Many Evangelicals harp on the fact that our culture has lost notions of sin. Our culture is often willing to call evil, "good." Certainly the redefining of morality is problematic, but I think there is something even more tragic going on.
It's unfortunate that Christians in the United States have so marred the truth that those around us think our religion centers around our moral achievements and superiority. It's sad to think that most people view Christians as those who proclaim their righteousness and inability to do wrong. That's not the story of the Bible at all. Instead, the story of the Bible is one where we see God use some seriously screwed up people to accomplish his will. Abraham had sex with his slave and then kicked her out into the wilderness to die with her child. Jacob married a second woman, treated his first wife with disdain, and then created extreme animosity within his children so much that they sold his favorite child into slavery. Some of Jacob's sons - those who were to head the twelve tribes of Israel - murdered a whole town to avenge their sister's honor. And this is just some of the dysfunction of the first three generations after God's call on Abraham to be a nation set apart. The story of dysfunction and sin continue throughout the whole Old Testament. The story of the Bible is not one which declares the moral superiority of its adherents, but rather a story that shows us the ubiquity of sin in all of us, and our need for someone to save us from ourselves.
Imagine what this narrative could do for a country thrown into disarray by continually finding sin where they least expect it. If we humbly acknowledged our own sin and our own need for a savior, we would undercut the charges of hypocrisy when sin was found in our midst. If we declared that we daily need Christ as much as the rest of the world, what might that do to soften the typical view of Christians who appear to be arrogant moralists? If we really thought that "but by the grace of God, there go I," how would that change how we treated sinners? If rather than hurling stones at murderers, rapists, thieves, and other criminals, we actually loved and showed them grace, what would that show the world about our understanding of God's love towards us? If we truly understood the story of the Bible - a story of our failure and our need - it seems our effectiveness and credibility in the world could be magnified greatly.
There are few actions remaining which our world is willing to deem "sin." Those sins are expected to be found in obscure places, in the depths of the darkest of hearts. Such darkness seems to be something one would rarely have the occasion of seeing. Yet the world is continually surprised when they frequently find great evil in the places they'd least expect it - in colleagues, friends, movement leaders - in themselves. Our world has tried to rid itself of sins in order that they never need to address that they are sinners - that humanity is not basically good. While Christian distinction and holiness is certainly what we're called to, and while such distinction is utterly imperative, it may be that our culture is so tired of hearing about unempathetic, judgmental righteousness, that they need to experience love and grace. It's so easy for we Christians to forget that a huge part of God's holy distinction - a huge part of his character - is grace, mercy, and love. Our world needs to see our humble acknowledgement of our failures and our loving embrace of sinners, of whom we are chief.
I want to leave you with a quote which I believe sums up how the world should see us. The quote is from Dialogue with Trypho the Jew. In the work, Trypho stands amazed at Christians for their continued involvement in the world and their hope in God's gracious love, while recognizing their inability to fulfill his commands. It is a beautiful depiction of an individual wrestling with both the wickedness of humanity and the holiness of God, confunded at how both can so clearly be displayed in the followers of Christ. Trypho says,
This is what amazes us. But concerning the things of which the masses speak, they are not worth believing, for they go right against human nature. Moreover, I know that your teachings, written down in the so-called Gospel, are so wonderful and so great that in my opinion no one can keep them; for I have read them with interest. But this is what we cannot grasp at all: that you want to fear God and that you believe yourselves favored above the people around you, yet you do not withdraw from them in any way or separate yourselves from the pagans, you observe neither the festivals nor the Sabbaths, you do not circumcise, and you set your hopes on a man who was crucified and believe you will receive good things from God in spite of the fact that you do not obey his commandments.