Today while we frequently encourage everyone to “just get along” we actually rarely know how to do that with people whom we disagree. We promote tolerance of views and beliefs in the abstract, but when it comes to actual day to day living we are often ruthless with those we disagree with. In the course of a week, I’m sure we’ve all promoted tolerance towards people of different religious dispositions and at the same time ridiculed those who vote, parent, or educate differently than us. And unfortunately this is often just as true within the church as it is outside of the church. This should not be so, and I think the church would do better at leading the way in love if they kept before them how Jesus cures the disease of sin, leaving it as a mere entanglement.
Sin is a very contagious disease. Hear these words from the first Psalm, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers.” And Paul writes, “The wages of sin is death.” Sin is a disease that leads towards death, and of course you would want to avoid it, but we can’t. And Jesus did something about it. As Paul writes, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Sin is a disease that has been put to death in the cross of Jesus. Sin still exists, as the writer of Hebrews 12 suggests, and is something that easily entangles us, even if we have been set free from the disease-leading-to-death aspect of sin. This, I think, is an accurate picture of sin. Sin is thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes that entangle us, and and these thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes cause harm to ourselves and the world around us. But we can only freely see sin as a mere entanglement if we know that Jesus has put our own sin to death and that we are not condemned by our sin anymore.
If we continue think of sin as a disease, we will quarantine those whom we deem sinners from us. This is how we typically treat those who act or think differently than us - we label them as people with this disease and we quarantine them; then we are free to ridicule, mock, and insult them all we want. Not only that, but because we don’t want to be condemned like the others we pretend as if we have no contact with sin, constantly trying to cover up and hide our sins acting like they don’t exist. This results in what Dr. Henry Cloud calls merry-go-round Christianity. He writes, “Many Christians stay on the old merry-go-round, where they think they go from a forgiven state to a guilty state, back to a forgiven state, and so on.” What we often fail to realize is “Jesus has made us acceptable ‘once for all.’ This is not something we lose, slipping into a ‘bad’ state with God. The question is not, ‘Are we good or bad?’ but the question is, ‘What are we doing?’”
The alternative is experiencing no condemnation from a community of people who know just as Paul declared, “there is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ” (Romans 8:1). If we know and are loved by a community who knows us and our faults and yet still loves us, we have the chance to honestly face our sins and throw them off of us when they begin to entangle us. When we are not consumed by the question of “are we good enough?,” we become free to see how our sin hinders our ability to love others, and we can let grief and guilt of our actions move us toward change instead of allowing them to cripple and paralyze us.
Many in the church have little experience with this world of “no condemnation” because they are not taught that it exists, or because they are unwilling to enter into a community of others to experience it for themselves. But for those that do, they can experience the wonderful power of being free from the disease of sin and free towards more fully loving God and our neighbor.