shame. He did not show any honor or maintain harmony in his relationships. He had no concept of sin. 

Jim, like most American “Christians,” feels compelled to follow the law to avoid feelings of guilt, but he has no sense of sin. He feels bad if he breaks the law, but not when he sins. American Christians are syncretistic, constantly following their own culture more than the Bible. They consider government rules as more important than God or people. Our aim in life is to glorify God, but they are missing the mark–the very definition the Greek word for sin (harmartia). 

Americans justify being rude to other people by saying, “What is right is right, no matter what” … as if people don’t matter! Or even worse, they have developed a whole theology about “righteous anger.” If somebody else breaks a rule, then they have some divine mandate to disgrace and offend that person.

American Christianity is a mile wide and an inch because they have no concept of sin. The Holy Spirit must convict them of their sin and brokenness. Then instead of just following their laws, they will follow God.

Western Christians talk about having a clean conscience, as if that is the basis of biblical morality. Paul says that conscience is defiled and corrupted (Titus 1:15), so individualistic morality does not work. Paul even says in 1 Cor 4:4, “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent.” But Western Christians only care about their own conscience, not their relationship with God or people.

Even in evangelism, Westerners do not talk about sin. Here is a common gospel-presentation:

You disobey God and do not keep his commandments. Every person transgresses God’s Law. The guilt of our wrongdoing is an infinite debt we can never repay. God is a righteous judge who must punish our bad deeds. But, Jesus can to pay the penalty on your behalf.

Did you notice the word “sin” is entirely absent in the above paragraph! Western Christians water down the gospel and compromise the truth by not mentioning sin. Their theology talks about breaking the laws and being guilty but does not mention how we sin against God, the King and Lawgiver. No wonder Western culture faces moral decay. Western Christians don’t believe in sin. 

 What do you think? Is our fictitious guest author correct?

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26 Comments on ““Westerners Don’t Believe in Sin!”

  1. Wow! This is so clear on what we’re missing and rings true.

    Obviously, in the case of your friend, recognizing sin would keep him from yelling at the construction worker or at least recognizing after he did it that it is sin. I’d be interested to know other ways this might affect our daily life, so I could recognize more areas where I fall short. How might it affect our Gospel presentation, for example? You mentioned many share the presentation without mentioning sin; I know some use sin when they say that we have “all sinned” (using the passage) and fall short of God’s glory, but I’m guessing you mean more than just mentioning sin, right?

  2. In a Wesleyan Holiness sermon last Sunday, the pastor preached on the parable of the Good Samaritan. I have to agree the theology of sin in relationships was nearly absent. The pastor spent time on the recklessness of the victim in traveling alone, and how we often “make mistakes” that bring trouble on ourselves. There was no actual mention of sin as such, and no category for “mistakes” that hurt others. He was very concerned that we should be willing to help people who maybe “brought their problems on themselves”, but simply never addressed the problems caused by other people’s sins/ crimes. It felt weirdly truncated to me as a result.

  3. So understanding of the views of many Westerners! Prayerfully, there really, truly are East Asian mission leaders who blog and a GuiltInnocence website equipping Global Christians for ministry in the Western guilt-innocence cultures. It would help make Global Christians much more effective in missions as have the Western mission leaders who blog on the HonorShame website, by God’s grace, helped many Western Christians.

  4. A very interesting perspective on the difference between being a law-breaker and a sinner. It sounds a little like what Jesus faced when he walked among His people. It sounds a little like what Paul faced with the Judaizers. I wonder if it is that uniquely American.

  5. I don’t doubt the experience and would agree with the conclusion if it were being applied to some or maybe even a majority. But, to make a blanket statement that “American Christians…have no concept of sin” and that Westerners don’t talk about sin in evangelism is just wrong.
    I know many American or western Christians that are very aware of sin, talk to others about sin and are very concerned with our relationship with God and people.

  6. It’s not just westerners, I get concerned that the focus on honor and shame does the same thing, avoids calling sin,Sin.

  7. I love this little story! I hope to use it in my cross-cultural awareness workshops where I talk about how our culture affects our concept of sin.

    I have often thought about how the concept of bringing honor and not shame to the name of Christ and His family would change what many Western Christians consider to be acceptable behavior. The question becomes not, “Is it lawful?” but “Does it honor the family name?” Rather than pushing the limit to the outer edge of what is permitted, one pursues the highest standard for the praise of His name.

