On Community–My Sin is Your Sin

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly
Father is perfect.” ~Matthew 5:48


I sat on the front porch last night discussing Matthew 5 with a friend.  I’ve been having difficulty with that passage (as Collective email subscribers know).  I intend to write more about my struggles with this passage, but that is not for today.  For today I’ll just say this: Jesus blesses us with the same status in his grand mountain sermon–sinner.

“The law says don’t commit adultery.  But lust in your heart has the same consequence.”

“The law says don’t murder.  But if you call your brother ‘fool’, you’re liable to hellfire.”

“The law says don’t break your promise, but I say don’t even make a promise. You can’t know whether you’ll break it.”

See?  Jesus reduces all of humanity to the same state of spiritual imperfection.  At our essence, we are all the same.

As we began to hash this out, I asked my friend, “if we really believed this, how would it change our approach to community?”  His response was quick–“we’d recognize that your sin is my sin, and we’d help each other bear up.”

We’re all in the same  listing, tilting, capsizing vessel of flesh.  What if we all recognized that the sail hoisters, rowers, and men overboard were all heading toward the same fate?  What if we understood that the most ascetic devotee in the room was really a whore-mongering serial adulterer, as incapable of “being perfect like your Heavenly Father is perfect” as the next fella.  (Matt. 5:48).  Would it change our approach to “community?”  Would it change the way we interact with the members of the body?

I’d like your thoughts here on “community” and the implications of Matthew 5.  I do not anticipate that this will be an easy discussion, but feel free to wade in.  As per the previous community posts, this is your chance to delurk and speak your mind.

Who’s first?

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11 Responses to On Community–My Sin is Your Sin

  1. Scottie says:

    Great post Seth! The beauty of this idea of community in enriched when we understand the next step which is that Christ purchased and owned our sin so that we might own our his righteousness. That God wanted to be this for us is too much to understand. Paul says in 1 Cor 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.

    How could we not, O beautiful Christian believe anything else!

    The active obedience of Christ (all of his life before the cross) was crucial for us because he obeyed the law perfectly. Therefore, we who are in Christ are seen perfect as well every step of the way in our daily lives! It’s not as if we were guilty and then proclaimed innocent it’s actually deeper. His active obedience was righteousness we could never obtain and his passive obedeince was the punitive demands of the law we could never endure. His sin was our sin. Our obedience is our obedeince. His righteousness is our righteousness. Imputed to us to holy and acceptable, so that we might live sacrificaly (Romans 12). To say it plainly his life for ours. The community of God is a beautiful and wonderful, bloood covered, wound enduced, glorious and mighty thing that brings joy and peace and thanksgiving like we’ve never seen and it makes me cry Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

  2. pastordt says:

    Here is my struggle with this. It only looks at half the truth. This sentence is an interesting one: “What if we understood that the most ascetic devotee in the room was really a whore-mongering serial adulterer, as incapable of “being perfect like your Heavenly Father is perfect” as the next fella.” You are right – not one of us can be ‘perfect’ in the sense of sinless – or even terribly close to sinless! BUT I don’t think you can pull these verses out of the context of the whole sermon – which is pretty much a manifesto for kingdom living. Yes, Jesus reminds us we are all sinners. And we need to remember that, too, and not be so quick to judge others. I am in complete agreement with you on that. It’s a huge problem, self-righteousness is.

    BUT, I also want to hang onto the thinking that is behind C.S. Lewis’s grand sermon, “The Weight of Glory.” Yes, we are all flawed and broken. BUT WE ARE ALL CREATURES CREATED IN THE IMAGE OF GOD, too. Lewis calls us to view our neighbors and ourselves as ones who can become either the most glorious of creatures or the most despicable of devils. So…you and I…we live in a community of folks who are amazing, wonderful, generous, kind, compassionate, loyal, loving and true. And a community of people who are also duplicitous, scheming, insecure, frightened and lonely. And if we’re going to empathize either side, we’ll lose our way, don’t you think?

    Yes, we’re all a mess.

    Yes, we’ll all gloriously beautiful.

    And Jesus is the one who came to show us those two truths, to ask us to choose in which direction we want to grow. And if we choose the way of Jesus, together we can help remind one another that a.) none of us is above any kind of sinful behavior, and b.) each of us is filled with the Holy Spirit of God Almighty because of Jesus and therefore has the potential to more fully live into the imago dei within. And that is the glory of it all! Can I hear an amen?

    P.S. “perfect” in this verse does not so much mean sinless as it means ‘complete’ or ‘whole.’ We are instructed to be whole persons – fully reflecting the God within us.

