Before reading this post, please go over to my 8 Things To Know About My Blog.
“Sinners are not loved because they are beautiful, rather, they are beautiful because they are loved.” – Jurgen Moltmann.
A common argument I hear about sin concerns the idea that God cannot be in its presence. Therefore, sinners cannot be with God. This is a major simplification of the idea, but I’m sure you’ve heard it in some form before. Your sin must be removed before God can have dealings with you or be with you, because God simply cannot be where sin is. God is perfect and requires perfection if one is to be in heaven. Of course, this is where a legal theory of the atonement comes in wherein God wipes away our account of sin rendering us not guilty and therefore, on the face of it, perfect, able to be in God’s presence.
If you have not yet gotten it from my previous posts, I really disagree with this understanding of God and sin, and I think the most fundamental beliefs of Christianity do as well. To say that one must be perfect before they can be with God is not very faithful to the Christian tradition. We need a new understanding of how God works with sin. I do think that in the eschaton we will be without sin, but I do not think our dealings with God require us to be perfect. I would like to counter that suggestion here.
First and foremost, the divine Son became Incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ. This is not merely to say that the Son was born into a human body, but rather to say that, throughout his life, from the moment of his conception forward, the divine Son was united to, or assumed, a human nature in everything that it means to be a human being. Contrary to those who think this humanity of Jesus was perfect, I think that Jesus was a human just like ourselves. He had a body just like our own which had to fight off impulses to sin, deal with fierce biological temptations, and one that was limited in the same ways that ours are. In short, he was a human just like us.
But he was not merely a human, he was also the divine Son in and through his humanity. In this way, God comes directly into the world of sin, makes a dwelling among us (John 1), for the purposes of redemption. God dealt with all the messiness that a human nature entails, as well as living in a world marked by sinfulness and violence. However, it was not merely his entry into the world that marks his dealings with sin. On the contrary, the entire life of Jesus could be read as a constant interaction with sin whether it be sinful people, events, or nations. In other words, there was never a time in Jesus’ earthly life in which he did not have direct confrontation and interaction with sin and its power. This is not to deny the sinlessness of Jesus himself, but it is to deny that Jesus was never around sin.
Culminating in his death on the cross, the ultimate act of human sin (murdering the Son of God), and therefore taking in to himself the greatest consequence of human sin, that is death, Christ overcame it all. God used the very acts of sin as the means for our redemption. Apart from revealing that God cannot have any dealings with sin, the life and death of Christ point to God dealing in the most intimate way possible with human sin. In fact, it is just the fact that God did take on sin head-to-head that our condition was healed. In his temptations, he proves himself strong to ward off the influences of evil. In the betrayal, arrest, beating, and crucifixion, Christ ultimately overcomes all of them by the life-giving nature of the Son through the resurrection. Marred by death and sin, Christ takes that which is the most fundamental consequence of our sins and transforms it, refusing to allow death to have the final say.
So too, in our lives, the times when we are most affected by sin, most prone to its temptations, along with our instances of grave failures, become points of divine and human contact. In our sins, God says we are forgiven. In our failures, God reaffirms our character as children of God. In our temptations, God provides us with the Spirit’s power of overcoming sin. Just as humans initiate the worst tragedy of human history, God is right there to overcome it, transform it, and bring life through interacting intimately with that sin. You and I, just as well, do not have to be perfect before God can deal with us. We do not have to be sinless before we can receive grace. Rather, it is in the very moments of our sinfulness and imperfections that God chooses to respond with, “You are loved.”
As we all know from experience, it is often the times in which we feel furthest from God that actually prove to be the times when God is closest to our side, working invisibly through our own struggles with sin to redeem us. Contrary to God requiring perfection, God opens up to our sinful lives and saves us sometimes even through our ultimate acts of sin as we realize God’s love for us and the power that God provides for our transformation.
“But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8.
The life of Jesus proves just this as God came into our sinful, messy situation taking on all of our sin culminating in his death, that despite its sinful character, actually proved to be reversed through resurrection for our own redemption. Rather than refusing to deal with sin, God, in Christ, goes directly to human sin and transforms us even while we are in the midst of sin.
In unrelated news, check out my friend Daniel’s post refuting John Piper’s complementarianism. Its a funny and disturbing read at the same time.