    By the way, thought I get the objection to the “blanket statement”, isn’t this what we tend to do when we make statements about Honor/Shame cultures, or Majority World believers? The blanket statements about Western Christians is just a tool to help us understand how believers from the Majority World might view us. Well done!

  8. Interesting. While I understand the single-sided worldview of the example gospel presentation, it is still true that disobedience, transgression, wrongdoing, bad deeds against God are forms of sin (and is not disobedience, for example, shameful and dishonoring?). I would ask this brother what more preferable wording–or a more preferable presentation–would be. Although in his story he is rightly pointing out other forms of sin not usually recognized as such within a Western context, he seems to specifically object to the absence of the word “sin.” And yet there are many cultures/subcultures (even in the West) in which the word “sin” carries no meaning, or carries an association with a hard-hearted, religious, and hypocritical type of person. Proper contextualization is always important. While Jim has more to understand about (and farther to grow in) the breadth of the gospel, Dr. Pundit has some room to grow in understanding as well. I’m also not a fan of that particular gospel presentation myself, but some of that has to do with objecting to a “one size fits all” approach to sharing about the gospel. Thanks for presenting this exercise!

  9. Right conclusion, faulty word study. The Greek hamartia is literally the word for sin. The Hebrew word for sin chata, though, does have a sense of miss the mark. Maybe that’s what wrong with Western Christianity today. We are such an offshoot of Rome, maybe we have lost some of the wisdom that was our heritage from Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople, and Alexandria.

  10. Wow! So true! I have spent 30 years overseas and I’ve been back 10 years and I have seen this! Our U.S. society values tolerance therefore in order to be tolerant you must not declare others’ behaviors as sin. I do believe in being loving but the Word of God is the truth. Sin is sin.

  11. Just in case someone really wants to miss it, like all really good parodies it is too close to reality for comfort. Too near by far for the worst of us, and still too near for comfort for the best.

  12. Unfortunately yelling/screaming and limited verbal assaults are not necessarily identified as sin. A strike is sin. Cursing can be sin, but just not disrespectful questions and exclamations in particular to folks that have no authority to change the circumstances.
    I don’t know where you worship but sin, the word, is used, identified, described in not only sermons but classes among churches of Christ where I have and do attend. Like other behaviors and words in our culture, if they aren’t used or challenged, they don’t exist or have meaning.

  13. The Bible defines “sin” as “transgression of the law.”

    1John 3:4  “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” 

    I don’t understand your distinction between “sin” and “breaking the laws and being guilty.” You refer to sin as “missing the mark”, but what standard is that “mark” talking about? The Law is the standard. In Romans 7:7 Paul said, “I had not known sin, but by the law”. I believe that people in the East and West need to understand both honor & shame as well as guilt and punishment.

  14. Thanks for all the comments!

    Yes, this is a parody…of how Westerns typically perceive honor-shame cultures. The content is meant to be half true, half stereotype. And to be extra clear, neither Jim nor Cultir Pundit are real people. I (Jayson Georges) wrote this post, with the hopes of turning the tables so people could see themselves from a different vantage point. I wrote this not so much as a critique/analysis of Western culture, but an explanation of how Westerners often (mis)represent honor-shame cultures. All the comments above, the most helpful (IMO) was Ruth Yingling’s.

  15. As an American Christian preparing to enter a Fear/Shame tribe in West Africa, I find it ironic that the author verbally steamrolls American brothers and sisters the same way Jim steamrolled the construction worker. Where was the attempt to maintain harmony in the body of Christ? Though the points of the argument are valid and mostly true, you’ve stereotyped an entire national church. Does the author feel the same “divine mandate to disgrace and offend” that he accuses American Christianity of?

  16. Thank you Reggie. I will use your post to restate my question, previously written. How is this a parody as a parody must be a written or performed deviation of a well known piece? You’ve stated I think 3-4x now this is a parody but you’ve not yet explained the original, as you know it.
    Thank you.

  17. The statement made by the fictitious author is not true at least in my experience. I have never heard the Gospel presented without discussing the concept of sin. However, the article’s real author is onto something because in the West we do indeed tend to focus on legality without translating it into how we treat people.

  18. I am sure the ‘fictitious author’ did not intend to do so, but he/she managed to group over 200 million people into one basket by saying “American Christians…..”. Sorry, but I need to jump out of your basket. I am VERY aware of sin and the difference between breaking the law and sin. Perhaps this bias was intended just to ‘stir the pot’ a bit!

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