Struggling with Euphemisms: How Evangelicals Soften Sin and Sidestep Guilt

A few years ago, I wrote here about how our culture at large tends to marginalize the concept of sin by softening the terminology used to describe it. Sins become “mistakes” or “errors in judgment,” leaving the perpetrator a little less guilty in his or her own eyes.

Sadly, this societal trend has crept into the church as well. If you’re an evangelical Christian, you’ve no doubt heard a phrase like this, “I’m struggling with ____.” Within that blank is any number and manner of sins. These days, it seems, a person doesn’t sin anymore so much as they struggle with sin.

A person who lusts becomes a person who is “struggling with lust.” Someone who is proud becomes someone who is “struggling with pride.” A person who views sexually explicit material becomes one who is “struggling with pornography,” and so on and so forth.

Look closely at what has happened here: uncomfortable with facing head-on the ramifications of saying “I sinned,” the sinner chooses a different route. The guilt of having committed the sin is seemingly alleviated by couching it in the language of struggle.

There are two severe problems with this practice. The first is that Christians should be struggling with sin. It should characterize every Christian that they struggle with pornography, greed, or pride. Since few others seem to fight against these vices, Christians should be on the front lines. Struggling with sin should not be seen as something to get away from.

The second problem is that the soft edge seemingly given by these euphemisms is a lie. Restating the problem of sin doesn’t make it go away. The cross of Christ is the only remedy for sin, and to ease our guilt by wordplay is a fruitless self deception.

“If we confess our sins,” the Scriptures tell us, Christ “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We should do just that — confess it for what it is and accept his forgiveness. The sin should end and the struggle should go on.

4 thoughts on “Struggling with Euphemisms: How Evangelicals Soften Sin and Sidestep Guilt”

  1. Bravo! Great post.

    By saying that we are “struggling” with sin, it seems like we are engaged in a conflict, and each time we sin is not the loss of a battle, but only an attack from the other side, which we heroically counterattack. And of course, since Christ has won the victory for us, we will ultimately win. Our sins are not losses, but only missteps.

    You know, even as I type this I find myself wondering, “So what’s wrong with that?”

    I used to wonder why when we are regenerated, why don’t we immediately stop sinning right then and there. Again and again, I continue to answer this question by saying that God is reminding us of our deep inadequacy to fight this war and win it. We cannot overcome our sin, and every time we sin it reminds us of that. It reminds us of the depth of the extent of our need for Christ.

    When people talk about “struggling” with sin, it has connotations of spiritual warfare. It’s biblical to talk about spiritual warfare, but people can, and often do, take these analogies too far and lose sight of the fact that CHRIST, not us, wins the victory for us. So often this line of thinking leads to SELF-confidence in the face of sin, rather than a humble recognition that we are outmatched by our sinful nature and in need of Christ to fight for us.

    I remember the Pentecostal youth rallies of my former life (I’m now OPC), and I remember people raising all sorts of strange battle cries, in order to generate hype and excitement. “We’re gonna take this city for Jesus! We’re gonna come at the devil with everything we’ve got!” You know the story. But do you see what has taken place here? Here you see people thinking that they are going to fight against the forces of evil on Christ’s behalf. This is a complete reversal of the case. We don’t fight on Christ’s behalf, he fought and won on our behalf. The battle is over. Christ is victorious.

    To be sure, we wrestle not against flesh and blood; but we need to be careful to remember that we no longer live, but Christ lives in us. If we labor in our faith against the forces of darkness, it is Christ working through us. Too often this is forgotten, and we think that having prayed our prayer, and given our lives to Jesus, we have now become some kind of angel of light, able to walk up to the devil himself and compel him to confess our greatness on his knees. Nothing could be further than the case.

    I have news for you, Christian: the devil would wipe the floor with you. Christ is our knight in shining armor, who rides in on his white horse to save the damsel in distress (that’s you) who is kept up in a tower and guarded by a monstrous dragon. He rides in and vanquishes the dragon, setting us free from the tyrrany of our sin, the devil and Death.

    Struggle with your sins, but not as one who has been mastered by them and is trying to overthrow his master, but rather as one for whom sin is NOT your master.

    Often we think of sin as the English of Braveheart, and think of ourselves as William Wallace. We are the noble rebel against our sin, who fights for freedom. We need to get over ourselves and stop thinking of ourselves as heroic. We are not heroes. Christ is our hero. Let us recover the attitude of the psalmist who says that I am a worm and not a man.

    We are not like Beowulf, whose God-given strength allows us to crush the devil in our grasp. We are like baby birds, who constantly cry out to our mother to feed us and to protect us from snakes. We are like awkward ducklings, following our mother in a single file, hoping not to be left behind. We are like sheep, wandering aimlessly until the Shepherd and overseer of our souls hooks us with his staff and draws us back into the fold.

    Imagine seeing a sheep wander off from the group of other sheep, and the shepherd walks over and with his staff, guides this wanderer back to the fold. Imagine describing that as if the sheep is some kind of warrior, who was attacked by some monster, and after receiving a jolt of lightning power from some unseen Zeus, vanquishes the beast, and returns triumphantly back to the city, hailed as a conquering hero. You are no conquering hero, you wandering sheep! You are the one who lost your way! Your shepherd has guided you back to the fold!

    In this way of thinking, many lapse into thinking that “the devil made me do it”. So immersed in this warrior imagery are they that they suppose that every time they sin, it is because the devil attacked them. “Yeah, I beat my wife yesterday, but I struck the devil back, and he went running away with his tail between his legs.” Fool! It is you who beat your wife, not some unseen monster!

    Ah, but these poor souls think of themselves as perfect, as incarnations of Christ. They attribute their sin to the devil, and their victories to themselves. It is utterly foolish. This is what comes of those who refuse to say that they have sinned, but merely that they struggle with it.

    Anyway, thanks for this post, and pardon my ranting. Obviously, your post struck a chord with me.

    Here’s something I wrote that is the farthest thing from being soft on sin:

  2. Nice post! I like the questioning of our vocabulary, espicially in the area of sin, where we always want to put the best spin possible on it.

    In one sense, we are always struggling with sin, as the commenter above stated. In the broad sense, we are fighting sin, trying to master it, and we won’t see the end of that struggle until death.

    However, I agree that our confessions could probably use less of that word “struggle”. I think we add it to make ourselves feel better about our status. For example: say I lie around on a Saturday, doing nothing when I was supposed to be helping at a church function. I am very tempted to refer to that in accountability group as “struggling with laziness”. The problem is I’m giving myself too much credit – I didn’t struggle with laziness, I gave in to it – I didn’t put up a fight, and I need to admit that. It may be appropriate to say “struggling with ____” in some circumstances, but my thought is that’s more appropriate when you actually fought against something, and want to confess how you were tempted.

  3. I caught wind of this post from evangelicaloutpost, and I have to say it hit me between the eyes. I got a triple hit yesterday with this post, the concept that we think God accepts sin as we do, and the picture of our culture shown in the movie “Time Changer.”

    I do struggle with sin, but far too often I give in. I like putting the edge back in sin, it reminds me that God call me to a life of holiness.


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