Sin: Victims and Participants

Sin is serious. We see its affects everywhere. It’s actually so devastating and can affect us so much that we become blind to all of the havoc that it is wreaking. In the same way that a fish doesn't know that it is wet, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we don’t even realize that, naturally, sin is the very air we breathe.

Romans 3:11-12 tells us, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

Likewise, in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul further defines our state:

"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind"
(Ephesians 2:1-3 ESV).

These indictments are severe, for sure. They paint a picture of our natural inclination to rebel. They tell us of our disobedience and selfishness. They tell us how we are willing participants in treason against the King of the universe.

But scripture also gives us another perspective on sin. Again we go to Romans for insight:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned" (Romans 5:12 ESV).

Here we see Paul highlighting the fact that not only are we participants in sin, but we are also victims of sin. Because of the sin of our first father Adam, we are born under the curse of sin to be sinners. This duality of sin plays itself out all throughout creation. We are born (conceived, Ps. 51) in sin and we commit sin. We sin and we are sinned against.

Sin infiltrates our being down to our very heart and motivations and works its way out into our words and actions. Everyone we interact with is tainted by it. Every earthly system is undone by it. We cannot escape its wake. But for the believer, there is hope. Through Adam, the poison of sin has worked its way into the lifeblood of all creation, but the redemptive work of Christ, the new and better Adam, is the antidote.

"Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous" (Romans 5:18-19 ESV).

This is a truth that is profound. Where we lacked, Christ was sufficient. Where we faltered, Christ excelled. Jesus paid it all. So not only have the sins that we have committed, and will ever commit, been forgiven, we now have a righteousness that is not our own. We have been “made alive with Christ” and given new hearts. Our old selves were “crucified with Christ” and “raised up together with him”.

This is good news.

But the trouble is, we are forgetful people. We have trouble remembering.

We still struggle with the duality of sin. Not only in our own life but in how we view others as well. This shows up very quickly in our hearts, especially as it pertains to those who are different from us. We tend to see ourselves, and those like us, primarily as victims of sin, and others, especially those who are unlike us, primarily as participants. It’s easy for us to point out all of the ways that “they” are participating in sin while neglecting to see the ways that they have been sinned against. All the while, acknowledging our victimization and downplaying our participation.

“Well, maybe if they just stopped being so lazy.” “She just needs to get over it and grow up. ”

“I am this way because of my upbringing.” “I guess that’s just the way I was taught.”

The beauty of the gospel is that Christ’s sinless life, atoning death, triumphal resurrection, and eventual judgment covers every imaginable aspect of sin. Our sinful nature is made new, the sins we commit are paid for, and the sins against us are avenged.

Where we are victims he is victorious. When we are participants he pays our price.

Having this view of sin and the Christ who conquered it allows for true reconciliation, with God first and then with each other. We are no longer identified by our sinful nature, we have been adopted into the family of God. We no longer are bound as slaves to sin, we have been set free by the blood of the Lamb. We are no longer hopeless, helpless victims of the sins of others, we are the justified children of a triumphant King who will right every wrong.

This truth will give us both confidence and humility. Humility because we know that we were dead and had rebelled against God. And confidence knowing that all of Christ’s perfection has been credited to us by grace through faith.

This is the new yeast that begins to work its way out through us. It begins in our regenerated hearts (justification) and gradually shows itself to the world through our words and deeds (sanctification).

When we hold fast to this truth it can inform all of our relationships. When we remember that we did not get what we truly deserved it demolishes our sense of entitlement and frees us to engage with each other in a way that displays Christ. It allows us to speak the truth (the gospel) in love and gives us the peace to know that God is truly sovereign over all things. We no longer have to be defensive because Christ is our defender. We no longer have to try to self-justify because we have been forever fully justified in Jesus. We no longer have to feel shame and guilt from sins we have committed or have been committed against us because Jesus became our shame and guilt on the cross.

So breathe deeply the truth of the gospel and let the pure oxygen of the very Spirit of God enrich our bodies to strengthen us to live lives that glorify our great King and display his grace in us to a sin-anemic world.

"May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:11-14 ESV).