On a blog I read recently, the author discussed a growing trend within Christianity to ignore or skip over the doctrine of the atonement. It’s a severe allegation, and if true has some major ramifications. Certainly, I could talk about the theological issues that come with ignoring the atonement until I’m blue in the face, but it’s probably best to leave that to the professional theologians. However, the ramifications of ignoring the atonement are not just abstractly theological (which, of course, nothing is), they are also intensely practical.
When I reflect on what happens in my own life when I forget the atonement, some very real consequences come to the foreground. When I forget that my sin caused death, that sin becomes a lot less severe. When I forget that blood was required as payment for my lie, or my moment of indulgence, those moments become a whole lot less significant.
Rather than seeking to cut out sin, I begin to nurture it, treating it like a fluffy pet who, while sometimes annoying, is mostly harmless. And there lies the rub. Because the reality is that as I’m nurturing this pet, I’m in fact creating a monster. It’s a mess. I’m a mess. When I forget the atonement, I forget the messiness of sin.
In light of this, the invitation of Christ can be a painful one. To recognize the atonement and its significance means I have to admit my sin is messy. It’s ugly. It requires a blood sacrifice to deal with and cover it. That’s a disgusting concept to me, who goes pale just thinking too much about blood. Yet it’s true, because sin is disgusting, it’s ugly and it’s messy.
It’s a vital truth to grasp, but so often, because of this reality, I begin to feel condemned and guilt-ridden. Yet when I truly gaze upon the cross, and not just introvertedly look at myself, I find the mess of beaten flesh that is Christ looking at me with love. The messiness of the cross points me to my sin and the love of the Savior takes me beyond it. It’s a vital double movement that we have to make but one that we never truly can without seeing the messiness first.
Sin is messy. I forget that. I even forgot it after writing this post earlier in the week. I suspect you forget it sometimes. That’s why we must constantly return to the heart of the gospel – the cross of Christ, the most gruesome and messy way to deal with the most ugly reality of humanity: our sin. But it’s also why we must remember the resurrection – that out of the death, came life. The gospel is not whole without either part, and we can never afford to forget that.