I’ve just redesigned my blog. I wanted a new look, and also wanted it to be easier for readers using tablets and smartphones. Hope you like the new design. The banner photo comes from our trip to Spain in May; it was taken on a country road between Malaga and Ronda. Loved the ancient arches from the Roman Empire—and the symbolism of a modern road that leads you toward the ancient. ♦ This post originally appeared at Gospel-Life.net. It has been slightly modified. —Werner
I had just preached a sermon on how God covers our shame and restores our honor based on the Prodigal Son story. Afterward, a smiling elderly Christian woman came to me and shared how the sermon had blessed her. Wonderful!
But I was especially startled when she said. “You know, when I was a little girl, something happened to me, and I’ve never been able to get rid of it. Until today.”
It seems she knew she was forgiven of her sins, but because of the sins of another against her, she had felt defiled—literally for decades.
Sexual abuse has always been with us, but it seems more rampant and ubiquitous today. In fact, one in four women and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.
In May I had the privilege of speaking at an international Baptist church in Spain. My sermon was “Jesus Makes Us Clean.” At the end of the service, an individual was crying. Like me, she had grown up with a mentally-ill father. For years, she and her sister had been deeply embarrassed and ashamed. They felt defiled.
She was involuntarily stained by the effects of a sinful fallen humanity by a father who involuntarily suffered from schizophrenia.
Is relational pollution getting worse and worse? Maybe it’s just always been this way.
What is sin to a post-Christendom world?
In our postmodern secular world many people no longer believe in the reality of sin. Alan Mann writes in his book, Atonement for a Sinless Society, that “geneticists, sociologists, and psychologists increasingly … allow us to live in the confidence that we do no wrong.”
And as for the death of Christ, “To twenty-first-century sensibilities, the crucifixion of Jesus [is] nothing more than a primitive, barbaric, pointless death.”
Part of Mann’s thesis is that the best way for secular peoples to come to terms with sin is to be presented with this: Sin is relational defilement, uncleanness, pollution.
Consider the relational defilement that most secular peoples readily acknowledge: poverty of all kinds … racism and bigotry … sexual trafficking … an epidemic of addictions … the persistence of slavery … institutional greed and corruption … violent nationalism … honor-killings … bloody culture clashes.
What does it all add up to? A dirty, traumatized, defiled, relationally polluted world!
In this world of sin, I am unclean. Isaiah observed: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips and dwell among a people of unclean lips …” (Isa. 6:5).
Sin is personal—for I am an agent of sin having fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).
And sin is social—for I am also a victim of the sins of others. I’m defiled by living in a world-nation-community-family of fallen humanity. Am I “playing the victim card”? No. I’m describing the complexity of the effects of sin. When it comes to sin, we are all both agents and victims.
Is Christ’s death sufficient to cleanse us from being both agents and victims of sin?
The Psalmist David reveals this agent-and-victim duality about sin: “When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions” (Ps. 65:3).
On the one hand, I am the victim of the sins of others (“iniquities prevail against me”). On the other hand, we are all responsible agents of sin (“our transgressions”). But David’s song to God contains good news concerning his sinfulness both as an agent and victim of sin: “You atone for our transgressions” (Ps. 65:3). There is an atonement-remedy for both!
The writer of Hebrews said of the death and atonement of Christ: “So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order that he might sanctify the people through his own blood” (Heb. 13:12). In his death, Jesus became unclean—he “suffered outside the gate.” Why? “…in order that he might sanctify the people”—in order to cleanse the people. Through His death, Jesus became unclean in order to make believers clean forever.
“When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions” (Ps. 65:3). When Jesus made “purification for sins” (Heb. 1:3), He made provision to cleanse us from sins committed by us—and from sins committed against us.
Hallelujah, what a gospel! Hallelujah, what a Savior!
For more about the power of the gospel to make us clean—and how this relates to ministry among Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim peoples, see my article, The Gospel of Purity for Oral Learners: Bible Dynamics for Blessing the Unreached. See other articles at my Resources page.
1. Mann, Alan (2015-12-18). Atonement for a Sinless Society: Second Edition (Kindle Location 121–122). Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
2. Ibid., Kindle Location 94.