Sunday, April 26, 2009

Did Jesus "Become Sin" For Us?

A friend of mine asked the following question:

I have a question for you…
One of my Born Again friends sent a facebook message out saying Jesus was sin… I answered with Jesus is NOT sin. She answered with read 2 Corinth. 5:21. I am confused: could you explain? She also said that’s why we do not need reconciliation or we would be slapping Jesus across the face…..

Your friend sounds like she has been taught to interpret this verse in an over-literalistic manner (as opposed to the proper literal sense, by which we mean we interpret it in the manner in which the original writer -- in this case St. Paul -- intended it).

In context (verses 5:17 to 6:2), Paul is urging the Corinthians to turn away from their sins and be reconciled to God (more on this later). Here is the verse in question, 2 Corinthians 5:21:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God

If this were the only passage in the New Testament that talks about Christ and sin, she might have a point. However, we can't take passages or verses in isolation (this is called "proof texting"); we have to compare what Paul says here with what he says in similar passages. For example, if we look at Romans 8:3, we find this:

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,

This clarifies the issue quite a bit, since we see that St. Paul's thought on this is, not that Jesus actually became sin or sinful but that he took on the likeness of our sinful flesh, in everything BUT sin. To see how ludicrous the very idea of Jesus literally "being sin" we can also look at Hebrews 4:15, 1 Peter 2:22 and 1 John 3:5 and see that Jesus had nothing to do with sin.

Her second point your friend makes has kind of an irony to it, since the passges immediately preceding the verse she cited are all about being reconciled to God. Keep in mind these are Christians Paul is talking to. He is descibing himself as a "minister of reconciliation" and begs the the Corinthians to "be reconciled to God." How are they going to do this if they do not confess their sins? And what does it mean for Paul to be "a minister of reconciliation"? Could it not possibly mean that he would be the one to hear these confessions? (This last point is probably too much for your fundamentalist friend to handle at this point, but this and other biblical arguments for the Sacrament of Reconciliation are very strong). For more information about Reconciliation and Confession, here are some links:

Where she might be coming from is the place that many biblical fundamentalists come from and that is the unbiblical notion that Jesus has forgiven our sins -- not only past, but present, and future. That being the case, there would be no reason for us to confess our sins, the argument goes, because these sins are already forgiven.

But again go back to the fact that the New Testament was addressed to practicing and "saved" Christians. That being the case, then why do the New Testament writers frequently command them to confess their sins?? Here is but one example, from James 5:14-16:

Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.

Anyway, I hope that's helpful. :)

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