“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Weight of Sin

We have come to the point of identifying the cross as the place where God’s victory was won, which was made complete in the Great Eucatastrophe of the Resurrection. Death and Rebirth, wrote Lewis, is “the very formula of reality,” and thus “in the mystery of Death the secret of secrets lies hid” (Miracles ch. 14). It is into the “mystery” and “secret” of the cross that I want to dig deeper in the next few posts. In order to understand more fully the deep riches of the Gospel and the beauty of God’s victory, it is helpful to consider what the situation was, and what was at stake, when Christ went to the cross. Let’s consider three questions:

1. Who were we – each individual and all of humanity – in relation to our Mediator Jesus Christ, God the Son, and who was Christ in relation to us?
2. How did the Christ’s death and resurrection change this?
3. What was Christ’s relation to God the Father? What happened within the Trinity when Christ died on the cross?
Let’s tackle the first question first. Who are we in relation to Christ in particular, and to the Triune God in general? We are God’s creatures, he is our Creator. We bear his image and are reflections of the One who is prime and original. But we fell. Each of us can say truly of ourselves: “I am his offender and debtor. I am a sinner against him – I am a criminal. He, God, is the victim of my horrific crimes. In breaking his perfect law I insulted him and defied him. I raised my fist in his face and set myself on high. I nailed his hands to the cross. I killed him. I joined the rest of humanity to slay the Son of God.” Each day we may wake and eat and live our lives, driving to work or watching TV or talking to friends, but this greater reality cannot be ignored. We are murderers. We are the killers of God. How did we kill God? We sinned, and the just wages of sin are death (Romans 3:23) – wages that could only be paid and a death that could only be defeated by the suffering and death of God himself.

Could we ourselves have paid these wages to earn our way back to God? No. Offense against an infinitely holy God is an infinite crime, and thus could be atoned for only by eternal punishment (hell) for sinners, or through God himself, the infinitely worthy One against whom we sinned, paying the wages. The first of these options offers no salvation or redemption, and the love of God would not allow for universal eternal hell for his creatures. Furthermore, choosing to sin and reject God bound us to all the effects of sin (particularly death) and trapped us in a state of depravity from which we could not possible earn our way back to God (Romans 8:3,7-8; 3:10-12, Ephesians 2:1-3, 1 Corinthians 2:14, John 3:19, 8:34, Jeremiah 17:9). Only a perfect person could die to sin perfectly (see C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp. 59-60), and only God himself could be a perfect person. God alone, then, could bring us back to God.

This is where we stood in relation to God – we had a debt to pay that God, being just, would not ignore. Because sin is against an infinitely worthy God, it is an infinite crime. It would not be just for God, and thus not in his character (God defines justice), to simply ignore our sin and bring us into his presence. In not punishing sin, the one dishonored by the sin (God) would be treated as unworthy, but God treats all things according to their value, including himself – he who is of the greatest value and worth. Offense against a holy and just God must be given its proper weight, and to see the full magnitude of sin we must look at the cross, which is the product of God’s justice along with his love.

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