It's Good Friday. Around the world today, people claiming the name of Christ will gather to commemorate His death nearly 2000 years ago. Whatever our denominational differences or various traditions, we today proclaim in faith that somehow His death is good news for us. It is one of the Christian faith's distinctive features, this doctrine of the vicarious atonement of Jesus of Nazareth. No other faith system has deity bridging the gap between infinity and humanity through suffering and death. At the cross justice and mercy meet as sin is dealt with as truly abhorrent and mercy makes a way for grace to restore the sinner to life when we deserved death.
In Jesus' own teaching he said repeatedly that there was a connection between receiving forgiveness from God and extending it to others. In one such instance he rebuked Simon (not Peter) for his attitude toward the sinful woman who anointed Jesus' feet, saying "Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven-for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little." (Luke 7:47) Those who are the beneficiaries of the lavish provisions of Christ's death cannot help but deal with the sins of other in the same way, by absorbing them themselves.
With this understanding of forgiveness and the meaning of Christ's death, it would be well of us on this day to reflect on Western evangelicalism's emphasis on individual responsibility where sin and salvation are concerned. There is a tension in Scripture that must be observed between individual responsibility and corporate solidarity and identity. We see both taught clearly whether it is in the OT prophet Ezekiel saying "the soul who sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4) alongside the first of the ten commandments in which God says he visits "the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me" (Ex. 20:5), or in the NT Ananias and Sapphira being held to account individually for their sin while the church in Corinth suffered corporately in sickness because of the congregation's sins (1 Cor. 11:30).
We have tended to emphasize individual responsibility and minimize corporate realities that are taught by Scripture. This becomes apparent when we try to distance ourselves from sins of the past by saying that we are not responsible for what went on before us. On one level this is true, but the Psalms give us examples of God's people collectively confessing the sins of their ancestors and Nehemiah acted on that example in leading the people of his day in repentance and confession of the sins of their fathers going back 1000 years (Neh. 9). Indeed, the very need and possibility of the cross is rooted in the idea that one individual can stand in for the actions and fates of others. We stand condemned in Adam, being counted as guilty participants in his sin. Because of the cross we stand justified in Christ, being counted as righteous participants in his death and resurrection. So if anyone has a basis to claim appropriate and meaningful responsibility for historical sins, it is believers. We have a prophetic opportunity furnished by the gospel to lead in confession and repentance of our nation's sins and in so doing, "bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ."
On this Good Friday I am grateful that "by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous." (Rom. 5:19)
Marcus Little is the Senior Pastor of Berean Baptist Church. This blog is a place where he can share his thoughts and reflections on how Scripture intersects with life, work, community, culture and the events of our times.