Healing Weary Words: Sin, Repentance and Justification – Brad Jersak
Healing Weary Words: Sin, Repentance and Justification in the Context of the Incarnation
We’re often told “sin” refers to “missing the mark” but then left to assume the mark has to do with moralistic perfection. Rather, the mark, goal or telos of human design and destiny is none other than love union with Trinity, with each other and with our world. To sin (every kind of sin) is to misuse our God-given freedom/energies to turn away from self-giving, other-welcoming love in favor of self-will. As it turns out, our forays into self-centeredness are also self-destructive—a turn from love and life into a wasting disease that would ultimately prove fatal apart from the work of a Great Physician.
How does Trinity deal with the self- and others-destructive effects of sin? One answer is that God-in-Christ reconciles us to himself by forgiving us and healing us of sin.
First, Trinity forgives or pardons the guilt incurred, expunging our record of wrongs. Sin that is forgiven need not be punished. Punishment is the opposite of forgiveness. On the Cross, God in Christ forgave our sin and reconciled us to himself. That was a “done deal” long ago—the moment Christ proclaimed, “It is finished!”
Second, Trinity heals us of the sickness of sin itself (not just guilt for sin)—the way self-will defaces the image of God in us and defiles our actions so that we turn from love. Healing us of sin speaks of God’s empowering grace that frees us from the slavery impulse of self-will and frees us to surrender to love and bear the fruit of Christ-in-us, namely, actual righteousness of love.
This understanding informs other tired words like ‘repentance’ and ‘justification.’
Repentance is simply our turn back to love in orientation and practice.
Reconciliation is the restoration of the love union we had previously abandoned.
Justification is the restored state of that love union through the faithfulness of Christ.
How is it that Christ accomplished this?
In the Incarnation and most especially on the Cross, in his all-inclusive and ever-expansive loving embrace, Christ vicariously (as the true human) turned humanity back toward the love of Trinity, to the other and to the world. That turn towards the light of divine Love is the essential sense of the term repentance/metanoia(turning and returning toward the overtures of divine love) in order to restore the shalomic union of our hearts to love both ontologically (in our being) and existentially (in our lives). To be justified is to be reconciled into the reality of our oneness with Trinity.
This is where Christ’s two natures (human and divine) united in the one person (the Incarnation) are so important. As God, Christ first directs his expansive-inclusive love toward rebellious humanity, and as the true human, Christ turns humanity back to God in the vicarious, God-welcoming metanoia of surrender. In Christ, humanity and Trinity are united in the one God-man both in our being and in relationship.