All Intents and Purposes
When you live in a house with children, mistakes, bad habits, and confusions are bound to be the norm. Another norm in a house with children is the constant echo of the phrase “I/he/she/they didn’t mean to!” Example: My son loves fireflies. Sometimes that love is dangerous. We have to watch him closely because if he catches one (to befriend of course) he often will end up squishing his new BFF. This was not his intention. We all know he didn’t mean to do it. So, he should be freed from guilt, right?
(Sidenote: he also has this amazing ability to catch flies like Mr. Miyagi with his fingers and then feed them to the dog, but I think the intentions and ethics of that are between him and Jesus.)
Let’s talk about sin! Who’s excited? Trust me… there is no right way to answer that question…
Our text in Romans 5 describes what our justification looks like through Jesus. Through faith in Jesus, we receive the grace of God in transformative ways, not only through our salvation but also our immersion into this mysterious redemptive will of God where we experience and establish righteousness (justice.) Then in verse 6… one of the more popular verses in this text… we see our sin. “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (v.6)
On the surface, our minds (or at least my brain) want to make this a simple equation:
Sin + Jesus = Sinlessness Or, Us – Jesus = Sinful Or, Us + Sin = Without Jesus
But, if we are honest about our experiences in this life, is it ever really that simple? Later on in chapter 5 Paul tells us that through one sin we are all guilty of all, but by the grace of God, the sacrifice of One (Jesus) brings justification for us (no longer guilty.) So, why is there all this sin still? Why is there even still sin in our lives as Christians? (Am I really going to be the only one who admits this?… Okay fine…)
This is why our relationship with God is not as simple as addition and subtraction just like the words of one verse are not as simple within the larger story of the Gospel. In chapter 6 of Romans Paul goes on the further unpack what we receive from Jesus. We don’t just get our criminal records wiped and we also don’t get our memories wiped. Through Jesus, we are given FREEDOM from sin (specifically the freedom from sin and death.) The will of God for all sin to be no more and for all things to be righteous (whole) is still in motion, but we are still on that journey. So sin didn’t vanish, but the power of that sin (guilt, shame, eternal separation from God, etc.) can now be removed through our faith in Jesus Christ.
So, how can we truly know and measure whether God is at work in our lives? How can we truly live in confidence with Jesus without being able to confidently say that every single action, reaction, and inaction is completely pure and perfect? It’s our intent. Paul goes on to say that as humans we are going to be a servant of something, we are either a servant of sin or a servant of Jesus. The evidence of our allegiance is our heart, or whether we seek to have as John Wesley and many others describe, a “mind of Christ.”
Pardon the dated use of language, but I think this quote from Wesley clears things up when it comes to this idea of being “free from sin”:
“There is no such perfection in this life, in things not essential to salvation… We cannot find any ground in scripture to suppose, that any inhabitant of a house of clay is wholly exempt either from bodily infirmities, or from ignorance of many things, or falling into divers temptations.”
In other words, our bodies are still imperfect, and this world is still imperfect, so we should not bear the weight of portraying that we are perfect. In fact, it was this portrayal that often got the religious leaders in Jesus’ day in the most trouble. Our jobs, and how we are to look at ourselves and others, is to seek the will of God which is for our intentions to be good and for our purposes to be to love God and love others. Our definition of perfection (still in our fragile human states) is Archbishop Ussher describes as a heart “all-flaming with the love of God.”
Knowing this, our understanding of Christian perfection should also change how we view the world around us as well. How often do we judge others on what we may describe as outward sins? Do we question their freedom in Christ? Do we question their access to the same salvation and redemptive progress we are receiving from God? Are we at times too quick to try to gain freedom (or help another gain freedom) from a specific sin from our perspectives rather than seeking and surrendering the intentions and purposes of Jesus Christ?
Whether we are still wrestling with mistakes, habits, or confusions or not, our invitation and calling remain the same (and that goes for everyone else’s mistakes, habits, and confusions as well.) We are invited to put our faith in Jesus, and to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves. That’s perfection. It might be messy perfection… but that is the grace we have been given by a God that loves us even in the mess.