The S Words: Sin, Sacrifice and Salvation

Agnus Dei by Francisco de Zurbaran via WikiPaintings

Romans 3:19-25a NIRV
What the law says, it says to those who are ruled by the law. Its purpose is to shut every mouth and make the whole world accountable to God. So it can’t be said that anyone will be made right with God by obeying the law. Not at all! The law makes us more aware of our sin. But now God has shown us how to become right with him. The Law and the Prophets give witness to this. It has nothing to do with obeying the law. We are made right with God by putting our faith in Jesus Christ. That happens to all who believe. It is no different for the Jews than for anyone else. Everyone has sinned. No one measures up to God’s glory. The free gift of God’s grace makes all of us right with him. Christ Jesus paid the price to set us free. God gave him as a sacrifice to pay for sins. So he forgives the sins of those who have faith in his blood.

The purpose of spiritual law is to sharpen your own awareness about who you really are and who God is for you. There you will recognize your own radical insufficiency and, in that same movement, find God’s fullness. – Richard Rohr

Extended Quote from Nadia Bolz Weber from her sermon
Why the Gospel is More Wizard of Oz-y than the Law

Martin Luther had a way of talking about sin that makes a whole lot more sense to me now. He reminds us that sin is bigger than simple immorality. Sin, according to Luther, is being curved in on self without a thought for God or the neighbor. In that case, sin is missing the mark and it’s all the ways we put our selves in the place of God. It can be alcoholism or passive aggression.  It can be the hateful things we think but never say or it can be adultery or it can be that feeling of superiority when we are helping others.  Sin is the fact that my ideals and values are never enough to make me always do what I should, feel what I should, think what I should.  And anything that reveals those “shoulds” to me is what we call The Law, the Law being the very thing Paul in his letter to the Romans said reveals sin. The “shoulds” in our lives are the things that make us see how far off the mark we are.

No matter what we think the “shoulds” are – personal morality and family values and niceness and conservative political convictions or inclusivity and recycling and eating local and progressive political convictions…there is always always, no matter how hard we try, a gap between our ideal self and our actual self.

Hebrews 10:12-18, selected verses
Christ … offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins…. By a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified…. The Lord says, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Extended quote by Steve Garnaas-Holmes from his blog post Nothing Required
Imagining our relationship with God in terms of sin and burnt offerings may seem archaic, but it speaks to where we’re at. We are haunted deep down by a sense that we’re not “making it,” that we’ve done something wrong, that we’re not good enough, that there’s something we need to do to be OK with God—or for God to be OK with us. But the good news is that this is not true. Whatever shortcoming there is between who we are and who we were created to be, whatever deficiency we feel there is in us, whatever gap is between us and God—God fills it. God in us makes up the difference between who we are and who we are afraid we “ought” to be. We are perfected—just right for God.

This doesn’t mean we’re perfect, or that we don’t need to repent, or that we are not always continually becoming someone new; nor does it mean there aren’t consequences of our hurtful choices. It means that we don’t have to do anything to be acceptable to God. We don’t have to make up for anything or prove anything or pay for anything. We don’t have to do penance. Sure, we’ve done awful things. But God lets go of them. God dwells in the present moment, not the past, and invites us to start fresh each new moment. Of course God has to let go of a lot to do that. That’s the whole point of this “sacrifice” language: whatever has to be sacrificed for us to be close to God, God has sacrificed. We don’t have to. It’s done.

God invites us into the present moment, invites us to be present for God, who is perfectly present for us. Start now. Come as you are. No cover charge, no entrance requirements, no dress code. Just be here. Really, you already are.

John 8:34-36 NRSV
Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

Extended Quote by Richard Rohr from his book, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi
The common Christian reading of the Bible is that Jesus “died for our sins”–either to pay a debt to the devil (common in the first millennium) or to pay a debt to God the Father (proposed by Anselm of Canterbury, 1033-1109). Anselm’s infamous Cur Deus Homo has been called “the most unfortunately successful piece of theology ever written.” My hero, Franciscan philosopher and theologian John Duns Scotus (1266-1308), agreed with neither of these understandings. Scotus was not guided by the Temple language of debt, atonement, or blood sacrifice (understandably used in the Gospels and by Paul). He was inspired by the high level cosmic hymns in the first chapters of Colossians and Ephesians and the first chapter of John’s Gospel…. We all need to know that God does not love us because we are good; God loves us because God is good. Nothing humans can do will ever decrease or increase God’s eternal eagerness to love.

Click here for a powerful article by Rachel Held Evans entitled Everyone’s a Biblical Literalist Until You Bring Up Gluttony. In it she makes several strong points on the pitfalls of labeling sin/sinners, especially in light of our own prejudices and perspectives.

Click here for an excellent reflection entitled Martyrdom or Atonement by Steve Harper. In it he makes the distinction between a soldier’s death on the behalf of others and Christ’s death on behalf of all.

Click here for a sermon by Nadia Bolz Webber entitled Sermon on Jesus Rolling His Eyes (and also divorce). In it she discusses several ways to understand God’s law including letter of the law vs spirit of the law, law as rules to live by, and the law as means of protecting dignity.

For more information on the scripture translation, art and the use of this devotional in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.

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