Sin & the Fall 6
How much more then will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God. For this reason, Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised inheritance - now that He has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant
Thanks be to God that though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed you allegiance. You have been set free from sin, and have become slaves to righteousness.
No-one has ever overestimated the devastating impact of sin on creation, and on humanity in particular. Our tendency is always to assume it can’t be as bad as it is, as we pridefully resist any teaching that stresses our depravity! I’m inclined to wonder whether that is in fact part of the sinful condition… as the Psalmist says: ‘I have a message from God in my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: ... In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin’ (36:1-2). The only cure to this malady is deep immersion in the Scriptures. Confronting actual sinless humanity in Christ begins to open our eyes to just how far we have fallen. So often this actually Righteous Man is an enigma to us. That in itself tells us something: when confronted with the Sinless One we can’t even make sense of what we are seeing.
A single glance at the cross of Christ should be sufficient to disabuse us of any notion of the superficiality of sin. As we consider the Trinity taking sin into His own life and being to resolve forever the agonizing tension of a fallen creation at such terrible cost to Himself, we are confronted with its true horror and magnitude. We contribute nothing to redemption (except the sin that makes it necessary), and we are consigned to standing on the sidelines as the Lord does what we cannot do, and indeed would not want to do.
For there is a kind of self-destructive insanity to sin that means sinners love and cherish that which utterly destroys them. Even as Christians our relationship with sin is horribly ambiguous and we find we love what we hate. Sin turns our desires into a fifth element. This is key as we reflect on the question of freedom. One of the key ways we seek undermine the seriousness of sin’s impact is to cling to the notion of ‘free will’. To engage with this idea meaningfully we need to approach it both directly and indirectly.
The direct approach is to simply access the teaching of Jesus, who is considerably less beguiled by the illusion of freedom. ‘[E]veryone who sins is a slave to sin’ (Jn.8:34), language picked up by the Apostle throughout e.g. Rom.6. Are we free if we are only free to choose sin, or if we only ever want to choose sin? Are we free when we cannot but sin, when we must freely choose sin? The more indirect approach tackles the broader question of freedom more generally: What does it mean to be free? In the Bible freedom is something we are given by Jesus (Jn.8:36). And paradoxically those who are free are slaves to righteousness. We might ask if even Adam was free? He was almost free, for there was only one way in which he could sin. True freedom awaits us only in the New Creation where there is no possibility of sin.
Sin slays our spiritual life so that we are unable to engage in the life of the unseen creation; decays our bodies to death so that we will be unable to engage with the seen creation; it bends us in on ourselves; distorts our desire, enslaves our will and darkens our minds. Our intellect has been blinded and is unable to discover truth. We cannot think straight about God, ourselves or our world. And we do not want to - we much prefer our intellectual fantasies.
And all of this before we consider the external dynamics of our having become sinners: the relational impact of sin both towards God, other humans and the rest of creation; the legal dimensions of being cosmic law-breakers, and so on… To appreciate the damage done by our sin more deeply is not simply to drive us into the dust, and leave us in despair. It prepares us to appreciate the deeper work done by God in the death and resurrection of Christ; and indeed the immensity of the work of the Spirit in restoring us in His image. It might also help us understand our struggle as Christians a little more, and to be more patient and gracious in our dealing with others who are equally struggling to recover, by God’s grace, from such desolation and existential wreckage.
Given the portrait of the catastrophe of sin, why do you think the world is not much worse than it is?
Why do you think God didn’t restrain sin completely, preventing the fall from happening in the first place?
Why does Paul unpack so much about Christ (vv.15-19), before highlighting Christ’s work of redemption?
Is there anything in vv.15-19 that surprises you? … or excites you? …or confuses you?
What do you think Paul means by ‘alienated from God’? If people are alienated from God, what do we make of their spiritual experience before they become Christians?
What does Paul mean when he talks of our being ‘enemies in our minds’ (v.21, see similar language in Rom.5:10)? How comfortable are you with that sort of combative language? Do you think it is appropriate to think this way about everyone who isn’t a Christian?
How does a non-Christian’s ‘evil behaviour’ connect with their being ‘enemies in [their] minds’? How does the cross deal with this and other elements of our sinfulness?
Does v.23 suggest it is possible to stop being a Christian (i.e. if you don’t continue in your faith, you will lose the benefits Paul outlines in v.22)? How can we help each other to continue established and firm, so that we don’t move from the hope held out to us in the Gospel?
In what sense has the Gospel been proclaimed to ‘every creature under heaven’? How does this affect our own engagement with mission and evangelism?
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom also He made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory, and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
For further reflection:
How does God feel about sin? (Any discussion of the Trinity’s inner emotional life must be tentative at best, but where the Bible speaks we should take confidence that we can access even such intimate detail). Our minds might run to a number of places. Perhaps God’s reaction in cursing a sinful creation in Gen.3? Maybe Leviticus, where we inhabit a world defined by God’s total rejection of all that is unclean, and where the terrible cost of purification and reconciliation is enacted on a daily basis? The Psalms (Ps.5:4-6; 11:4-7; 45:7 all use strong emotional language); or the relentless denunciation of sin in the prophets? The ferocity of the exile?
Approaching the cross we begin to see terrible impact of sin on God. This is often a missing element in our discussion on sin. We fixate on the impact of sin on us, on our world, but the question of its impact on God is often overlooked. For Him, the reality of sin opened the way to the cross. Our sin doesn’t just result in our own death, it results in His. Sin doesn’t just pollute us, it pollutes Him. We all too often resent the fact that we live in the context of a sinful creation, rarely thinking of the fact that that this same sinful creation is ‘in Him’ (Col.1:16-17). To sustain sinful creation is a costly thing for our God.
But His relationship with sin takes on new dimensions at the cross. We sense this in Gethsemane as Christ contemplates becoming sin for us (II Cor.5:21), and shrinks from the prospect. How terrible a thing it must be to be a sinner if Christ recoils so brutally from the prospect! Yet He chooses to drink from the cup. And here the real hatred of God against sin is seen. Even when sin is found in His own Son, God will not withhold His hand of judgement. His hatred of it is absolute and uncompromising… which brings new level of meaning to grace.