“I have done wrong!”
“This is my fault!”
“I have sinned!”
These are statements that someone says when they are trying to take responsibility for their bad acts.
I don’t like to make general comments but…[here comes one]…today many people just don’t seem to be able to take responsibility for anything that reflects negatively on them. In the context of The Cross of Christ, John Stott is concerned about Jesus dying on the cross to atone for man’s sins. With today’s attitude toward sinning, what is the purpose for Jesus’ sacrifice? In a world where few people seem to be willing to admit that they sin, why is it a big deal that Jesus died for us sinners?
We can find multiple examples today of people who just don’t want to say they ever do anything wrong. Others are unwilling to own up to their actions, preferring to blame others, the “circumstances” or even the influence of popular culture. The media is full of examples of people who are accused of committing crimes and they hire the best defense attorneys they can and totally deny any wrongdoing.
Stott makes a good point…
Why be concerned about Jesus dying on the cross to atone for man’s sins when man does not think he is committing sin?
That is a bold question, but let’s add a strong statement to the question [this one from Stott]: “The word sin has in recent years been dropped from most people’s vocabulary. It belongs to traditional religious phraseology which, at least in the increasingly secularized West is now declared by many to be meaningless” [Stott, 90].
Where has sin gone? Stott refers to Karl Menninger’s book Whatever Became of Sin? to come up with three possibilities. Menninger says that “many former sins have become crimes” so the responsibility for dealing with them has gone from church to state, from priest to policeman. Others have “dissipated into sickness” so punishment has been watered down to treatment. Finally responsibility for sin has been transferred to society or what Menninger calls “collective responsibility.” In my mind that is the “everybody’s doing it” defense. If everyone is doing it, it must be ok.
This is a far cry from Stott’s early discussion in Chapter Four of The Cross of Christ. There he took the attitude that sin is extremely serious.
Again, where has sin gone?
Nowhere… It is alive and well and a part of our world today.
For some insight, let’s look at the origin of God’s laws. Maybe we think that God’s moral law was established for God alone. It was not. It was also established for man. God made us in His image so the requirements of His law were created with us in mind. Stott explains that there is a “vital correspondence” between God’s law and man, so when we commit sins we are not only sinning against God, we are sinning against our “highest welfare.”
What is the root of man’s rebellion?
The short answer is our own self-centeredness.
Man should be centered on God but instead of humbly acknowledging the debt we have to our Creator, we would love to say that we are independent. “We have rejected the position of dependence that our createdness inevitably involves and made a bid for independence” [Stott, 92]. Worse than that, Stott says that man claims autonomy, which is a position that is reserved for God alone. It says in Romans 8: 7 that “Sin is not a regrettable lapse from conventional standards; its essence is hostility to God.” This self-centeredness is what Stott calls active rebellion against God. “It has been described in terms of getting rid of the Lord God in order to put ourselves in His place in a haughty spirit of Godalmightiness” .
Stott quotes from the Swiss Theologian Emil Brunner: “Sin is defiance, arrogance, the desire to be equal with God,….the assertion of human independence over against God” [from Brunner’s book entitled Man in Revolt].
Sin has gone nowhere. It is here. Maybe what we have forgotten is the serious nature of sin or maybe we just don’t want to acknowledge the serious nature of sin. Stott refers to King David and his many Psalms of regret; he often cries out to God in the pain and agony of his guilt. No greater example occurs than his pain over his sinful lust for Bathsheba. He not only committed adultery with her but arranged for her husband Uriah to be in a dangerous position on the battlefield. With Uriah out of the way, he has a chance to have Bathsheba all to himself, but he also had the guilt of great sin on his heart. Psalms 51: 4 states “Against you, you only I have sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” Sin is there with David and he acknowledges it. He boldly declares “I have done wrong! This is my fault! I have sinned!” He knows it was God’s laws that he has broken and he has offended his Lord.
That same guilt that David was feeling is here today…alive and well.
Maybe what we really don’t want to admit is that sin is serious, what Stott calls “the gravity of sin” . That reluctance has led to its omission from the vocabulary of today’s world. Stott paraphrases Menninger [quoted above] when he pleads that the word “sin” needs to be reinstated into our vocabulary. Sin is real and we need to admit it. Sin cannot be dismissed as merely a cultural taboo or social blunder. It must be taken seriously. Menninger has criticism for preachers who “soft-pedal” sin: “The clergyman cannot minimize sin and maintain his proper role in our culture” [from Whatever Became of Sin?].
Menninger uses harsh words for sin like it has an aggressive quality, a ruthlessness, it alienates and it is an act of rebellion. God is defied, offended and hurt. He writes “to ignore this would be dishonest.”
Man needs to understand the gravity of the sinful act.
Man needs to admit responsibility for sinful actions.
If we cannot confess our sins, we will never be able to do anything about them.
Stott ends his discussion of the gravity of sin with the following words from Menninger: “the reinstatement of sin would lead inevitably to the revival or reassertion of personal responsibility.”
“Against you, you only I have sinned and done what is evil in your sight.”
Strength comes from honesty. Forgiveness comes from honesty. What we need to realize is that before honesty and strength and forgiveness one must also have humility.
Maybe that is the problem; humility today is in short supply.
* Addendum: My first post on The Cross of Christ made reference to Basic Christianity so I am going to insert comments on that book in between posts on The Cross… I think readers may find this approach interesting. For my opening comments on Basic see the post “Studying Stott Again” on October 25, 2020. I have never worked on two books at a time but now is the time to do that. Now we return to commenting on The Cross.