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GUEST POST: More Sin, Please by R. L. Copple

One of the hardest admissions we face is to say to God or someone who knows us, “I have sinned.” Few like admitting it. Even fewer will do something about it.

And it’s no wonder. Too often in Christian churches and circles, everyone avoids the image of a sinner in favor of a perfect saint. Sins transform into human faults in an effort to rationalize soul-destroying errors. The saved fear confessing what God already knows: I’ve failed, I’ve messed up, I’ve sinned.

It is this image of “we’ve got it together” that we all want to project because we fear that admitting the truth will mean we aren’t as saved as we claim to be. Afraid of backsliding, or losing holiness, or others knowing the truth and thinking less of us, we pay more attention to making the image pure and clean than we do our lives, and in so doing, hide our sins. Sometimes, even from ourselves.

Having come from an evangelical group, I have first hand knowledge of this tendency. Regular revivals brought an evangelist who occasionally would preach a salvation message. Was that for me? The saved? Nah. I’m not like that sinner over there. I’m forgiven; I don’t need to deal with what God has said would sever me from Him, others, and His creation. But in truth? We should all have gone forward at the altar call and asked forgiveness for the wrongs we’d done.

Most of the time, the denomination I was a part of put on a happy face and did their best to cover up problems, scandals, or anything that would make the group appear anything but shiny and clean. And individual Christians followed suit.
It’s no wonder that among Christian fiction, the trend is also to create protagonists who rarely, if ever, sin. As authors, if we write characters who sin, we’re afraid people won’t think we’re Christian either. To protect our image, we use such Christian fiction to create true fantasy worlds where we and the readers can live vicariously through the perfect Christian protagonist. Such a world rivals even the wildest fantasy novels and is pure escapism–in a negative way.

St. Seraphim of Sarov, a Russian monk in the later part of the nineteenth century, said, “Save yourself, and thousands around you will be saved.” He didn’t literally mean to save yourself as in “apart from the grace of Christ.” He was talking about dealing with your own sins, though His grace. And in so doing, you would naturally become an example to those around you. They would see the gospel lived out in front of their eyes as God’s grace overcame your sins. Many a person has been saved by the simple testimony of a saint who remained faithful to Christ even when fed to the lions, or through various tortures by evil emperors and dictators. But even more when they see the change in a person transformed by God’s grace. That’s when the light shines from the housetops.

“But I’m already saved,” I can hear someone saying. Great. Now, what is God’s grace doing in your life now? None of us are perfect in how we conduct ourselves, no not one. There is always room for improvement. If you’re not allowing the light of God to shine in your dark places, and His grace to work in you to clean it up, people around you will fail to see the gospel lived out before their eyes.

The most powerful presentation of the gospel is to experience it through the life of another, to know the reality of sin, and experience through God’s grace, someone overcoming it. There are plenty of sermons to preach to us about repentance, but our stories should help the reader to experience that redemption, and through that, find their own.

But the only way that will happen is if we write characters who sin. Even Christians sin. Destructive sin. So should our characters, whether Christian or not. If they don’t, we rob our readers of the chance to experience repentance and redemption themselves–instead, enabling them to continue the facade that “I’m like this perfect Christian character.” No, to transform the reader, people’s heroes need to be those who overcome their own mistakes, blunders, and yes, sins. If your protagonist never struggles to overcome their sins, then neither will your reader.

Such Christian writers are increasing. Let’s hope there are readers who can get past judging characters who sin and the authors that write them, and let the reality of the gospel on display deal with the reality of their need to rest in real forgiveness and growth in grace day by day. Only in this way will the real power of the gospel be felt, both by the reader, and by others around that reader. And it might do the author some good as well.

Infinite RealitiesR. L. Copple writes fiction and science fiction, from flash to novels. Aside from his flash and short stories appearing in several magazines, he has written a novella and several novels, of which two have been published: Infinite Realities and Transforming Realities. More information can be gleaned from his website and blog.