GCI Update

Sin is bigger—grace is deeper

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Joseph and Tammy Tkach
Joseph and Tammy Tkach

In this season of Lent, it’s good to remember that sin is bigger and grace is deeper than many realize. We’ll take a look at both realities in this letter.

Sin is bigger

Most of us don’t like thinking or talking about sin, and we surely don’t like being on its receiving end. But what constitutes sin? Some people define it by making reference to the classic sin list, The Seven Deadly Sins [1]—it was the basis for the movie Seven (starring Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey) and the TV series Seven Deadly Sins. Most people agree that theft and murder are sins, but there is less agreement when it comes to other behaviors.

The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things by Bosch
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Some people compile their own sin lists, including such behaviors as watching movies, playing cards and dancing. Others include drinking alcoholic beverages, and some even see drinking Coca Cola and coffee as sins. In looking at these lists, it’s not hard to conclude that God must hate murder and lying more than he hates drinking a latte or a beer. That being the case, some people divide their sin lists into categories of presumed severity. Some label the most severe sins as “mortal sins,” and the less severe ones as “venial sins.” Scripture addresses sin, in some cases in the form of sin lists. Here are three such lists—one from the Old Testament and two from the New:

There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community. (Proverbs 6:16-19)

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. (Revelation 21:8)

All the behaviors in these sin lists are considered by Christians (and others) to be sin because, to one extent or another, they “miss the mark” of moral conduct. This idea of missing the mark is conveyed by some of the Hebrew and Greek words used in the Bible for sin. The idea is that to sin is to depart from (miss) the right path, which raises this question: How is the right path defined? Typically, people think of sin in terms of wrong actions and thoughts. That’s how I viewed sin for much of my life, defining it by the laws in Scripture. Others might define it by civil laws (here in the U.S., there are laws against nearly all the behaviors on the sin lists quoted above). But sin is far bigger than all the laws written in all the law books. I submit that there is a much higher, more all-encompassing standard we should use in defining sin.

Jesus: the standard

Jesus Healing the Blind Man by Bloch
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

According to Karl Barth, the biblical concept of sin does not begin with the law—it begins with Jesus. He is the standard. Sin cannot be properly understood without reference to who Jesus is in relationship with God and humankind. As the Son of God and Son of Man, the God-man Jesus has fulfilled both relationships, perfectly living out the Great Commandments to love God and one’s neighbor as we are loved by God.

From this Christ-centered perspective, we understand sin to be about the breaking of good and right relationships—first with God, then with others. We sin when we violate the relationship we have with Jesus Christ and, through him, with the Father and the Spirit. And we sin when we damage the relationships with others that our triune God gives us. Therefore, more than sin being defined as breaking of the law, it is defined as anything opposing right relationships of faith, hope and love for God and for humanity, as lived out in Jesus’ life.

Jesus always acts in relationship according to who God is and who his neighbor is in relationship to God. His obedience is his conformity to the “demands” of right relationship with God and with others. He lives out of his worship relationship of complete faith (trust) in his Father, his word and his Holy Spirit. So it is in this way that Jesus glorifies God, showing him to be worthy of worship in all his relationships. Thus we understand that sin is much bigger than merely failing to follow the Ten Commandments or some other written code of law. Sin is failing to relate to God in the way God ordained—in and through Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man.

Make no mistake about it: sin is destructive. Notice what we say in our article, “What is Sin?”:

Sin is an internal power that affects everyone’s humanness—our very human nature. In effect, sin deceives us, enters us and dominates our existence. Sin enslaves us and takes us over as drugs enslave an addict. Sin is like a deadly virus that enters our human nature and takes control of us, using us for its own purposes. Sin reproduces itself within us and destroys our self. And the evil behaviors that result are the symptoms of our inner defectiveness.

While sin and human nature are not material substances or fixed structures we can identify, mark and box up, they are inseparable from what we are. Continuing from the article:

In fact, what happens is that our human nature itself is or becomes sin because sin corrupts the expression of our self, making human nature sinful. In short, sin is something that creates our sinful nature. It becomes our self or our ego. Paul, personifying the sinful nature or being as himself, said, “I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin” (Romans 7:14).

Grace is deeper

So that’s the nature of sin, which points to the bad news. But there is another, greater reality—it’s the very good news of God’s grace. As broken as we sinful humans may be, the God of love and grace does not throw us away. He does not give up on us, but remains faithful. Instead, he brings the dead to life through Jesus Christ. He is restoring the broken to a pristine new condition. He restores, redeems and reconciles us to himself through his Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. We are no longer simply sinners, we are forgiven sinners who receive his grace and forgiveness daily.

God’s goal is for us to have eternal life in his presence—to be spiritually perfect as he is perfect. But to accomplish that purpose, God must clear away the imperfections (the sinfulness) that are part of our nature. We have to be remade, refashioned, regenerated or spiritually reborn (John 3:3-7; Titus 3:5-7)—and that is exactly what God accomplished for us in Jesus Christ. Note how Paul ended his thought in Romans 7: 24-25: “Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord.” By the continuing ministry of the Holy Spirit we can share in Christ’s own justified and sanctified human nature, day by day as we look forward to one day sharing fully in his glorified humanity. That is how deep God’s grace reaches through Jesus and by the Holy Spirit.