    • Scottie says:

      Good words here. I might disagree a bit in that what I believe Seth is getting at does not detract from the idea of imago dei. I agree with much of what you say in the beginning but declaring our brokenness is the only way we can learn what it means to be created imago dei. In other words how could I possibly see the beauty in others without first seeing the beauty of Christ? How could I see the Beauty of Christ apart from his messianic fulfillment? How could I even begin to understand His messianic fulfillment without understanding the crushing weight of the requirements for holiness (therefore, be ye perfect)?  We have no beauty but His. We have no righteousness but His. It’s impossible to see any of the characteristics mentioned in the beatitudes in anybody apart from Christ. We can’t get meekness or poorness in spirit, or hunger and thirst for righteousness et.al. It’s instead given to us and declared over us as it was declared over Abraham. Paul tells us Romans 4 that Abraham earned nothing but that he made the right choice to believe because he was already declared righteous. If we think or have been taught that these blessings are what we should strive for then we miss the whole point of the sermon and make his words something to be attained or seek after to make God happy with us, but in fact this reduces Jesus teaching to some pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by message of self improvement. Christianity has nothing to do with moral self improvement and everything to do with what Christ did for us. This manifesto is not a series of choices for us to make, if they were then Jesus would have put them in the imperative and said “you’d better get on it” or maybe better put, “git-er-done!” with the underlying message of “to show yourself worthy.” This would only be more law but as scripture makes clear law never saves, it only condemns. But as it is in the context of this sermon they are all indicatives! They are reasons to rejoice and give great thanks that when we are in Christ, because of his work and perfect/completeness we are what he declares us to be. His burden is easy now! He did it! This sermon is the fullness of Sinai. What was delivered at Sinai was imperative and conditional, burdensome and oppressive because at every turn it shouted, “you’ll never measure up!” Once Christ came and fulfilled all the requirements of this condition (obedience of the law and penal demands) and showed himself to be the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant he can now declare indicatives over his people and from these indicatives our lives show forth the beauty of the beautitudes (at times and with much struggle as we grow throughout sanctification). We struggle still as believers because we’re wrought with unbelief! Martin Luther was adamant about a daily preaching of the gospel to himself and a weekly one to his congregation as truly we forget and with the publican cry, “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!” The sin under every sin is the sin of unbelief. We really ought to be called, instead of Believers, “believing un-believers” which is what I believe is at the heart of what Seth is getting at. This event at a new Mountain (Olives) is or should be as monumental for the Believer as Sinai was for the Hebrew. This is not a sermon where there are any choices but instead only the call to worship Christ for what he’s done and be reminded of the beauty of the condition (simul justice et peccator) of the Believer that since we are in Christ we might understand what these blessings are and know our creator/redeemer. There is no place to take any of the sermon on the mount and make it about our moral abilities and how they relate to our place before God, or what we’re supposed to do or be. It’s all about grace and the beauty of the cross of Christ, and truly for that we are blessed which brings a changed heart and a desire to no longer strive for the law but instead worship our Savior.

    • sethhaines says:

      Diana, I’m always happy to receive your words. Thanks for being honest, and see following comment to Chad…

      • pastordt says:

        Thanks, Seth, for stirring the pot on this. After so many years of having the strongest emphasis of all the biblical teaching I’ve both heard and taught be centered around sin, I am finding myself wanting to say …. yes, but… I so agree with your sense of shared culpability and want to encourage that kind thinking in the larger church. But I read an essay a few years ago with a line in it that has just stuck with me and won’t shake loose. And this is it: “Your sin is not the most important thing about you.” All my life, I think I’ve believed that: my sin is what matters most. So much evangelical thinking/writing/ preaching over the last 130 years or so has been completely focused on what a mess we are and how God hates that sin, etc., etc. And I do not want to deny that – yes indeed, we are a mess of sins and unrighteousness. BUT we are more than that. And Jesus came to show us that – to live the kind of life we were intended to live, to point us to that kind of living, to ‘save us’ for that kind living. And as I watch Jesus interact with those the religious community called untouchable, I notice that Jesus saw something else there besides their clear and apparent sinfulness: he saw something worth giving his life for – he saw them as beautiful siblings, children of the Father. So that’s why I wrote what I did. Not to deny the gospel, the power of grace, the truth that we can’t do this without Jesus – none of that. Just to say that there is more to this story of salvation than forgiveness of sin. There is also rescue from brokenness. There is also restoration of the image of God within.

      • scottie says:

        “BUT we are more than that.”

