Sin is not the first word
We are sinners in need of the grace of God. It’s something I’ve heard since I was born. No, more than that, it has been the first word in faith in my life for as long as I can remember. I am a sinner. That is my fundamental state of existence. But recently I’ve had a revelation. It is an obvious revelation–one I should have had years ago. It’s nothing new. Things that are true seldom are. It is not something my teachers, whether in person or in books, have denied. But it is either something they did not say explicitly or I failed to hear. Sin is not the first word.
The beginning of the grand story is creation–imagination, word, breath, power–and it was good. Humanity is brought into existence and the first word is not sin. Humans are good. In fact, they are beyond good. They are made in the image of God himself–meant to carry on his work of creating, ordering, and flourishing. They are endowed with intellect, emotions, desires, purpose–and it is all good.
The reality of sin not being the first word does not diminish the reality or power of it. Humanity’s sin was to trust themselves to find real life instead of trusting that God had already given it to them. We continue on in the same sin that plagued our ancestors and it wreaks havoc beyond a nightmare. The world is broken; we are broken. Removing sin from it’s place as the first word about humanity does not diminish its destructive power. Unchecked it leads to death. Aside from the grace of God it has the power to tarnish the first word beyond recognition.
But in his mercy God has not allowed it to trample the earth unchecked. His grace touches the world, even for those who do not recognize it. But the full effects of his grace and mercy need to be recognized. They need to be accepted and clung to. Yes, it is essential that we trust in Jesus–in his death and resurrection–if we are to move toward the first word once again. He alone can dismantle sin and death. We have no hope of that on our own. Sin is not the first word but without receiving the forgiveness and victory of Jesus it can be the last.
Yet in him we have hope not only that we might move a bit closer to the first word but that the last word will resemble the first. The perfection of the creation will one day be restored in the consummation. Brokenness, despair, decay, injustice, and destruction will be banished. The first word will be spoken again.
But what does all of this matter? Why does it matter that sin is not the first word, or the last for that matter? As I have walked into this way of looking at things I have been amazed how profoundly it alters my perspective. Rather than viewing myself first as a wretch (though I often am one) I recognize that I am a part of the people meant to bear the image of God. Rather than viewing God as one who disdains my condition I see him as one who longs to restore me to what he meant me to be. Rather than thinking he needs to eradicate so many parts of me I see that his work is not about destruction but about restoration. His vision for me, for humanity, is that through the power of Jesus we could increasingly resemble the first word about us.
We are created as image bearers. Sin binds us and leads us toward death. Jesus dies and rises–providing the potential for victory over sin and death if we will receive it. When we put our faith in him he begins the work of restoring us to what we are meant to be and calls us to join him in the restoration of the world. One day he will complete this work himself. These are the words of the grand story of the gospel of Jesus.