I am not in the sin management business

“I am not in the sin management business.”

I hear this assertion thrown around from time to time. I say, “Amen.” I am not in the sin management business either. Indeed, I don’t think any Christian is in the sin management business.

But, of course, the people who have popularized this sentence think I am wrong. They think lots of Christians are up to their necks in sin management, and they think that is a bad thing to do.

Most often this topic comes up when someone starts talking about sin. Someone will pipe up to make it clear that they are not interested in sin management, which I take as a way of saying they think we talk too much — or should not talk at all — about sin.

I wonder what they do at their doctor’s office or their auto mechanic.

Larry Lugnut comes up to them after going over their beloved Vega and informs them that the radiator is busted and needs to be replaced.

Do they correct Larry?

“Look, I’m not interested in radiator leak management. We don’t need to talk about that. Let’s talk about how we make the car work better.”

We would forgive Larry, in this case, for being confused. To him, benighted as this may seem, fixing the leaking radiator is how you get the car working better. It is broken. It needs to be fixed.

Similarly, many Christians talk about what is broken in us. They do this not because they want to talk about broken things, but because they want to fix, repair, and rehabilitate what keeps us from being the people God desires — even commands — us to be. They are not doing it because they are in the sin management business. They are doing it because they are in the holiness business, and you can’t be holy with a busted radiator.


4 thoughts on “I am not in the sin management business

  1. John, I applaud your efforts to passionately seek the truth. I have heard this phrase as well, and your take resonates with mine, as does your response.
    Thank you,

  2. John, I have always taken this a little differently than you. To use your analogy, if I went to a mechanic who suggested we put a square of electrical tape on the radiator and see how things go, that’s an attempt to manage the leak without fixing the problem. If that fails, we might try plugging the hole with chewing gum, or some other inadequate solution.

    Sin makes some people feel guilty, and they use the church to make them feel less guilty. Or maintain respectability. Basically managing sin rather than transformation, rather than flourishing, living into the image of God.

    The ugly side of “sin management” is the way people treat those who can’t seem to manage their sin, to achieve respectability. Ironically, we erect barriers to God’s grace to those who can’t manage their sin, the very ones who might respond to grace in a deep way, more so than a way to get by.

    1. I really appreciate those analogies and share your sense about the problems such methods create.

      The context in which I hear the term used is usually one that finds the whole topic of sin unwelcome and calls it sin management to disparage the whole topic. Or that is how it appears to me.

  3. Thanks for your prompt reply. I certainly have had my share of too-cool-for-school kids using language they don’t really understand in order to prop themselves up.

    It seems to me “sin management” language originates with Dallas Willard. He writes, “When we examine the broad spectrum of Christian proclamation and practice, we see that the only thing made essential on the right wing of theology is forgiveness of the individual’s sins. On the left it is the removal of social or structural evils. The current gospel then becomes a “gospel of sin management.” Transformation of life and character is no part of the redemptive message . Moment-to-moment human reality in its depths is not the arena of faith and eternal living.”

    I read that not as avoiding discussions about sin, but rather seeing discussions that stop at forgiveness as inadequate. In some ways it is very Wesleyan. Justification is a great start, but sanctification/discipleship is the goal.

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