The Gospel and Responsibility for Sin
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Romans 5:6-15
June 14, 2020

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

The reading from Romans 5:6-15 includes one of the most wonderful proclamations of the Gospel of Christ in the Scriptures. While we were still weak, Christ died for the ungodly (Rom. 5:6). While we were still sinners Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). Oh, a person might die for a righteous person. A person might even dare to die for a good person (Rom. 5:7). What is Paul saying? A human being might find it possible to contemplate giving their life for another person if that other person were a good person. Then it would be worth it. Then the other person would deserve it. But the Gospel says that God demonstrates His love for us, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Christ died for us. This means that Christ gave His life in exchange for ours. He died in our place for our benefit. He died the death we deserve to die before God, so that we could live and be reconciled to God. Having been regarded by God as righteous before Him in the blood of His son, much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath in Him (Rom. 5:9). Being reconciled to God in the death of His Son, how much more shall we live because He lives (Rom. 5:10).

And this is the demonstration of God’s love, that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. If we want to see God’s love in action, here it is. We see the sinners. It is the whole human race, and every single human being. If there is a valid sweeping generalization of condemnation stemming from moral indignation it is this: “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10). “Through the disobedience of the one man many became sinners” (Rom. 5:19). Everyone stands guilty before God in one way or another. Everyone. Those today who claim the moral high ground and condemn every white person for the sins of those who lived long ago should stop and take stock of this. They too, that is the condemners, are sinners before God. Jesus said to a mob once: “Let those who are without sin among you cast the first stone” (John 8:7)

What is God’s response to the whole world of sinners standing under His judgment? He gives the life of His son for them. Wow! What they have deserved is His wrath. His Son bears all their sin to shield them from God’s wrath. They are now reconciled, innocent, not guilty before Him, as they take shelter in Him. Paul says, “Just as through the disobedience of the one man, many became sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man [Jesus Christ], many will become righteous” (Rom. 5:19).

This is God’s love. I am calling it a grace-love today because it is both love and grace; love full of grace. It is grace because it is a gift given to those who deserve it not, which God freely gives. It is love because it is the sacrifice of oneself for the well being of others.

If a person has moral indignation that results in sweeping condemnations, and we have heard much of this in the last couple of weeks connected to condemning racism, that person does well to remember that almighty God has demonstrated His love in His Son at great cost to Himself. There are many who fall within their sweeping condemnation that take shelter in this Son He has given and in the grace-love He demonstrated, the depth and breadth and height of which, the profound sweetness and life of which, cannot be adequately expressed in words. God’s wrath is coming upon all the wickedness of men. But imagine the ferocity of His wrath against those who condemn those who are sheltering genuinely in the demonstration of God’s love, which is the death of His own Son.

So how does this get applied from God’s standpoint?

We read from Ezekiel 18, first verse 4 then verses 19-20. What I am about to read is thus saith the Lord: “Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.

19 “Yet you say.”

Indeed, the “you” here is not you sitting here. It was the people in Israel in Ezekiel’s time. It could be many voices of condemnation speaking today.

“Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ But the Lord says. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” In other words, everyone is responsible for their own sin.

I mean to say this today in the present time as good news. For then you are not responsible for the sins of the fathers and remain free from those who would enslave you with guilt for those sins.

What does this say to our situation in America today? Two things. First, we have heard much lately about the sweeping condemnation of the police, as if all the police were racist and the institution itself is inherently racist. That sort of talk is coming out of an ideology and way of thinking that generalizes, stereotypes, and operates on the basis of guilt by association, but is not the word of the Lord. Such sweeping generalizations could suggest some motive other than just being concerned about appropriate police tactics.

If the Lord, to whom all earth and heaven belongs, says that the soul who sins shall die, then that sort of generalization is misplaced and not helpful. Certainly, specific institutions can become corrupt because they are occupied by fallen, sinful, corrupted-in-nature human beings. Certainly, there are corrupt individuals within institutions that God has instituted. Specific practices could be brought into judgment. But the way of analysis is to examine the particular situation based on evidence and facts.

The bigger fact of the matter is that government, in general, is God’s institution to maintain law and order in civil society among fallen human beings (Rom. 13:1-7). Policing is a necessary part of that, not just theoretically, but in the practical manifestation of police forces.

The government is supposed to show no partiality in the exercise of its office. And it is supposed to execute its office in service of justice in a way that is blind, that is, in a way that shows no regard to the race and ethnicity, or the status of a person in the community, or the size of a person’s bank account and portfolio, or on the basis of nepotism or who knows whom. Justice is supposed to be blind to such things and to be done pursuant to principles of fairness and due process and based on the particular facts and evidence.

There is always a lot of work for good citizens and office holders to do to make government as good as it can be in such a pursuit. It will never be perfect, though, in a fallen world, among fallen and sinful human beings, and no amount of legislation, revolution, regulation, condemnation, will ever make it so. We must always be vigilant in the pursuit of blind justice because of the tendencies of fallen sinful human beings toward partialities of one sort or another. And this always works in all directions. And this work must be a collaborative effort. But it cannot be done in a climate of merciless, dogmatic, and totalitarian sweeping condemnations of one group of people against another.

Second, if the Lord says that the soul that sins shall die, then here is the deal. You are only guilty for the sins for which you are guilty. You are not guilty for the sins of the fathers.

The sweeping condemnations we have been hearing, particularly against white people, because of the history of this country are fundamentally unfair and cruel. They also cross a line of jurisdiction laid down by God. They are unfair because they are not factually correct. You have not committed the sins the fathers committed. My ancestors, for example, didn’t even come to this country until the 20th century. I don’t know about yours. But even if they had come to this country in the 17th, 18th, or 19th centuries, I would not be guilty for their sins and neither would you be, because the sins they committed were the sins they committed, not you nor I.

You are you, and your sins are your sins, according to the word of the Lord. And your sins were carried by Christ in His body on the cross (1 Peter 2:24). They come within the jurisdiction of the words of the Apostle and the grace-love of God: “But God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8)  

But even here there is another question? Just who has jurisdiction over what sin here? According to the Gospel, in relations among human beings, you are only guilty for what you have done, that is, for the outward acts you have actually committed, and that only in relation to the legitimate ends of government. Those legitimate ends are to regulate outwardly violent and thieving conduct in a just and fair way where justice is blind. Those ends are not to make anyone morally perfect.

In relation to God, our guilt runs deeper into our hearts, not only with respect to our outward actions, but with respect to our thoughts and feelings and motivations. But there is a distinction and a boundary line of jurisdiction here that it seems has been lost sight of in our society today, and it is this. No human being or institution, no philosopher, educator, or activist, no government, has authority over your heart. Only Christ has jurisdiction over your heart. By your heart I mean your innermost being, your faith, and your conscience. But there are powerful ideologies and indoctrination at work today that are in a head-on collision with the Gospel of Christ and the word of the Lord.

In the Gospel of Christ I hope you find the honesty to confess your sins to God and to someone you have actually hurt, in sincere sorrow for it, and receive forgiveness in God’s super abounding grace in Christ. I hope you also find the strength and courage in the same grace not to be bullied in civil society into confessing guilt for something you did not do and for which you are not guilty. For this bullying is a form of oppression and is ultimately not just.

In these days in which we live here in America, it seems ever more important to pray, Lord have mercy upon us. Amen.


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