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Sin and the cross (2)

In a previous piece it was suggested that the ultimate way to look at sin and understand it is in relational terms. Sin is pictured in many ways in the biblical witness: financially, as wages, legally, spoilage, etc. These are all helpful in unpacking certain aspects of sin and enabling us to understand it from various perspectives but in the end they are just pictures that highlight certain truths rather than providing us with a base definition. It’s like speaking of your child as an avid reader, a lover of penguins, or someone who can run fast. All of these are helpful but yet lacking when taken by themselves. Who your child ultimately is in relation to you is YOUR CHILD. That overshadows and qualifies everything else. In the same way, sin is unfaithfulness or disloyalty to God. David’s statement to God in Psalm 51:4, “Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight,” provides us with a core definition of sin—it is unfaithfulness to God and therefore relational at its heart.

But just as we have different pictures of sin, there are also different levels at which sin exist. Because our culture is fixated on individualism, we tend to focus on sin only at the personal level. While sin is certainly presented from this point of view in the Scripture—it’s not limited to it. Limiting our recognition of sin to what happens at the personal level is like saying that 911 only affected people who were killed or wounded. Sin is also spoken of from a community perspective.

That’s because sin is like a stone that is thrown into the water—it enters at one place but the ripples cover a much larger area. Because we don’t live as isolated individuals, sin leeches into the community. A man gets involved with pornography. His participation helps support an industry that exploits, corrupts, and brutalizes the lives of countless people. If he is married, it harms his marriage. Those marital problems overflow and affect their children who in turn act out their woundedness on others. You see how this goes. No sin is truly isolated, no crime is “victimless.” Sin in the individual contaminates the community. Structures and cultures are sinfully rewired.

This is going on at Corinth in regard to their failure to discipline the member who is “sleeping with his father’s wife” (1 5:1). It’s also present in their divisiveness (1:10ff) and their denial of a future resurrection (15:12,33-34). Their community is being sinfully rewired and it must stop. This same thing is taking place in some of the churches in Asia that Jesus addresses in Revelation (though we are given much less detail there). This is the opposite of the transformation that God desires. 

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