For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
I have always had a very difficult time reconciling between the promised perfection of the gospel and the apparent brokenness of the world around me, never mind my own troubled beliefs. What I have come to be at peace with is that the reality of the gospel and the incarnation wins out, because it is true, no matter how many perceptions I or anyone else may hold to discredit it.
My understanding has evolved; I was eleven when I was baptised, and I did so because I feared that my supposed sexual deviation would keep me out of heaven. That is how salvation worked for me, after all; say a prayer, make a declaration, get dunked under water for half a second, and come up a different person.
I was disappointed when it didn’t make me an asexual.
I’ve recounted often of my trouble understanding the whisper of Holy Spirit to me regarding the irrelevance of my purity in regard to His; I could not comprehend at the first hearing how His purity could be greater than my impurity. I tried to convince myself that, after all, He is God: of course He is greater than me. But that is a difficult thing to believe when you believe you are the blot of black ink on what otherwise would have been a perfectly white garment.
The reality, as I began to unfold in my last blog, is that my assumed impurity was no more real than the possibility that being dunked in a lake could secure my passage to heaven–as if I hadn’t ever done that before on any other hot summer. And even where it remotely real, His truly is greater than mine, and my life is found in His.
It is a difficult–perhaps impossible–thought for the church at large to receive, taught as we have been for so long of the existence and prevalence of evil in the nature of humanity. In a discussion regarding those who have recently come into the church who may practice manipulating tactics and grabs for power and attention–the usual repertoire of sins such as substance and sexual uses and abuses not to be wholly forgotten–I found myself wondering whether the issue was not more about our being able to discern the needs of these people behind the acting out of their shadows. Had I been mentored by someone in my teen years able to perceive the legitimate and desperate needs of my sexuality, who could have helped me to understand that the struggle I was perceiving was not a contest between sin and righteousness but my own Self trying to be known by me, how much better could I now know and accept myself?
My surprise then was, how can you blindly call these things ‘sinful’ or ‘problematic’ and not have the discernment to see the genuine need of the person?
Because I don’t see ‘sin’, or ‘sinful habits’, anymore. I see brokenness. I see the authenticity in people severed in so many ways and the hopeless attempts of the subconscious to counterbalance. I see the genuine need–and wound–behind attention-seeking, and grabbing for power and control. I see the genuine need–and wound–behind much addiction. I have interacted with many people who willingly harm their bodies to the point of serious danger in many, many ways because they have a wound within that they cannot find any way to reconcile. The very small amount I do perceive should break the heart of the church–it does mine.
I want to address something that I have wrestled with for quite some time: the letter of 1 John.
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our[a] joy may be complete.
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
-1 John 1
I believe the majority of the teaching and preaching I have heard which references 1st John carries this message: don’t fool yourself; You are hopelessly bad.
I have seen it used as definite proof against the idea that anyone could be sinless because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross–in effect, a defence against Universalism, the completed work of the cross and any suggestion that a christian doesn’t need to continue to repent for their sins.
The theme of the book is quite simple: John lays out, ‘this is the nature of God, therefore anything contrary to this is not Godly. This is what light is, this is what dark is. It is starkly black and white.
But direct your attention to the introduction, particularly, “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our[a] joy may be complete. 5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”
Is it too bold to wonder why John and his fellows would consider a condemning message joyful? But condemnation is not the reality here, the reality is that God is sovereign, and we share fellowship with Him. We ARE in the Light. This is what our lives look like because of that truth. John is writing black-and-white truth absolutely–the reality of the Risen Christ and a world bound to His fate. I understand why he is writing so that his joy may be full because it brings me the same joy to share with others the reality of who they are in Christ–light, love, righteousness, sinless…perfect. You are in Christ–and in Christ is no darkness at all; it is a declaration of exactly the reality of the Last Adam.
There is an image which is an underlying theme on my mind tonight; it is a theme in the movie The Last Samurai; after his capture Nathan Algren meets Katsumoto, the samurai leader responsible for his imprisonment. On approaching a cherry tree, Katsumoto tells Algren, “The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life.” By the end of the movie Algren and Katsumoto are inseparable brothers, and Katsumoto, dying in the arms of Algren observes with his last breaths, “Perfect. They… are all… perfect…”
I’m not asking for a redefinition of sin. I’m not asking to change the Bible–on the contrary, I am asking that the truth of the Bible be honoured as it is given. They are all perfect, by one sacrifice by the glorious plan of the Incarnation. They are all perfect, and they are all in the Great Dance of Father, Son, and Spirit–and me.
I have to ask myself–because I do not see with eyes not my own–if I have discovered the holiness and righteousness and authenticity of something I once deemed sinful and abominable, why should I not expect the same experience to be possible in others? Why would I ever need to resort to assuming sin in a person when the sin I presumed in myself was a false perception? It is not so hard any more to reconcile what goes on in the world in light of the reality of the gospel when I now understand much more of the wrong I did myself in believing I was anything less than perfect. The question changes from ‘who can I save,’ to ‘who will share my joy with me?’