Let’s play a memory association game. If I say sunny, what word comes to mind? A sunny day? A sunny beach? If I say dark, what word springs to your mind? A dark night? A dark feeling? If I say the word sin, what comes to mind? Oh, you don’t want to play anymore?
Followers of Jesus associate sin with feelings of failure and fear. It brings to mind that accusatory list of my misdemeanours and crimes. That’s a totally inadequate way to think about sin — as if it’s all about me.
The world was already in trouble long before you were born and added your bit. If you think of sin as the need for some personal forgiveness for yourself, you haven’t begun to grasp what the problem is.
You were born into a world where sin was already deeply entrenched as the slave-master over all humanity. That’s the much bigger picture of sin that you find in the Bible. Earth was designed be God’s realm, but humanity tried to take over from God. That’s how we became enslaved to sin instead.
If you think in individual terms, you miss the message. In terms of an individual’s behaviour, it makes no sense to call a baby is a sinner: a newborn hasn’t done anything yet, and isn’t culpable anyway. But if we understand sin collectively, it starts to make sense. Sin is the power that enslaves us. Even a baby can be born into slavery.
When we stop thinking of sin as my list of bad behaviours and realize it’s the power that holds the world under evil, Jesus’ message — the gospel of the kingdom — makes sense. The good news is that God is releasing us from the grip of sin, back under his kingship where we belong. That’s wonderful news!
And that’s how salvation works in the Bible. Salvation language in Scripture grows out of the Exodus story. Exodus doesn’t say that every Hebrew was a sinner who had personally offended God. It says they were slaves, held under a power that was not God. It says that God confronted that power on their behalf, saving his people from slavery so they could be his kingdom people.
Salvation is emancipation from a world enslaved under sin, to be the kingdom of God instead. The cross makes sense as the story of Jesus confronting the powers that run this world, and being raised up as our true Lord.
Once you see this, you no longer need to run around labelling people as sinners and trying to convince them that their personal misdemeanours are the problem. That’s not good news. It’s not what Jesus did. And it fails to understand the nature of human sin.
So, let’s drop the message of individual blame as the mechanism for manipulating people into the kingdom of God. Instead, let’s see sin for what it is — the abusive power that enslaved all humanity for generations past. That power was defeated by the one whom God appointed to restore his reign.
Let’s announce the good news: God has broken the power of evil, and reconciled us to himself through his anointed ruler — Jesus Christ our Lord.
That’s the best news you’ll ever hear.