“The Romance of the Fragment” (Romans 5)

Tragedy happens quickly; restoration takes its time.

The taller and more narrow our pedestal, the greater our chances of falling to the earth in a clamor of dust and ash.  Just ask Adam—a 500-year-old sculpture by Renaissance master Tullio Lombardo.  The sculpture of Adam was on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City when it mysteriously crashed to the ground, shattering into literally hundreds of pieces.  Carol Vogel’s 2014 article in The New York Times was—perhaps appropriately—entitled: “Recreating Adam, From Hundreds of Pieces, After the Fall:”

“What followed was more than a decade of painstaking restoration that was unprecedented in the Met’s history. The project took so long there were rumors that the statue was beyond repair….In decades past, museums would have also restored a damaged work of art in a way that got it back on view as quickly as possible. In the case of a massive marble sculpture like Adam, conservators would have resorted to using iron or steel pins that required drilling many of the sculpture’s joints. But such invasive work can be risky, curators said, potentially harming the marble….Nobody at the Met thought that the process would take 12 years. But [the Met’s director] reiterated in a recent interview, that he wanted Adam ‘brought back to a state where only [art insiders] could tell anything had happened.’”

Vogel reports that experts in the field describe such restoration projects as “the cutting edge of art history.”  Restorers speak of “the romance of the fragment,” the re-assembly of damaged pieces to make the artwork whole again.

Yet for us—all of Adam’s true daughters and sons—there can be no “romance of the fragment,” no possible way of assembling our disjointed thoughts into a cohesive whole.  In fact, our every medicine seemingly only causes more illness.  Even in our best moments we are dimly aware that we are broken, beyond repair.  Our attempts to find wholeness through career, through relationships, through sex, through sports, through artistic triumph—even through religious devotion—only magnifies our brokenness, like children gluing pieces of china together in hopes our parents won’t notice the cracks in the dinner plates.

Malcolm Muggeridge—the twentieth century journalist—once remarked that original sin is the doctrine most often denied, yet the one most easily proven.  Just turn on your television set, and your living room will flicker with the evidence of a world where Adam’s legacy may be seen and felt.  Yet the problem is never simply “out there,” out in the world, someone else’s problem.  No; the problem goes deeper.  As a Russian writer once put it, “the line between good and evil runs through every human heart.”

We’re speaking, of course, of the nature of original sin.  When Paul summarized the gospel of the people of Rome, he described it as a glorious exchange.  Or—more specifically—a series of exchanges.

THE FIRST EXCHANGE: ADAM TO US

First, Adam’s rebellion in the garden was passed on to us:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because wall sinned—13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. (Romans 5:12-14)

We are all the products of a fatal, genetic error.  The early Church called this “original sin,” a doctrine that states that sin is more than just what we do; sin is something we are.  We are “polluted in father and mother,” wrote Origen, a member of the early Church.  If this is true, then we can’t possibly defend ourselves as merely being “born this way,” or the products of heredity and environment.  No; we are guilty by simple virtue of being born.

But, you might object, surely that’s unfair.  In Western societies, we tend to think of responsibility as personal.  If my brother, father, sister, etc. commits a crime, I am not guilty—unless I participate.  So to be condemned for Adam’s sin seems unfair.  But this assumes you haven’t yourself participated in the same kind of rebellion that Adam did—or that even from birth you have a desire for self-indulgence.

Gary Willis says it best:

“We are hostages to each other in a deadly interrelatedness.  There is no ‘clean slate’ of nature unscribbled on by all one’s forebears….At one time a woman of unsavory enough experience was delicately but cruelly referred to as ‘having a past.’  The doctrine of original sin states that humankind, in exactly that sense, ‘has a past.’”  (Gary Willis, Reagan’s America: Innocents at Home, p. 384)

THE SECOND EXCHANGE: OUR SIN TO CHRIST

Paul writes:

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:15-17)

The gospel is a glorious exchange, wherein my wickedness—the same “reputation” I earned from Adam—is given to Jesus.  On the cross, Jesus paid the penalty for my depravity.  And, in return…

THE THIRD EXCHANGE: CHRIST’S RIGHTEOUSNESS TO US

When Christ takes our sin, so too does he impart to us His righteousness:

 18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for fall men.19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:18-21)

Christian thinkers have termed this as the doctrine of “imputation,” the process by which each of these exchanges takes place.  The imputation of Christ’s righteousness, we might say, is what puts back together the image that was broken.

And that’s why Luke, in writing his biography of Jesus, would extend Christ’s genealogy all the way back to “Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38).  For Luke, both Adam and Jesus were “sons of God”—though each in their own unique way.  But while the first Adam would result in ruin, the second Adam would bring about restoration.  For the first Adam, what began in a garden resulted in a graveyard.  But for the second Adam, what began in the graveyard would result in a garden.

“The deformity of Christ forms you,” wrote Saint Augustine.  And he was right.  If Jesus was broken so that I could be made whole, it liberates me from trying to reassemble the pieces on my own.  I am set free from the “romance of the fragment,” a romance that leads only to codependency and grief.  Instead, I may begin each day with joy, knowing my identity no longer comes from Adam, no longer comes from my career, no longer comes from a shameful past, no longer comes from my need for relationship, for sex, for sports victories—no longer comes externally at all.  Instead, my identity comes from Jesus, whose once-for-all sacrifice undoes the years of grief, and fills in my broken cracks with grace.  And life.  And joy.

