by Werner Mischke
(Editor’s note: This is the 9th post in a series called “A Journey of Evangelism in Scripture,” where we travel from Genesis through Revelation to look into the intersection of evangelism at various points of time.)
I had just preached a sermon on how God covers our shame and restores our honor based on the Prodigal Son story. Afterward, a smiling elderly Christian woman came to me and shared how the sermon had blessed her. Wonderful!
But I was especially startled when she said. “You know, when I was a little girl, something happened to me, and I’ve never been able to get rid of it. Until today.”
It seems she knew she was forgiven of her sins, but because of the sins of another against her, she had felt defiled—literally for decades.
Sexual abuse has always been with us, but it seems more rampant and ubiquitous today. In fact, one in four women and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.
Just a month ago I was in preaching in Spain. My sermon was “Jesus Makes Us Clean.” At the end of the service, an individual was crying. Like me, she had grown up with a mentally-ill father. For years, she and her sister had been deeply shamed, embarrassed, defiled.
She was involuntarily stained by the effects of a sinful fallen humanity by a father who involuntarily suffered from schizophrenia.
Is relational pollution getting worse and worse? Maybe it’s just always been this way.
What is sin to a post-Christendom world?
In our postmodern secular world many people no longer believe in the reality of sin. Alan Mann writes that “geneticists, sociologists, and psychologists increasingly … allow us to live in the confidence that we do no wrong.”[i]
And as for the death of Christ, “To twenty-first-century sensibilities, the crucifixion of Jesus [is] nothing more than a primitive, barbaric, pointless death.”[ii]
Mann believes the best way for secular peoples to come to terms with sin is to be presented with this: Sin is relational defilement, uncleanness, pollution.
Consider the relational defilement that most secular peoples readily acknowledge: poverty of all kinds … racism and bigotry … sexual trafficking … an epidemic of addictions … the persistence of slavery … institutional greed and corruption … violent nationalism … honor-killings … bloody culture clashes.
What does it all add up to? A dirty, traumatized, defiled, relationally polluted world!
In this world of sin, I am unclean. Isaiah observed: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips and dwell among a people of unclean lips …” (Isa. 6:5).
Sin is personal—for I am an agent of sin having rebelled against God.
And sin is social—for I am also a victim of the sins of others, defiled by living in a world-nation-community-family of fallen humanity. Am I “playing the victim card”? No. I’m describing the complexity of the effects of sin. When it comes to sin, we are all both agents and victims.
Is Christ’s death sufficient to cleanse me from being both an agent and victim of sin?
The Psalmist David reveals this agent-and-victim duality about sin: “When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions” (Ps. 65:3).
On the one hand, I am the victim of the sins of others (“iniquities prevail against me”). On the other hand, we are all responsible agents of sin (“our transgressions”). But David’s song to God contains good news concerning his sinfulness both as an agent and victim of sin: “You atone for our transgressions” (Ps. 65:3). There is an atonement-remedy for both!
The writer of Hebrews said of the death and atonement of Christ: “So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order that he might sanctify the people through his own blood” (Heb. 13:12). In his death, Jesus became unclean—he “suffered outside the gate.” Why? “…in order that he might sanctify the people”—in order to cleanse the people. Through His death, Jesus became unclean in order to make believers clean forever.
“When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions” (Ps. 65:3). When Jesus made “purification for sins” (Heb. 1:3), He made provision to cleanse us from sins committed by us—and from sins committed against us.
Hallelujah, what a gospel! Hallelujah, what a Savior!
[i] Mann, Alan (2015-12-18). Atonement for a Sinless Society: Second Edition (Kindle Location 121–122). Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
[ii] Ibid., Kindle Location 94.
Werner Mischke (@WernerMischke) is director of training ministries for Mission ONE. He is passionate about equipping the Church for fruitful cross-cultural partnerships and helping believers know and share the gospel of Jesus Christ in the “language of honor and shame.” Werner is author of The Global Gospel. Learn more: http://wernermischke.org