More on Sin and Death — A Statement of Intent

We’re living in a time when many American Christians are experiencing increased anxieties due to several factors. Here are just a few of those factors: for a bevy of reasons, American Christianity continues to lose much of the political and cultural clout it has enjoyed for generations; recently, we have witnessed a string of domestic attacks against Christians in places like South Carolina and Oregon; we have acquired an increased awareness of global persecution with the rise of ISIS; we are headed into an election year at a very divisive time in our political history. I would also add, in my own context, I work with a group of Christians along the Southern border of the US at a time when immigration is most contentious and the broader American society wrestles against the urges of xenophobia.

These are a few, but I could add more. I suspect you could too.

With all this swimming around in the mix, I’ve been reflecting on some conclusions I’ve drawn after reading Richard Beck’s The Slavery of Death and John Romanides The Ancestral Sin. This is the fourth post in this series of reflections, a kind of overdue statement of intent. (Here are the first, second, and third.) So far in those reflections, I’ve concluded the human predicament can more accurately be described as a death problem, rather than a sin problem. While sin initially opened the door to death, it seems our fear of death is what drives much of our subsequent sin, throwing us into an inescapable downward spiral. Therefore, the Hebrews writer says Jesus came to destroy the devil, who holds the power of death, and this victory frees us from the slavery of the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14–15). This is also how Paul characterizes Jesus’ victory in his resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, where death is the last enemy to be defeated and sin is its sting.

To be clear about where I want to take this, I think the topic of these reflections is vital. In a time of great anxiety, it is critical we remind ourselves these fears stand to drive us deeper into cycles of sin and death. It is also essential we articulate the other side of this conversation and embrace its implications. Jesus achieved victory to redeem us from the self-destructive cycles of fear and power, to break us from the slavery in which death holds us. This opens the possibility of a new way of being human community. Jesus calls this new way the kingdom of God. More on this as we go.

In short, as fears run high on multiple fronts, Jesus calls us to act as those who are free from the fear of death that animates virtually everything in our fallen world. He calls us to be different, to be holy, to run counter to the culture of anxiety and accusation and Nietzschian ethics, and rather embrace the way of love rooted in God’s own faithfulness.

Soon, we’ll get to the flip side of the conversation. We’ll talk about Jesus and his victory. Before then however, we’ve a little more to say concerning the way of the world. We want to name it for what it is. Then we can begin to walk away from it, because we’ve been set free.

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