What is sin? That seems to be a rather straightforward question, but the very question will provoke a variety of responses. In recent decades many Christians have redefined sin in various socio-political categories – racism, patriarchy, whiteness, sexism. This reduces sin to a socio-political problem. When sin is reduced to socio-political issues it can be redefined by majority consent and definitions of sinfulness change with the political winds. If sin is indeed primarily a socio-political problem, then it is a human problem with a human remedy. If this is the case there is no place for God, except for the civil deity we construct for our political purposes.
When we define sin in terms of sociopolitical issues we are tempted to deify humanity. Sociopolitical sin is defined in various categories of human oppressive systems. When men exploit women sin is defined as patriarchy. When the rich oppress the poor sin is defined as privilege. When whites oppress blacks sin is defined as racism. When humans act horrifically, their sins are defined as “crimes against humanity.” This suggests there is no higher authority than human consensus. This is the secularization of sin.
The Christian faith proclaims that there is a living God who rules over the affairs of humanity. God’s kingdom is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. God created the heaven and the earth and creation was pronounced very good. Humanity – male and female – were created in God’s image and charged with governing, cultivating, and caring for the earth.
Then the man and woman sinned – they were disobedient to God and all creation suffers God’s judgment upon human sinfulness. The point needs to be emphasized – Adam and Eve colluded in a conspiracy against God. Male and female were created as equals, they governed as equals, they conspired as equals, and as equals they were judged by God. Sin is not a male problem, nor a female problem; it is common to all humans. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
In conspiring together against God, Adam and Eve did not sin against each other – they sinned against God. This means that sin is not primarily a socio-political issue, but a theological problem – sin is primarily a crime against God. God is the offended One, God is the Judge of humanity, and God is the Savior of humanity.
When humans exchange the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator, they descend into the abyss of deceit, oppression, violence, and death (Romans 1:25ff). Paul wrote, “Destruction and misery always follow them. They don’t know where to find peace. They have no fear of God at all” (Romans 3:16-18 NLT). When humans don’t fear God they don’t respect each other. When humans fail to honor God, they become predators seeking to devour each other and the strongest and most ruthless prevail. The ultimate goal is power. When the ultimate goal is power, then justice is defined in terms of victory and righteousness is sacrificed on the altar of political pragmatism. This is the secularization of law.
Sin originates as a crime against God and is expressed in various crimes against humanity. In other words, sin has two dimensions – vertical and horizontal. The vertical dimension is the refusal to love God. This is primary. To love God is the first commandment. Then, there is the horizontal dimension of sin – the disorder of human society. There can be no justice when there is no righteousness. When humans don’t love God, they hate each other, they oppress each other, and they dehumanize each other. This dehumanization is expressed in various forms of slavery, sexual abuse and exploitation, abortion, homosexuality, and violence. When there is no love for God, humans redefine love in terms of self-affirmation – lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:4).
As I’ve already stated, sin is a theological problem and it requires a theological remedy. The law defines sin and declares all humans as sinners. The law is not a remedy for sin. Sin cannot be remedied by means of human politics. Only God can remedy sin. The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23). Jesus Christ is the divine-human One who assumed human sinfulness and through whom humans can be made righteous.
Because sin has vertical and horizontal dimensions, God has provided a vertical and horizontal remedy – the cross. The Roman cross upon which Jesus was crucified was constructed of two beams. The horizontal beam was called the patibulum and the vertical beam was called the stipes.
The cross symbolizes God’s remedy for sin. The stipes represents God reconciling God’s self to humanity. The patibulum represents the reconciliation of humanity in Christ. The outstretched arms of Christ seek to embrace all humans and bring us together in Him. In Christ, the socio-political disorders of sinful humanity are made righteous. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). In Christ, God has done what politics and law cannot do. In Christ religious conflict, economic oppression, and sexual exploitation are judged. In Christ, there is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come! (2 Corinthians 5:17). God’s kingdom is coming and God will judge all humanity.
Repent! The kingdom of God is at hand!