A while ago I had an old Frank Mills song running through my head. I hadn’t heard the song in decades, so I found it on the internet and listened to it through the stereo. My seven year old son asked me what the song was. I said it’s an old song my sister used to play a lot when we were kids. “How did she play it?” he asked, “Did she have an iPod?” I laughed and shook my head. “No, she had a piano.”
So the word play doesn’t conjure the same idea to my son as it does to me, even while listening to a piano piece. It’s not surprising, though. After all, there’s the adorable little girl who thinks “11” is the symbol for pause. She’s probably not in the minority. We all know that our understanding of things changes, even as the essence of life remains much the same. I wonder if that has happened to our understanding of sin.
While I was getting ready for Vacation Bible School this summer, I was going through a bunch of old songbooks for kids. I found a lot of songs in those dusty tomes. Some brought to my face a warm smile of remembrance; others left me shaking my head (no offense to Rob Evans, but I’m glad I’m too old for “The Donut Man” era). A number of songs were completely new to me, including one called “Sin Today, Pay Tomorrow” by Bertha Shooks. Here are the lyrics:
If you do sin today, tomorrow you will pay;
This is God’s word, you know,
You must reap as you so.
Today’s sin brings sorrow
For many tomorrows.”
I doubt anyone would use that song today. Indeed, how things have changed! In what I consider a stark contrast, consider the lyrics from two songs by MercyMe that are currently on heavy rotation on Christian radio.
There'll be days I lose the battle
Grace says that it doesn't matter
‘Cause the cross already won the war
No matter the bumps
No matter the bruises
No matter the scars
Still the truth is
The cross has made
The cross has made you flawless
I realize MercyMe isn’t writing kids’ songs, as such, but if you visit our house you may very well hear our four-year-old singing one of these songs, loudly. So children are still part of the discussion, and what they hear makes a difference. A half century ago, we were teaching kids that sin has consequences. Now we’re singing that because Jesus died for us, sin “doesn’t matter,” at least not in the long run. Despite their catchy melodies, I’ve never liked these two new songs because of the way they talk about sin. Sin does matter. I am not flawless.
I’m sure the writer of the songs does not think it’s okay to sin all you want. I get that. I also get the idea that Jesus has already conquered all sin. Still, what does the songwriter believe about sin? What do we, modern Christians, believe about sin? The fact is our sin hurts people, ourselves and others, every day. The pain of this fallen world, the disappointment, the cruelty; it’s all real, and we had better believe it matters. To me, it’s important to maintain that understanding in our music.
With all that said, I am not about to teach my children the old Bertha Shooks song. I don’t think we (should) obey God because we are afraid of getting what’s coming to us. In fact, we often don’t get what we deserve. And how long will my sons hold fast to a Gospel of consequences when they see the world around them living apparently great lives completely outside God’s will? Following Jesus has to be because he is our Lord, and we love him. Jesus’ death covers all our sin, and, at the same time, our love for God moves us to respond to his call to live for him.
What do you think? Has modern Christianity eschewed the idea that sin has consequences? Am I reading into this too much? Was Aunt Bertha off the mark with her approach? Is there an effective way to teach our children the gravity of sin and the enormity of grace? Do you know any good songs that kids can sing to learn this?
If you do, leave a comment and I’ll share them with my boys.
For me I continually need to be reminded about Grace so I appreciate this song.
It never occurred to me to think that this was making light of sin.
But I can understand why you could think that.
Regarding teaching your children about sin.
Your example is important.
Letting them hear your own confession, repentance, acceptance of forgiveness (age appropriate of course)
Asking their forgiveness when you have wronged them and teaching them to say I forgive you and praying with them about the issue, asking God to heal them of what you did to them and again letting them hear that you are thankful for His forgiveness.
When your kids need a timeout or other consequence praying with them about that. Asking them to tell you and God that they are sorry. Reassuring them they are forgiven by you and God. Praying for them to learn not to do whatever the thing was. Asking forgiveness of siblings, friends and giving forgiveness.
MJill, that's really good advice. We all need to hear it. Thank you.
Sin is not a popular topic, and apparently never has been. The gray Psalter Hymnal doesn't have a topical index listing for "sin," but redirects you to "forgiveness of sin." The Lift Up Your Hearts hymnal has 7 listings under "sin." I know many other songs reference sin, but I would think and hope they all do so in the context of forgiveness or grace or salvation. It's important to find the right balance, as you well note.
As for contemporary songs, it seems the metaphor of broken is more popular than the label sinful. Sin is seen as a result of our human brokenness (theologically not so far off from original sin). A few good modern songs that have blessed me:
"Come As You Are" by Crowder
"I Shall Not Want" by Audrey Assad (the whole Fortunate Fall album is good!)
"Open Our Eyes" in the Lift Up Your Hearts hymnal is good modern hymn that names brokenness/sin.
Thanks Sam. We are big Crowder fans here; I'll have to check out Audrey Assad.
I once heard a verse to the song "Jesus loves me" that said:
"Jesus loves me when I'm good, when I do the things I should
Jesus loves me when I'm bad, but it makes him very sad."
I liked that because it acknowledged the sadness / consequences while still affirming the chorus, "yes, Jesus loves me". The fact that he loves us still is the amazing part.
Knowing that we have caused grief to our Lord, and also experiencing own sorrow for sin is part of the process of repentance. I think we can dwell too long on the negative consequences of sin, waste time being fearful of them, and become overwhelmed at the sin and brokenness we see around us. But we can also spend too short a time in that space of sorrow for sin; we can choose to ignore the very real consequences. We're not in heaven yet. It's OK to be "in process", "on the journey" hopefully on the right road going in the right direction. This is where we are until that great day. In the end, we need to move beyond the darkness into his light, where we stand holy and wholly in God's grace.
Important conversation Christy. Thanks for encouraging us to reflect on this topic. Here are a few of my reflections:
1. There are so many good, theologically balanced songs available to us that I think it is ok sometimes to not choose a song because it doesn't quite maintain the balance we are looking for even though we could argue a case for it.
2. Someone mentioned LUYH's 7 songs listed in the sin section. These were hard to come by. But we felt that if we didn't include sin and the fall of humanity there wouldn't be any need for grace.
3. Part of my struggle with MercyMe's text as presented (and the many other texts it represents) is that it seems to treat the cross in an almost trite way. I don't know if we have a big enough appreciation or understanding of the cross, not just the pain but what it meant for Christ to be fully separated from God, to have descended to hell. Its so easy to say "the cross paid it all". I need a little more holy awe and reverence of the cross itself (When I Survey the Wondrous Cross!). Maybe that's found in the rest of the song or another of their texts but again back to #1... but maybe we could create the balance by singing the MercyMe text followed by "When I Survey"?
A couple of things have helped me with this difficult question. One is that we only find out truly about the depth and seriousness of our sin at the very place where that sin is dealt with, that is on the cross of Jesus Christ. He became sin (2 Corinthians 5.21) for us. To try and look deeply into our sin apart from Jesus life, death and resurrection - in other words apart from Jesus himself - is not only futile but may even be harmful. I think you could almost say that the closer we get to Jesus the less 'sinful' we become. No one could or should have to see the full extent of their sin on their own.
The other thing is that along with what we mean by sin is just the fact that we are not God, that we are God's creatures. That in itself calls for confession, self-examination, honesty about who we are. The first temptation was not really to disobey God but to try to be like God. This is always a temptation for us.
Is "Just a Closer Walk' too adult for kids? I don't think so.
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