Word meanings sometimes shift. I have begun to wonder whether one commonplace word has begun to shift recently—aiding certain contemporary Christians who want to minimize their sin and justify ongoing sin patterns. There’s nothing new, of course, about Christians searching for ways to avoid feeling bad about sinning. But modern Christians have become remarkably adept at reworking words and thereby sneaking in justifications for unholy lifestyles. Here’s one word that has been hovering in the back of my mind for a couple years, but only recently has begun sounding warning bells in my head. I’ll put it in a short sentence.
We’re all broken.
Here’s what makes a critique of this word in this sentence complicated. We are all broken, if by “broken” we mean that sin’s reach is so pervasive that apart from being united to Christ in his death and resurrection and indwelt by the Holy Spirit we would be so permeated by sin that we could do no spiritual good. If that’s what someone means by “broken,” then I’m with them 100%. Theologians who talk about original sin (think, Augustine) have been saying the same thing for centuries.
But I have a sneaking suspicion that when some contemporary Christians use the word “broken,” they use it to refer to past hurts they’ve experienced, the current weaknesses they feel when they try to live as Christians, and the difficulties they experience when they attempt to overcome particular temptations. Using “broken” in this manner is one small step away from using it as an excuse for not dealing with one’s sin. In such cases, “I’m broken” can equal “I’m too weak to overcome [a particular] sin”—which, of course, is true in the sense that apart from union with Christ and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit I cannot overcome anything—but is not true if it means that I am stuck in repetitive sinning. Through Jesus’s death and resurrection and the power of the Spirit, God has given us everything we need to live the life to which he has called us. Such verbiage can become particularly pernicious if we start to use the word “broken” in moments when open acknowledgment of sin is required.
In some cases, I fear that the word “broken” has moved a step further yet. That is, some people have replaced the word “sin” with “brokenness,” and thereby relegated sin—as in, actions and attitudes that dishonor a holy God—altogether to the dustbin.
Still, if Christians who maintain a robust view of sin utilize the word “broken” to mean simply (and nothing more) than that they are weak and in need of the Holy Spirit to help them do what they could never do on their own, then I certainly won’t quibble with that. I am broken along with the rest of us.
But I’m afraid that we Christians might have started to use the word “broken” as a convenient linguistic tool to justify repetitive sinning. That, of course, would not be a good thing.