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The Problem of Sin and Rhett & Link’s Deconversion

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Luke Gray

Luke Gray was born and raised in the Philippines as a missionary kid. After studying writing at the University of Kansas, he settled in Asheville, North Carolina, where he lives with his wife and four children. A perpetual learner, Luke is constantly trying new things—remodeling a bathroom, growing a garden, or raising livestock. He runs a small automotive detailing business, which lets him listen to audiobooks while getting paid. His favorite part of life is experiencing God at work around him.

(Here’s Part 1Part 2, Part 3, & Part 4 in this series.) 

Given that I spent a large chunk of the last post talking about my own personal failings, this is a perfect time to talk about sin.

At its core, sin is simply choosing our way instead of God’s way. Because God is the Creator, he knows what is best for us. When we ignore God’s direction, we harm ourselves and others.

Now Link spends more time talking about guilt than sin. He says he felt “guilt, shame, frustration about not being devoted enough” (Link’s Spiritual Deconstruction, YouTube, 32:00). This same idea of not measuring up to a spiritual ideal comes up repeatedly.

Here it’s important to note the distinction between conviction and guilt.

Conviction is the Holy Spirit highlighting our sin so we repent (John 16:8). Conviction leads people to confession and repentance and forgiveness and reconciliation (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).

Dissimilarly, guilt is Satan fulfilling his role as the accuser of the brethren highlighting our inadequacy. Guilt causes us to wallow in failure and further separates us from God and humanity, as we sink deeper and deeper into despair.

Conviction calls us to look to God for salvation; guilt keeps our focus on ourselves.

Mixing up conviction and guilt causes confusion and can result in believers throwing up their hands in despair.

While guilt is given a lot of attention, sin is surprisingly downplayed in Rhett and Link’s collective stories. They pay token tribute to the idea—Rhett acknowledges being prideful and lustful—but they never express an understanding of what sin is and why it matters (Rhett’s Spiritual Deconstruction, YouTube 34:42). Rather they paint the Church’s resistance to particular sins such as bigotry, sexism, and discrimination without exploring the underlying issues.

This stems from a lack of understanding God.

If our view of God is small, our understanding of sin will likewise be small. Conversely, if our understanding of God is more comprehensive, our aversion to sin will likewise increase.

Because they better understand God, more mature Christians, who generally sin less, feel a greater sense of their own innate unworthiness without Christ. Yet because of Christ’s sacrifice, rather than being mired in guilt, they are engulfed in grace and gratitude.

Thus a heightened sense of God’s holiness and sin’s contamination leads to a deeper understanding of God’s love.

This isn’t where Rhett and Link end up. Rhett comes to the conclusion that, “I think you [specifically his friends but also humanity as a whole] actually have an innate desire to be a pretty good person” (1:20:46). He reiterates this same basic idea later.

This is pivotal. In order to recognize the need for salvation, we have to clearly see our own depravity. When you downplay or don’t understand sin, it’s easier to come to the conclusion that people don’t need a savior.

If we can’t understand or believe in sin, we can’t understand the cross.

While I don’t think any of us can understand the horror of our sin fully, seeing people as basically good erodes the foundation of a Christian’s relationship with God. It transforms Jesus from a sacrificial hero—a desperate necessity—into some kind of O.C.D. deity punishing himself in order to clean up some trifling contamination.