This past week we talked about how we are recipients of the holy love of God through Jesus, the friend of sinners. If you will bear with me I will offer a deeper perspective of sin and why we must move away from thinking that sin can be understood as behavior. Sinful behavior is not humanity’s problem. The reign of sin and death is humanity’s problem. At least that is what I think Paul is getting at in Romans. So, this may appear a bit “heady” but please stick with it. Feel free to email or respond with any questions or reflections. I cannot stress how important I believe wrestling with the apostle Paul’s point of view is for us if we are to faithfully follow Jesus, the friend of sinners. Here we go:
As a recipient of God’s holy love I invite you to think about the world in light of two reigns (or you might say “kingdoms”).¹ One reign is what the apostle Paul referred to as the reign of sin and death. This is a comprehensive description of not just the human condition (beyond behavior) but also the condition of society (principalities & powers).² It is the sphere of human existence where violence and fear is both justified and accepted as “the way things are,” and where power is most often expressed through self-assertion where one person is positioned over another (think of hierarchies in society where people are lorded over, whether in marriage or elsewhere). Life lived in this sphere makes us prone to creating various forms of injustice and oppression due to our disregard for the Lordship of Christ. It is the place where I, or a society, feels free to determine what is right, wrong, good and just for all humanity. We easily devalue others or consider others messer than another. Consequently, it leads to an ongoing rebellion against God and His intentions for humanity and the world. The results is a way of being and doing in society that runs contrary to the peace (shalom), compassion, righteousness and love God offers the world through the reign of Christ. Humanity is imprisoned in this reign of sin and death and principally deals our more sin and death. This is not to say that those living under this reign are “bad” people. Not at all. It is ultimately what Paul is getting at in Romans 3:9 (from Romans 1:18-3:9) and summarized in 5:12-20. It offers an explanation of why we and this world is in the shape that it is in. On our own there is no way out.
The other reign is what the apostle Paul calls the reign of grace. This too is a comprehensive (systemic) description of the human and social condition. It is the sphere of our human existence where violence and fear is trumped by love, reconciliation and peace (shalom), and where power is expressed only through humble, self-giving love (think the Cross). It is the place where humility gives birth to generosity and hospitality. It is a place where faith is the light by which those living in this sphere both see and walk. But it is not a generic faith. It is a faith that rests singularly in a trust (not just a belief) that Jesus of Nazareth is Lord and King, and that as Lord and King He alone determines what is right, wrong, good and just, because it is believed that He is what God looks like.³ As the apostle John once said, Jesus is “the divine Logic (logos in greek) of God made flesh,” and He—his way of being and doing life in this world, including his death and triumphant resurrection–is what God has to say to humanity. God had so much to say to the world He loves that He couldn’t say it all in a collection of pages, so He had to say it in the form of a Person, specifically in and through His own Incarnation.4
Those who live under the reign of grace are summoned to pursue humility and trust that there is no need to resort to the old ways of violence and fear found in the reign of sin and death. Their hope, identity, and security rests solely in a kingdom that will never be in trouble. Those living in the reign of grace have nothing to prove and can let go of the defensive postures the reign of sin and death encourages because they are learning what it means to love and be loved. We are freed from the role of condemning and can offer compassion and kindness because after all, it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance.5 They remain aware that they share responsibility in the brokenness prevalent in society and are committed to living in God’s presence where their way of being in society makes His reign tangible in the midst of the reign of sin and death. Finally, because those living under the reign of grace are a reconciled and forgiven community they are commanded to do whatever it takes to become a reconciling and forgiving community. They should become a community that refuses to be schooled in denial and readily admit that the reign of sin and death upholds systems of injustice, violence, shame-dealing and fear. They do not bury their heads in the sand or separate themselves from the world. They enter into it to love with a holy love, a set-apart love much like Jesus the friend of sinners offered others, because they have received this holy love. This kind of love refuses to do what is easy and prepares to move into the suffering and violence because this is what their Lord has done. This way of being and doing in society–in Williamsburg Virginia–becomes their way of bearing witness to their Lord’s reign of grace.
Whew! Got it? If not, read it again. If I’ve made this clear as mud please email me as I will do my best to clarify. I believe it is that important, especially in light of the conversations we are having a church family.
Tomorrow I will publish a personal reflection based upon this “worldview.”
Much love you to brothers and sisters. I am grateful for each and every one of you beyond words. I am grateful to share in fellowship, this common life, with you.
1. Romans 5:12-21 & Colossians 1:13-14
2. Ephesians 6:10-12
3. Colossians 1:15-20; 2:9-10
4. John 1:1-4, 14-17; 21:25
5. Romans 2:4