Underestimating Sin

by Bill Davis

It was second grade. It was my first year after moving to a new school due to consolidation of other smaller area schools. We were now organized into ‘traveling’ class units, moving from teacher to teacher throughout the day, routinely changing desks. On this particular fall morning, I migrated along with my peers to the next scheduled room, only to arrive at my pre-determined desk and discover it had been greatly defaced with scribbling. This was not a casual scribbling or even some artistic doodle, but a thick, angry, cover-the-whole-surface lead scribble from what must have consumed nearly a whole no.2 pencil.

As I stared at the ugliness, Mrs. Mengus walked past. She saw the monstrosity and glared judgmentally at me.

        “Bill, did you do this?” scowled the imposing figure.

        “Oh, no!” I answered, a bit shaken.

        “Now Bill, tell the truth,” she pressed intimidatingly.

No matter how strenuously I declared my innocence, Mrs. Mengus couldn’t believe that the desk’s prior angelic student had done this (I’m not still upset about it or anything :-), and so this cycle of her trying to extract a false confession and my unwillingness to concede repeated with greater intensity until I was finally directed nonetheless to retrieve the necessary janitorial supplies and spend the period cleaning the desktop.

No one likes to be falsely accused. It’s something we can feel like we’ll remember forever.

Last Sunday at Kossuth, as we walked through Romans 5, we encountered the Bible’s declaration that “...the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation” (Rom 5:16) and “...by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (Rom 5:19). Essentially, Adam’s initial sin brought judgment and condemnation on you and me. Furthermore, you and I were made sinners by Adam’s disobedience.

Wait a minute. I can’t deny that I should be condemned for my own sin (of which there’s an abundance, to be sure, as Romans 3 makes plain). But being condemned for someone else’s sin? If we’re honest, doesn’t that strike us as just a bit unfair of God? While we can certainly be reminded that the clay doesn’t direct the potter, we might still be left secretly wondering why God would condemn us for Adam’s trespass before we even had a chance to commit our own.  

But this view of ‘fairness’ and God’s condemnation is distorted. It’s a false view of a God made in our image. It’s a view that makes too much of me (and my sense of fairness) and too little of sin. I’m not condemned because God has somehow over-punished Adam; I’m condemned because that’s the full effect of even one sin. I don’t believe Adam’s sin was anything more grievous or damning than the rest of our sin. The fact is that any sin (even those we, with our false balance scales, think of as the “smallest”), by any person, would have had the same impact of Adam’s sin. What was that impact? No less than cursing all of creation and infecting the entire human race with an inescapable and enslaving rebellion against God. If you’ll bear the impossible plot for the sake of a point, if somehow no one had ever sinned in all history until my first sin, then my sin would have had the same creation cursing, human-race infecting impact. Apart from Christ’s work, the potency of your sin would be sufficient to stain the whole human race.

We underestimate the impact of sin to the peril of underestimating what Christ accomplished on the cross. We Christians don’t carry on about sin and sinfulness in order to hold some self-righteous burden over others’ heads; we do so as a measuring stick to grasp the amazing and infinite grace God has shown us and all who believe. Indeed, Romans 5 also richly reminds us of this measure and proof, for “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,” and truly “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

        But he was pierced for our transgressions;

           he was crushed for our iniquities;

        upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

           and with his wounds we are healed.

        All we like sheep have gone astray;

           we have turned—every one—to his own way;

        and the Lord has laid on him

           the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6)

Jesus was falsely accused. Willingly and sacrificially. That’s something we’ll get to celebrate forever.

On this Good Friday, may God stir our hearts to greater gratitude as we each grow in deeper recognition of the cost of the Cross to have “the iniquity of us all” crush Jesus. May his Spirit empower us to better comprehend an abounding grace that always eclipses that iniquity. May we gather this Resurrection Sunday to more exuberantly rejoice in the Son whose resurrection victory made the potency of sin impotent and defeated death itself!