“For him [Paul Elmer More], sin and redemption, justice and grace, were realities which the naturalists can ignore only at the cost of brutalizing society.” – (Russell Kirk)
At the Etihad Stadium on December 7, a Manchester City fan racially abused Jesse Lingard and Fred by making a monkey gesture. An arrest was made in connection with the incident. Two months earlier, @SkySportsNews tweeted that Bulgarian police arrested six supporters and identified 15 more who were involved in racist behaviour in the match against England. Cue the likes and retweets from the well-meaning Twitterati supporting the kick racism out of football campaign.
Good intentions notwithstanding, clever sloganeering and hashtag campaigns will do precious little to “kick racism out of football”. At root – and secular culture is powerless when it comes to root issues – this is a matter of the heart. To kick racism out of football, we first have to kick it out of man’s heart. In Paul and the Person, Susan Eastman asks, “If human beings are always connected to, and profoundly shaped by, entities that are both external and internal, what does this interconnection mean for human thought processes?”
She was making the point that St. Paul’s understanding of what it means to be human is “participatory all the way down”. Briefly, there is no “neutral environment” where we can live out our lives. “Sin”, writes Eastman, “is thus not a decision made by self-determining individuals, but rather a socially mediated power greater than human beings yet operative through human thoughts, words, and deeds.” Is she substituting salvation for sociology? Heavens no. More importantly, she is not negating human responsibility.
Eastman continues, “Yes, persons make decisions and are responsible on one level for those choices; but on another level, the very perception of what choices are available is already constrained and deceived by sin.” She ends, “Redemption is therefore not a matter of moving from isolated turning in on oneself to participation in Christ, but rather of liberation from one realm of power to another, from the rule of sin and death to life in Christ.” Here Eastman alludes to an idea that sheds more light on want it means to be human: sin is real, and it is both agent (act) and environment (realm).
Part of understanding what it means to be human is to understand the nature of sin. The secular toolbox does not have all the resources: sociology needs soteriology. Having decided that sin is old-fashioned and “unscientific”, we are now unable to bear (or choose) the consequences of that decision.
In, Thirty-Three Words for Sin in the New Testament (Bibliotheca Sacra, January 1943), John Walvoord opens with the most common way sin is viewed. That is, a verb, where we miss the mark or “fall short” (Romans 3:23). However, sin is most often presented in the New Testament as a noun.
Walvoord makes reference to “the sphere of domination of the sin nature in which the sin nature rules” (Romans 5:12-13). What Eastman calls “a socially mediated power greater than human beings […].” What I call: sin as realm. Walvoord, like Eastman, makes it clear that this is no get out of jail free card regarding human accountability. All uses of sin as a noun in the New Testament support the definition of the most common understanding (the verb): “distinctly moral and ethical in its nature and involving God’s judgment upon it.”
Recognition that sin is not just an act, but a realm gives us a better idea of what we are dealing with (or rather, cannot deal with). It reminds us how powerless we are. But rather than cause despair (and it is a desperate situation), it should drive us to echo the tax collector in Luke 18:13, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Walvoord cites A. A. Hodge, “There remained in man’s nature no recuperative principle; he must go on from worse to worse, unless God interposes.” And interpose He did.
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us” (Matthew 1:23). Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, Christmas celebrates you. For Christmas–God is with us–is a reminder; a celebration of why God in Christ invaded our world, this realm of sin: “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).
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