The Sinlessness of Jesus, pt. 3

In this third and final post of the series (see part one & part two), I want to look at how a proper understanding of the sinlessness of Jesus and of the cross redefines our whole idea of what “truth” even means. In the earlier parts of this series, I have set forth a view of Jesus sinlessness as something he enacted within our naturally fallen humanity, showing himself to be God’s obedient and faithful Son in the power of the Spirit, over and against all the temptations and powers of sin at work in the realm of “the flesh”—the natural array of dynamics and relationships that constitute the world as we experience it in the present age. Within the conditions of an existence pervaded by sin, conditions that he made his own by becoming man, Jesus sinlessly offered up to God all that is naturally twisted and broken in our human existence on the cross, and by his death and resurrection has become the beginning of a new humanity, liberated from sin and death through his obedience on their behalf.

This radically determines our whole idea of God’s saving action at the cross, most profoundly by showing that at the cross God deals with the objective problem of sin itself, as it has become embedded within created existence. The problem that the cross “solves” in other words, is not merely how God “feels” about sin, but sin itself (though surely, in resolving the problem of sin itself God is pleased and his wrath against sin satisfied). The cross brings God’s judgment against sin (i.e., death) to bear upon the fleshly human existence of Jesus, who accepts God’s judgment against sin in the flesh, not as a peaceable and loving Son placating the rage of his Father, but as the one who in the incarnation willingly became the true bearer of the problem of sin—to be the place where God determines to destroy sin, as opposed to sinners having to bear sin’s destruction along with themselves. In yielding himself fully to God on the cross as God’s own Beloved, fit to bear the problem of sin without himself being a sinner, the Father and Son by the Spirit in a joint action of the trinity recreate the human condition through the death and resurrection of Jesus, exhausting and terminating the problem of sin and raising up a new creation in its place, in the risen body of Jesus. By faith we come to share in Jesus’ new humanity, through the Spirit which unites us with him so that he becomes our death and our life, our salvation and our substitute; the old humanity of our sinful flesh, though persistent in our experience, is no longer what we really and truly are in Jesus Christ. He is our life, and when he appears at the end of the age, what we shall be will finally appear in all its glory—we will be made perfect in his new humanity, never to be touched by sin and death again.

What we “really and truly are,” then, is not defined by mere “truths” and “principles” abstracted from the world of our experience, but by what God has actually done in Jesus’ human existence, in time and in space, for our sake. Where most religions and philosophies devote their energies to describing the static order of things—the “way things are”—Christians are meant to concern themselves with the dynamic movement of God in history—with “what has happened.” All of our cosmologies, our philosophies, and other assumptions about “the way things are” meet their reckoning at the cross, where the old order of things—whatever that may be—is terminated and replaced by a new order in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The implication of all this for our understanding of God, of the world, and of ourselves, is that theological truth is not ultimately about “ideas,” but about persons and events. Truth is about beings and realities that move and interact within our very world, that change the way things are in our world, in a way that places demands upon us whether we are willing to acknowledge them as true or not.

That is the inevitable implication of the gospel message that in Jesus Christ, God in person has dealt decisively with our sin, and by his resurrection inaugurated his kingdom and the birth of a new age in the midst of the old. The claims of Christianity are not “true” because they accurately reveal a timeless “order” of things that somehow accurately pertains to a “higher reality” that we (or at least some) call “God” and the world that he created (and that perhaps other religions and philosophies see in an equally valid way from a different angle). Rather, those claims are true because they happened—because God has done something within time and space that actually changes time and space forever. The abstract claims that a Christian might make about God—that “God gives life,” perhaps, or that “God is love”—are all subordinate to the deepest claims of the Christian faith: that God has given new life, that God has loved, because in his Son Jesus Christ he has gathered the corruption of the present age to himself in our own humanity, and through the events of his kingdom ministry, his death, and his resurrection has acted decisively, putting to death an old creation and beginning a new in himself, which he offers to the whole world freely in prodigal, everlasting grace.

If truth is to be understood in this sense—as God’s personal reality encountering us in time and in space through his actual intervention in history in Jesus Christ—then the whole focus of our lives as “truth-seekers” must change. The reality of God presses upon us as Truth in the deepest possible sense: God has taken up our own humanity and made a fundamental decision about us, that he would lavish his love upon us and, in his own human life on our behalf, liberate us from all of the things that captivate our sinful existence, that enslave and degrade us and distort the image of God in which he made us. The ultimate concern of our lives is not with mastering our own existence through our own self-understanding, our own morality, philosophy, dreams of accomplishment, power or whatever else it may be. Our ultimate concern is, rather, with this person, this flesh and blood human being through whom God has come near to us and set our existence on a new basis. The humanity of Jesus—God in the flesh, healing and restoring and welcoming, condemning evil, bearing our sin and death, rising to new life and exalted to God’s right hand to offer himself to the whole world—this is the concern of our lives, this man. He himself is “the truth” (John 14:6), and we live in and come to be shaped by the truth when their fundamental concern is with him. The God who became man and bore the burden of our existence to its death and resurrection, who resolved the real problems of the real world in his own equally real being—he is Truth, and our life’s occupation.

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