Don Carson writes that the biblical idea of “sin” is the hardest truth to get across to non-Christian audiences.[1] We thought we’d get some tips from a few specialists on how they do it.

Shame & Being owned 

Sam Chan, City Bible Forum  

When we say “sin” these days non-Christians don’t understand the word. It makes them think of forbidden pleasures that cause a nervous giggle. We need different words for sin. 

One thing that can have traction in our post-western and postmodern age is to talk about “shame”. We all have shame in our lives. We’ve all done things that have dishonoured those we love. We all want to recover our honour and experience restoration. 

One time I did a talk at a State of Origin men’s  rugby night. I talked about how all men find ways to shame those they love. The room went quiet. 

We all know we’ve got shame in our lives. We all want restoration and wish we could restore our honour.

These days nobody tells professional sports people to avoid sex and drugs because it’s wrong – those ideas of guilt don’t have any weight for people who think they should be able to rule their own lives. Instead, they say “if you do those things you’ll bring the game into disrepute. You’ll shame the code and your friends.” 

So instead of using words like “sin” and “rebel” all the time, I talk about how we’ve all got a lot of shame in our lives and we’ve even shamed God. We need God to restore our relationship with him.

Another way to talk about sin is to talk about how whatever we live for “owns” us and demands that we die for it. If we live for our work we find ourselves working longer and longer. If we live for things we end up with a big mortgage. If we live for success our families will pay the price. We always end up dying for the things that own us. So we need to live for God instead – only he can set us free from those things that own us. He’s the one who offers to die for us.

Sam Chan –

Ripping-off God

Peter Ko: RICE (Renewal & Inter-Church Evangelism)

One way I like to talk about sin is  “ripping-off” God. Depending on the kind of angle you approach it from (and what resonates with your culture), this “ripping-off” (or “stealing” from God) is seen in different ways.

  • In religious language, sin is idolatry. It rips God off by denying him the unique place he should have in our lives – and replaces him with a created person, object, or desire.
  • In the framework of honour/shame culture, sin rips God off by denying him the absolute loyalty and obedience and glory that he alone deserves.
  • In relational terms, sin is a kind of betrayal. It rips God off by not responding to him. It refuses to let him have the kind of mutual and unrivalled love-relationship that he offers us as our Creator and Saviour.


Julie-Anne Laird, Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students

This is one of the trickiest topics. Most people think they are generally good and find the idea of God judging them foreign and hard. Another problem is that people don’t understand the words we use. I don’t usually use the word “sin” because people don’t know what it means. The language of rebellion is also really foreign.

The language that I’ve been using recently has to do with “brokenness”. For those who aren’t so aware of the problems in their lives – and that’s often the case for Uni students – I begin with more general observations about the world: we know that things often  aren’t right with the world, with our relationships, with our bodies and so on. 

Many others do have a sense of their brokenness, however: Some have intense feelings of anxiety and uncertainties about who they are. Many have a deep hunger to be really known and loved. For them, I talk about how all this brokenness comes from the broken relationship we have with God our Father. 

Julie-Anne Laird –

Doing Nothing

Ben Pfahlert: Ministry Training Strategy

“Sin” is a big conversation killer – you mention the word and everyone just goes quiet because it’s such a foreign concept. It needs to be explained. This is how I explain it when I’m giving a talk (it’s not original to me, but I can’t remember who I heard it from). 

So I say: “In the next six or seven seconds I’m going to commit the worst possible sin – if you’re in the front row you might want to move back a bit…” 

I count down to zero …and then I just stand there doing nothing. 

I say, “Did you see it? I just committed the worst sin possible. You were thinking you were about to see some kind of genocidal maniac – you thought I might smash up the room, or maybe pull out a weapon. 

“But according to the Bible, the worst possible sin is doing nothing. God’s got something to say to us and he sends Jesus to tell us about it – and we just ignore it. We do nothing about it.
“We know that doing nothing is the worst possible sin because we’ve all been teenagers. And we know what teenagers do when they want to defy their parents: the dad is giving a lecture and the teenager just rolls his or her eyes and looks bored – they do nothing!”

“That’s how it is for us too. God tells us how he wants us to live and we just yawn. We roll our eyes and we do nothing in response.”


Dominic Steele: Christians in the Media, Village Church

The word we came up when we were writing “Introducing God” was “autonomy.” 

‘To declare autonomy” is an offence against God, meaning sin isn’t just rule-breaking, and it isn’t just doing bad things (like murdering or raping or stealing). 

Thinking of sin as “autonomy” (or auto-nomos or self-law) means that even living an ordinary life in the suburbs can be a profound defiance of the Almighty – if it is done independently of him.

This also helps us to understand God’s reaction to sin. If sin is about breaking rules then God’s judgment could sound capricious, unfair and excessive. But if we think of sin as a settled declaration of “I don’t want you, God,” then his reaction is totally reasonable.

Photo: Viewminder, flickr

[1] D. A. Carson, Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus (Illinois: Crossway, 2010), 41