Please don’t say “broken” when we mean sin

Are we broken?

According to the dictionary definition of broken, are we “fractured or damaged”? As humans, do we need fixing?

Christians know that there is something wrong with the world, indeed. Even unsaved people mutter and wonder what in the world is going on. Why is the world like this? they ask. Why has it always been like this? they wonder.

I hear and read the word ‘broken’ a lot now in reference to this issue. The word has come into popular Christian use. Here are just a few  recent published essay titles-

  • The Meaning of Brokenness: Being Broken in the Sight of God
  • How to Find Beauty in Brokenness
  • Brokenness is Seeing My Sin BIG

Is it acceptable to use the word broken when referencing already-saved Christians? Or even non-saved people?

It’s my stance that it is not. As was stated so well here,

For Christians, it is vital that we be open-eyed and discerning about the destructive ways that language is being manipulated. We need to recover the biblical view of words …

We well know that language gives words meaning, but that meaning can be fluid. For example, the American definition of marriage, of a legal union between one man and one women, had been stable for centuries. The over the last few decades, marriage has come to mean any civil union between any number of people of any (or no) gender or sexual orientation.

Or this from the website Darrow Miller and Friends

In the old dictionary, justice was defined as equal treatment regardless of race, sex or religion. In the new dictionary, justice is equal outcome, regardless of personal action or behavior.

In this example, Tolerance in the old definition meant “ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.” Nowadays the word tolerance has come to mean rejecting all moral absolutes, including biblical absolutes.

When we use important Christian words, we need to say what they mean, too. Just because we say the word sin, doesn’t mean who you are speaking to will have the same understanding of what sin is that you do. It seems basic, but that’s where we are now.

Manipulation of words to change perceptiopn or to catalyze movements is an entire academic field of study. It’s called Linguistic Anthropology. Satan changes word meanings in order to confuse both believers and non-believers, and to push forward his agenda.

I argued that a new religion has taken root in the West, and it advances by redefining words — vacating them of their true meaning, and hijacking them to serve new purposes. (Source)

For example,

 … As John Stonestreet reminds us, “there’s a long history detailing the manipulation of language for the purpose of social control”. George Orwell described the process well in his book 1984. The language was forever being altered, “to make all other modes of thought impossible. … This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings….” Source

The word broken is one of those words that is being used to change perceptions, in this case, to redefine sin. Broken can indicate anything that is massively fractured, down to only a little dented. Being only broken can mean-

My car is broken, it needs a new transmission.
My car is broken, the tail light is out.

The truth is, we are not broken. We are sinners WITHOUT righteousness. We are totally corrupt. We need HIS external righteousness. We are not just broken, but beyond repair. We’re dead! That’s why the Bible says when we’re saved, we are a new person, from a new birth, regenerated, born again, given a new heart. And so on.

We are not entities that need a patch or a fix or a tweak. Using broken instead of sinner allows wiggle room for seeing my sin as small. One might start our magnanimously seeing one’s sin as big, as the essay headline above, but if you see yourself only as broken, inevitably you’ll reduce your sin to only a minor indiscretion.

Secondly, we are not broken (in need of a fix). We must be remade completely! This is because we are thoroughly corrupt. Sin pervades us, our entire nature is one of sin. There is no corner of light in us, it is all darkness and evil. (Genesis 6:5).

Can a leopard change its spots? Can an Ethiopian change his skin? (Jeremiah 13:23). Can a lion become a vegetarian? No. Our essential nature is one of unholy acts in sin and evil intentions,a ll the time. We can adopt an external moralism but none of our actions will be pleasing to a holy God. (Romans 7:18,24; Ephesians 2:1,2). We must be made new. (John 3:7).

You were taught to put off your former way of life, your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be renewed in the spirit of your minds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 22-24)

and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. (Colossians 3:10).

Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘Youd must be born again.’ (John 3:7).

Now this might not seem like such a huge deal. Big woop, some words are being redefined. But you see, the latest hot evangelism training trend is to use this concept of brokenness as the basis for needing Jesus. It’s not true as the caption on the video below claims, that this world is characterized by brokenness.

 

The world is cursed, and the curse is because of sin. (Genesis 3:17, Romans 8:20-21). Even the universe will be made new.

that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. (Romans 8:21)

The only thing we, the animals, and the creation itself can do is decay, because we are corrupt and enslaved to sin. That sounds more than ‘broken’ to me. Our very nature prevents us from righteousness. No fixing will do.

Be careful of the words you use. Know the important words of our faith, use them, and explain them. Be precise.

Easton’s Bible Dictionary

Baker’s Bible Dictionary

Emerging Church Glossary (satire)

4 Comments

  1. Hey,

    Great message. We need to be constantly reminded of the core issue of sin and righteousness by grace through faith and not of works.

    I would like to ask a question. I have used the term “broken” (or “brokenness”) and still do (although not a whole lot out loud but more in my mind) but in the sense of “being broken of self will, self righteousness or self trust.” Do you think that I should abandon that way of thinking and that there are still dangers lurking in clinging to the word “broken?” I sometimes use the term “broken, fallen world” but there attach “fallen” (which is code for sinful) so that the broken part is not detached from sin. Am I thinking dangerously? Do you think there is still room for bewitchment as Paul says in Galatians?

    Thanks for any feedback you can provide.

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    1. Hi Dana,

      Thank you for your question. After a certain point, I think it becomes an individual’s choice in using the word. The word *is* legitimate and in some senses it’s perfectly OK to use it. The Lord binds up the broken-hearted (PS 147:3). Psalm 34:18 says “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit.” And Psalm 51:17 says “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”

      But for the saved person, ‘broken’ seems to intend being downcast or sad, or perhaps one needs to be ‘broken’ of a sin i.e. ‘The Spirit broke me’.

      But when it’s used endlessly as a *substitute* word for sin, (like in the evangelism training video of the three circles fad going on now I mentioned) then it becomes a danger because it presents a skewed view of who we are as humans in our essential nature.

      I think if it’s not a stumbling block to you then fine, if it might be a stumbling block against others, then re-think it, and finally, my opinion is, let’s just use the words that are commonly and historically used that define us and our faith, like sin and not broken. But that’s my opinion. This essay is just food for thought. 🙂

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      1. Great. Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I appreciate the time you put in to expound and enhance. I also agree with your opinion. I agree that using “broken” in place of sin can do injustice and obscure the truth. I will stop using it though. I think I understand its proper place but if it is a stumbling block to others, I’m definitely not that attached to it. 🙂

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