During Lent [2] it’s good for us to remember the truth of the bad news of sin, and also the reality of the good news of grace: Jesus took our sinful nature upon himself, thus sanctifying our fallen human nature in himself, bringing it into a full and faithful obedience to God. His entire life, lived in our place and on our behalf, culminated in his words from the cross: “Father into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46). Jesus did all this so that we could be spiritually reborn, enabling us to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit in the way that transforms us in a Christomorphic direction.

Christomorphically yours,
Joseph Tkach

P.S. Christomorphic is my new favorite word. Just can’t get enough of it!


[1] The list known as The Seven Deadly Sins was compiled by Pope Gregory I in about A.D. 600. The seven sins are pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger and sloth. While Scripture identifies all seven as sin, it does not explicitly categorize them as being “deadly.”

[2] For a helpful article about Lent by Mark D. Roberts, click here.

Meet our new pastors

Several of GCI-USA’s newest pastors and pastors-in-training (pastoral residents) were interviewed at the New Pastors Orientation Conference held in February at GCI’s Home Office in Glendora, California. Here are videos of interviews with Pastors Kenneth Barker and Israel Hernandez.

On YouTube at https://youtu.be/K_WjCe9W86s

On YouTube at https://youtu.be/vKR9So04PGw

Outside the Walls in Mexico City

This update is from Heber Ticas, National Coordinator for GCI-USA Church Multiplication Ministries and ecclesiastical supervisor for GCI churches in Mexico and Spanish-speaking churches in the United States.

Outside The Walls (OTW) went to Mexico City in March. Church Multiplication Ministries (CMM) provided the OTW training and assisted GCI’s Mexico City church in conducting the OTW event. As with previous OTW events, pastors from sister churches participated with the host congregation, Promesa Cumplida (Fulfilled Promise), which is pastored by Nathanael Cruz.

The OTW training participants shared a year-long series of online conferences conducted by CMM National Coordinator, Heber Ticas. They then gathered in Mexico City for refresher training, and the OTW event, which focused on engaging the community surrounding the host congregation’s place of meeting. Joining in the event were Pastor Jose L. Seba from Tlaxcala, Mexico; Pastor Hector Barrero from Bogota, Colombia; and GCI-USA CAD director Greg Williams from Glendora, California.

The OTW event was a Family Fun Day held on Saturday. Before it began, members of the host congregation along with visiting pastors went into the community around the church to invite participation in the event. Attended by 148 people, the event was filled with fun activities for all ages. The congregation also offered free haircuts along with free medical, chiropractic, and dental check-ups. The reason for providing these services was to show God’s love with no strings attached. The Lord was clearly at work, transforming lives.

Those attending the OTW event from the community were invited to return the next day (Sunday) for a church service dedicated to blessing the family. Pastor Cruz preached an inspiring sermon concerning family, and the families in attendance joined in a circle and were prayed for. There were 73 people at this service, including 10 visitors who had participated in the Saturday Family Fun Day event.

Jesus is clearly on the move in that community, and Promesa Cumplida has joined in and started to “surf the wave” being generated by the Spirit. Let’s join together in praying for this congregation, and for all of our OTW congregations, asking the Lord to continue leading them forward in what they are doing to participate with him in his ongoing mission to their communities.

Easter outreach

Easter is one of the most significant opportunities to welcome unchurched people into the fellowship of the church where they can hear and experience the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. We urge churches to take advantage of this opportunity. To help them do so, we’ve posted below two articles with multiple ideas for what a church can do before, on and following Easter Sunday. See if some of these ideas might work in your congregation’s context. If you have other ideas that have worked for you, please share them in the “add a comment” box below.

GenMin’s 2017 camp teaching tools

The Journey is the theme for GCI’s 2017 U.S. camps sponsored by Generations Ministries. To help its camps implement the theme, GenMin has produced multiple teaching tools, posted below in PDF and Word formats (click on the links to download).

  • Chapel messagesPDF and Word
  • Road Rule signs (to accompany chapel messages): PDF
  • Daily devotionalsPDF and Word
  • Follow-up Bible studies (in Mark 1): PDF and Word
  • Misc. resources (songs, prayer initiative, follow-up strategy): PDF and Word

We invite churches and ministries to utilize these resources locally. Here are some possibilities:

  • the chapel messages would make a good 5-part sermon series titled The Journey
  • the daily devotionals and follow-up Bible studies could be used in Sunday schools, discipleship classes and small group discussions.

GenMin urges congregations with teens attending a GCI camp this year to follow up by leading the campers through the follow-up Bible studies. Doing so will have two benefits: 1) provide a connection back to the congregation, and 2) help reinforce what the teens learned at camp.

Denominational Conference website

Looking for information about GCI’s Denominational Conference in August?

Still need to register?

Check out our new Conference website at www.gci.org/2017.