        Couldn’t agree more! Thanks for this!

  3. Chad Pollock says:

    Back in my Bible memorizing days, I could recite the Sermon on the Mount in the New King James version. Not so good with it today. I remember being very puzzled by this verse. “Perfect? Really? Jesus says I need to be perfect? But I can never be perfect?” I remember an older Christian friend comforting me, “that’s why Jesus died for you, so that you could be perfect in God’s eyes.” That struck me as odd then and bullshit now.

    I like what pastordt says above about remembering that we are created in god’s image. It seems like the issue here is ‘original sin’. A concept that Jesus, most likely, did not have in mind when/if he said “Be perfect…” But evangelical Christians today certainly do have that notion firmly rooted when they come to a verse like this in Matthew. Remove that notion from your mind as you read the passage, and perhaps Matthew’s Jesus is not saying anything about us being listing, tilting, capsizing vessels of flesh. We have this treasure in earthen vessels, yes?

    • sethhaines says:

      These are good thoughts, Chad. In my mind, I wonder if it’s not both/and. I look at my own life and see my inability to condemn based upon the standard that Jesus sets forth in Chapter 5. In other words, am I going to gossip about the adulterer when I have lust in my own flesh? I think that in this regard, we’re all in the same boat, all unable to save ourselves (so to speak), and all unable to measure up.

      I also agree with you and D. I think the phrase “perfect” has to mean something other than being the master of our own fleshly desires. It has to mean something other than the fruit that comes from the protestant work ethic. I like the term “wholeness.” And the realization that wholeness is possible? That’s freeing to me. I don’t mean that in a trite, flippant way, either.

      When are we grabbing coffee?

  4. scottie says:

    One last thought! 🙂 Sorry I get wordy. First, I am learing from this thread so thanks to all who posted. And second, Chad, your friend was partly right, but you’re right as well. It is odd because we have no framework for understanding what it means to be perfect or whole. We know (if we just take 5 seconds to self examine) that that idea truly is bullshit. But he was right (if I understand what he said correctly) in that believing the gospel means that we understand that we are made perfect (but it’s never on our own [Epheisians 2:8 & 9] it’s imputed to us). The most difficult part of Jesus sermon is believing what he says. You are…you are…are used as indicatives that should have encouraged his disciples but offended those who beleived him to be antinomian. Do imperatives follow, yes but only after the indicatives are made clear. His audence starts out wide but there’s a winnowing aspect to the narrative in that he is speaking to his disciples but it is meant for all to hear (not too different from a sermon today). If we continue to think about being perfect (a civil righteousness or righteousness toward others or even our own ideas of morality) we miss this beautiful message of grace. The only way we’ll ever have “growth” is if we understand that this perfectedness/wholeness comes from outside of us, and is made full in us when the Holy Spirit indwells in us. This entire sermon hinges upon who Christ is. And yes Seth, you’re right this is freeing but perfectness (yes I like to invent words) or wholeness is impossible apart from union wiht Christ. So much of this passage hangs on chapter 5:17-20 as Jesus explains who he is in regards to God’s law/standard. That’s whyJesus can paint a picture so well of 2 groups of people who seem to have this “wholeness” in chapter 7:24-26. They look good. They smell good. They act good. But only one groups knows Christ. The gospel never gives us an opportunity to measure our righteousness (there is a call to self-evaluate especially if I’m caught up in sin [and I know this struggle well] but this is truly rooted in our failure or sin to believe the gospel) to determine whether we’re whole or complete or perfect or whatever. It only gives us Christ and him crucified and faith in this affects everything else. Christ is not a catylist for us to become whole or perfect. He declares it so over us. We just don’t believe it (not fully anyway), and neither did they..but he still loves us.

    That’s the gospel. (1 Cor 15:3 & 4)

    Truly, I’m blessed to share and feel free to disagree. I’m thankful for discussion and love sharpening.

    Peace, love and hairgrease.


  5. J.Ray says:

    Not only receiving others, but it starts with ourselves. “Through life in the Spirit we come into the experience of true freedom, which is the metaphysical receiving of ont’s self in thanksgiving and giving oneself in joy. We are becoming free as we invite our neighbors (including our enemies) into the hope of glory that redeems our time and space together” – from Transforming Spirituality by Shults and Sanders

    This may seem the opposite of “dealing with” or recognizing our sin, but it seems to me this is the desired result of the passage you quote. We see all of ourselves, whore-monger and loving dad of daughters, murdered and missionary, slanderer and justice worker as redeemed by Jesus. As we “receive ourselves” as such, we see others as already in the same boat.

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