Sin, Brokenness, & Enslavement

Once upon a time, I was having a conversation with She Who Is More Learned Than I, and She made a comment about the prevalence of the language of “brokenness” these days–an abundance of use that has come at the expense of the language of “sin”.

More recently, I have been working in two areas at once. On the one hand, I have been teaching a class on the cross in the New Testament. Part of this course is working through various models of the atonement, studying how they conceive of the problem of sin and how Jesus’ death provides the solution.

On the other hand, I have been writing about sex and homosexuality for my book on Jesus and Paul. Doing this, I was struck by the way that much contemporary conversation about sexuality has distanced sexual practice from something that might be labeled “sinful” (except in cases of rape, pedophilia, etc.).

And so studying sexuality reaffirmed to me the importance of what I learned in talking to my colleagues and in studying atonement theories: In order to articulate a Christian position on any issue, including sex, we have to work with multiple metaphors.

When we look at atonement theories, these are some of the things we hear:

  1. The Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many. “Ransom” language imagines us as enslaved to a hostile power.
  2. By His stripes we are healed. “Healing” language imagines us as wounded or broken and in need of mending.
  3. Blood poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. “Forgiveness” language imagines us as guilty.

I think the point is this: we are doing well in evangelicalism these days spreading our wings and attempting to fly with a broader array of images about atonement. This opens the door for us to recognize more broadly the effects of sin and thereby celebrate more fully the redeeming work of Christ that delivers us from all sin’s effects. He frees us from our slavery. He heals us from our brokenness. He forgives us for our sins.

But once we’ve so expanded our vision of what living in a sinful world entails, we are confronted simultaneously with the various ways that we need all of Christ in every area of our lives.

If we have anger problems, that not only means we have guilt in our anger that needs to be forgiven, but likely some brokenness in our way of responding to the world and woundedness in our hearts that need to be healed before we can respond to our world with grace and patience. Moreover, if we have such a problem there is a power working to enslave us to this sinful passion from which we need to be freed.

And so I make the modest suggestion that when we deal with sex as a particular issue, we must anticipate that we will see evidence of sinful expressions that need to be forgiven, seemingly inescapable desires from which we need to be freed, and driving forces in broken and wounded hearts and bodies that need to be healed.

To claim that God is not concerned with what we do sexually is to revert to an insufficiently physical gnosticism. To cordon off sex from the realm of our humanity possibly marred by sin is to insufficiently recognize both the need for and extent of Christ’s atoning work.

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