BY HYUN LEE
Suppose that in all history, there is only one sin to be forgiven. Does the forgiveness of this single sin require the death of God’s Son? Does he have to traverse the same difficult, bloody path up to Calvary? Even for a minor sin?
The answer is a resounding yes. St. Aquinas, the great medieval theologian, calls sin an infinite offense to God. Humans, who are finite, are unable to repay this infinite debt. Only Christ, who is both human and God, can repay it.
Here’s another way to look at it. The magnitude of a single sin isn’t just measured by itself, but also according to whose laws it has broken. For example, suppose you have a roommate and you take turns doing dishes. One day, you decide that your time is better spent playing video games. Not doing dishes violates the rules that you and your roommate have agreed upon. The consequence of not doing dishes is that your roommate may make your life a living hell. Compare this to cheating on a test, or robbing a bank. Cheating on a test violates the rules of the university; robbing a bank, the laws of the land. Getting caught cheating on a test has a more serious effect than not doing the dishes; robbing a bank may land you in prison.
When we sin, however, we are defaming the name of God. We can imagine, then, how much worse the consequences will be for violating his law. The single sin can be anything: lying, lust, pride. They are all functionally equivalent in breaking peace between the sinner and God, leading the sinner to death. They are all a form of idolatry, of valuing something else more than God. Do we truly know the gravity of a single sin against a perfectly holy and righteous God, of its deadly effects, and what Christ had to endure to atone for it?
Tim Keller, pastor and renowned Christian apologist, uses the following illustration. He once was talking with a nonbeliever who said she could not believe in the God of the Bible. She questioned why God couldn’t just simply forgive us, instead of sending his Son to die on the cross. Keller answered, “What does it cost your God to forgive you?” He went on to explain that in order for there to be true forgiveness, someone has to pay the price. For example, someone steps on your toe. Who pays for it? You can choose to forgive that person and pay for it yourself by enduring the pain. Or you can let that person know in a not-so-gentle manner about their clumsy behavior.
Our sins are against an infinite God. Now the payment required for sin to be forgiven is proportional to the magnitude of the sin, which is determined by who exactly has been sinned against. It follows, then, that our sins require an infinite payment, which we have in Christ. We cannot understand how marvelous this forgiveness is when we do not see the gravity of our sins. We cannot see the gravity of our sins if we do not recognize whose laws we have broken, whose name we have defamed.
So let us take sin seriously. When John the Baptist came to prepare the way for Christ, his message was entirely about repentance for the Messiah’s coming. The parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (Lk 18:9–14) tells us that those who confess their sins and humble themselves before God are the ones whom God accepts. Furthermore, it is those who know the weight of their transgressions who can humble themselves and receive forgiveness, who can behold death and seek life. Let us recognize the nature of sin, that we may put to death our old sinful selves and live in Christ, and he in us.