Sin isn’t making any Top 10 lists of popular topics these days, even in many of our churches. Sin feels somewhat old fashioned. After all, haven’t we learned the power of positive motivation to bring about life change?
But if we’re going to walk intimately with Jesus in this Lenten season, we cannot ignore or even downplay the seriousness of sin.
Scripture teaches that sin, as a condition, has infected the human race since the fall. It is insidious, moving within us even while we’re changing outwardly, even while we’re improving.
I can eat all the right foods but still make an idol of food and eat gluttonously. I can add filters to my computer to keep myself from pornography but still lust daily in my mind. I can give large sums of money but still remain in the grip of greed. And no matter what I do to combat pride, it can grow in nearly any soil. (Benjamin Franklin wrote, “[Even] if I could conceive that I had completely overcome [pride], I should probably be proud of my humility.”)
These examples may seem trivial, but the gravity of sin and its effects on humanity can be clearly seen throughout time in every culture. Human history reveals that something is terribly wrong, and our best and most cooperative, creative, and courageous efforts have not fixed the problem.
Something outside of humanity is needed.
Enter God’s justice.
In her book The Crucifixion, Fleming Rutledge points out that if you ask the average American churchgoer to describe God, many will say “loving,” “merciful,” or “forgiving,” but few will say “just.”
And yet, it is precisely God’s justice that sets about to right what’s wrong in humanity. Rutledge writes, “[Justice] is not an emotion; it is God’s righteous activity in setting right what is wrong. It is God’s intervention on behalf of those who cannot help themselves.” Forgiveness and mercy may absolve the sin, but they do not correct the problem. Justice does that.
Justice is not the same as punishment. Punishment may seek to dole out hurt to the wrongdoer to “get even” or “teach a lesson.” But no punishment can truly heal wounds. Law enforcement can catch a robber, the legal system can put him behind bars, and the insurance company can pay for what was stolen, but none of this resolves the violation suffered by the homeowners. Likewise, no law (even the God-given Law of the Old Testament) can truly make us well. (Consider how far short our best efforts are at restoring the victims of abuse, rape, or murder. Not even close.)
Justice, as the Bible speaks of it, means to put things right. Complete justice then can only be accomplished by God.
Here on our Lenten journey, we rejoin Jesus as he travels for the last time to Jerusalem. He did not set off toward the cross only to show us how much he loved us (although he certainly did that), nor simply to pay the price for our sin that we might be forgiven (though he accomplished that as well).
Jesus’ journey to the cross was also to bring about justice on the earth—to set things right. Without him, we will not and cannot escape the gravitational pull toward destruction.
As we approach Good Friday, consider all that we strive to make right—anything from storms that ravage entire communities to birth defects to bickering neighbors to persistent sexual temptations. Where are you longing for things to be set right in you? In your family? In your community? On the planet?
“And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true” (Revelation 21:5).
I’d love to hear from you: This Lent, where are you longing for things to be set right? What are you longing to see made new?
P.S. Last summer, we asked our college intern to write a few posts about her experience as a young woman wrestling with issues of identity and intimacy as a Christ-follower today. Here’s her first installment. Her voice is one of many among college-aged women longing for something more, deeper, and more life-giving. If you or someone you love is a college-aged woman, please join us for more on May 4 for One:One!