 

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Human Marmadukes (Romans 5:1-11)

When I was a high school kid growing up in an evangelical church with a large youth group, there was a guy who often attended named Mort. To put it kindly and simply, Mort was rather “unusual.”  To put it not so kindly, he was totally goofy, socially inappropriate, and entirely annoying to have around. At a minimum, he was ADHD – before that was known as a malady and learning challenge. Every time you turned around, there he was – right up in your face with some ridiculously goofy idea about what we should be doing. He was a sort of human Marmaduke – the Great Dane of comic strip fame. (The Wikipedia description of the mom in house is “Dottie – the housewife of the family whose daily life would probably be a lot less of a hassle if she didn’t have Marmaduke around.” )

Our youth group tolerated Mort, not because he deserved it, but because most of us truly were pretty good Christian kids trying to figure out how to live life for God. We loved him “in the Lord,” because that was the only way it would work. But Mort made our sanctification a difficult process. And of course, over time, we all graduated and went in varied directions, though we’d gather occasionally again at church as college/young adults. Mort sort of disappeared, as he was not actually from a church family. After a few years, he showed up again, and he was entirely changed. His old self had been mortified (bad pun, I know); he was a changed person. I believe he went into the military, where they probably beat the goofiness out of him! But in any event, he was now socially appropriate and even fun to have around.

In our sinful condition, to God we are human Marmadukes – though completely without any cuteness factor. We are Morts – totally self-absorbed and frankly intolerable in our sinful state. But God didn’t leave to us to figure it out; he didn’t hope we’d connect to some organization that would beat the sin out of us; he didn’t even give us a multi-step program to fix ourselves. No, God gave us his most precious Son to pay the price of our sins and bring us reconciliation.

As was noted in the sermon yesterday, the word to think of with reconciliation is “change.”  God has not been changed, but we have. We are no longer enemies; we are at peace with God. And all of this is because God chose to love us at our worst – while we were yet sinners.

This understanding does away with any notion that mankind was a breed of cute little sinners – a boys will be boys sort of thing … along with any notion that God is a type of soft-hearted elderly grandfather figure who simply can’t stop himself from doting upon his cute little creatures. Nope! We were rebels who were in outright defiance against God … but in that condition, God chose to love us and name us in Christ as our debt was paid upon that Roman cross.

Romans 5:1-11

5 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Isn’t It All Adam’s Fault? (Romans 5:12-19)

It is no secret that I am committed to a conservative political agenda and that I have even been active in that realm to some extent behind the scenes in elected party politics and leadership (though I am no longer serving in such a capacity). Whether you agree or not with my perspectives is not the point of this illustration, but rather I simply mention this to say that someone of my bent has an oft difficult time in the very blue state of Maryland. My representatives – particularly on the national level – do not often vote and represent me in the manner that I would wish. And those who serve in state government in my place, though they do represent my viewpoints rather well, are most often snowed under by a massive opposition majority. It is difficult and annoying, to be quite honest.

But maybe that is how you feel about Adam – you know, Adam from Eden, Eve’s husband – that guy! Man, he had it all! He lived in paradise, had a perfect relationship with God, no weeds grew in his garden, it never rained or was nasty outside, and all he had to do was stay away from one tree and not eat the fruit of it. How hard is that to do? But he blew it; he really messed up big-time! And that is what this Romans passage today is all about – comparing how big is the mess that Adam made, but how grand is the fix that Christ secured for those who trust in it.

But again – thinking about Adam … maybe you are just totally annoyed with the way that he “voted” on your behalf! If you were there, you wouldn’t have done such a stupid thing. So why should you have to bear the consequences of his idiocy? Look again at the end of verse 12 – “because all sinned.”  Now don’t make me go explaining this to you right here right now, but, it is actually more than just Adam representing us (though that is true), we were actually sinning in him in an active way. Again – this is the stuff of books, not devotionals. But whatever, we are guilty.

This week we follow up from the sermon yesterday that taught about our next cross word – Imputation. This is a term that is like a banking word for the transferring of funds from one account to another. As was presented yesterday, there are three transfers/imputations: Adam’s sin to our account, our sin to Christ’s account, and Christ’s righteousness to our account.

The main sense of the passage today – which is admittedly very complicated sounding – is that though we had a huge debt of sin come into our account from Adam which results in a judgment of death, the righteousness of Christ that comes to our account upon faith and justification is a credit that is larger than the debt, and it leads to life.

If you really understand this, you really understand the very central idea of what salvation is about. Along with it, in my opinion, comes also the very best way to communicate what salvation entails. Everyone has had a bank account and knows about debits and credits. This presents a great picture for you to explain that we have the debt of sin (few will argue that) in our individual account, but that we cannot ever pay that debt with our deposits; and so we need the perfect deposit of Christ’s righteousness to pay our debt for us. So, stop trying to pay it off, and trust in the one who has done it for you.

Death through Adam, Life through Christ

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—

13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

Cross Words for today (remember – all words will be released one week from today)…

Innocence – There is not much of this, apart from the perfection of God and the person of Christ. We think of infants as innocent, but the truth is that they too – from the moment of conception – have the imputed curse of Adam’s sin. The lamb sacrifice pictured innocence, but was of course an imperfect example of the perfection of Christ – our sacrifice.

Grace – This is more than a simple extension of mercy or someone choosing to be nice, which is how we might use the term. It is actually favor extended where wrath is deserved. It is getting mercy, when in fact, you fully deserved just the opposite. 

puzzle day 16