Particular Wrongs Need Particular Remedies

Every sin requires Christ’s atonement. But the Bible shows God punishing—and repairing—different sins differently.

Christian theology consistently holds together truths that seem to want to fall apart: Jesus is fully God and fully human. People are sinners and created in the image of God. The church is local and universal.

And yet, despite what we affirm, in practice, Christians are often unable to walk and chew gum at the same time. Instead of holding two truths in tension, we tend to slide to one side or the other, distorting it in the process. We treat Jesus either as an invulnerable, transcendent being or as a mere prophet. We speak as if humans are either so degraded we are capable of nothing but sin or mostly fine with a few rough edges. We think of the church as if it were only our own sect or we minimize the local congregation.

Evangelical theologians have done great work in Christology, anthropology, and ecclesiology, respectively, to retrieve those three truthful tensions. But there is a fourth tension yet to be retrieved: All sins ruin us, and yet not all sins ruin us equally.

To start, let us be clear: Sin—however small—is a serious thing. And sin is only atoned for by the work of God in Jesus Christ. But saying that Christ is the only one who atones for all sin is different from saying that all sins do the same kind of work on us.

All sins break the sinner and create havoc around us. And yet the Scriptures consistently depict the sins we do as different, not only in effect on one another but before God. Within the Law, for example, different social remedies are given for different sins, and so are different sacrifices (Lev. 4; Ex. 21). Not everything requires a bull or a goat. Sometimes a dove will do. In the Prophets and Proverbs, God distinguishes—and even prioritizes—certain …

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