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Sin and Salvation in our Personal Story

By Doug Floyd

From time to time I search my name on the Internet…just to see how I am doing.
According to the Internet I’ve had quite a successful career as a reporter. I also
play in a rock band. At the same time, I sing Country & Western. I’ve been a
professor of law for over 40 years, and I even direct summer theatre in Toronto.

Apparently, there are many Doug Floyds in this world. We all share the same name,
yet we have different stories, different personal traits, and different interests.
As I think about the way we differ from other people, I am reminded how each
person is unique and wondrous.

When God made us, He really did break the mold. We may share certain traits with
other people like names, eye color, skin tones, and height. And yet, each of us
stands unique from every other person on the planet.

Together with all other people, we make up a vast mosaic of original persons. We
may treasure some of the characteristics that make us unique, and we may want to
hide other parts. We love for people to notice the places where we excel, and we’d
prefer folks overlook our glaring weaknesses.

Our physical and emotional makeup is tightly interwoven into the stories of our
lives. No matter how many similarities we share with others, each of us walks a
distinct and unrepeatable path. In the midst of these journeys, God reveals His
glory, and yet sin also works in these points of differentiation to excite
feelings of rejection, loneliness, separation, envy, pride, and selfish ambition.

Sin infects the places of our particularity and repeats the pattern of sin seen
all through Scripture by creating division in our relationships with God, with
other people and even with creation. Paul recognizes this power at work in his own
life when he considers his own unique characteristics such as his Hebrew lineage,
his Roman citizenship, and his training as a Pharisee.

As a Pharisee, Paul studied and devoted his life to the Torah. Through Torah study
and observance, Paul expressed his submission to the God of Israel. He excelled
beyond many of his contemporary Pharisees. His passion for advancing the kingdom
of God might find parallels in the Christians today that have devoted their lives
completely to the service of the Lord.

In his zeal for serving the God of Israel, Paul eventually opposes God’s kingdom
and even kills God’s followers. Infecting the very place of Paul’s expressed
devotion, sin created division between Paul and God and God’s people.

Like Paul, we fall prey to the outworking of sin in our own unique traits.
Listening to another person’s story, I may find myself thinking how their life is
so much better than mine, or I might think I am far more spiritual, or smarter, or

Consider the prophets Jeremiah and Daniel. Contemporaries, these two men were
called to be the voice of God among the people. Yet they lived in two different
worlds. Cursed, ignored, and held captive by his own people, Jeremiah is treated
as a traitor while he faithfully seeks to proclaim the Word of the Lord. From all
outward appearances, his life seems to be a failure.

Hundreds of miles away, Daniel enjoys life in the king’s court. He receives the
highest education in the land, is offered the best of food, and is raised up to
rule alongside the king. Proclaiming the Word of the Lord, Daniel impacts state
policy and sees great visions of the coming kingdom of God. From all outward
appearances, Daniel’s life seems to be a success.

If I were Jeremiah, I would look at the particular circumstances of my own life

and question God, “Why do you love Daniel more than me?” “Why is Daniel honored
and I am rejected?” “Have I failed God?” All these honest and painful questions
are rooted in the struggle to understand why our lives our unique.

Each of us struggles with similar questions. We look at other people and wonder
why they have more or less than we do. We may look down on some people because in
one particular area we excel above them.

I work harder and have sacrificed so much more for the Lord, why is that person
prospering when I know their devotion is not nearly as genuine as my own? The
struggle of comparing our lives with the lives of other people is endless. This
tendency to compare our lives with other people is actually a denial of the unique
way God created us. We are not unchangeable objects.

We are particular people created by God for particular purposes and two lives
simply cannot be compared. When Peter asks Jesus why he must suffer and die and
another disciple will not, Jesus replies, “What is that to you?”

This tendency to compare our lives with others overlaps with our tendency to seek
personal fulfillment in our unique gifts and abilities. Our mental excellence
becomes a source of personal identity. Race, appearance, athleticism, finances,
discipline, and more can all play a role in defining my value. Even ongoing
sickness can play a defining role in our identity.

Once my value is derived from the unique characteristics that make me who I am,
then I am subject to struggle with self-esteem, pride, or other issues of personal
worth. My abilities are used to further my own sense of self. Even when serving
others, I may be using my personal gifts as a means of reinforcing my own worth.

Actions that start as worship can end in sacrificing others for my own end. This
returns us to the story of Paul persecuting the church, which is really our story—
and Cain’s story. Like the curse of Cain, we live with sin lying at the door,
waiting, enticing, drawing us to covet, envy, hate, steal, and even kill those we
love through our words and actions.

Selfish ambition drives us to act and think in ways that violate love. We live in
a world where humans violate relationships, commit adultery, steal, kill, hate and
war with one another as sins of their own particular lives multiply grow and
gradually drive their lives. Under the curse of sin, all the beauty and wonder of
our unique characteristics become the very seat of betrayal.

From misspoken words to acts of cruelty, sin bears the bitter fruit of
destruction. We wound and are wounded by the very people we love. From the tiniest
family to the largest nation, sin ripples into broken relationships, broken hearts
and broken lives. The world reels under the weight of a sin that poisons and
multiplies through our thoughts and actions.

In the midst of such gloom, Paul reminds us that Jesus has come to rescue us from
the present evil age. The power of the cross brings an end to the reign of sin in
our lives.

In Christ, we can be transformed from those who live by the works of the flesh to
those who express the fruits of the Spirit in our words and actions. We can be
transformed from people who destroy to people who like Paul are given the ministry
of reconciliation, bringing the healing power of God’s love into every dark place
in our world.

One way grace works out the beauty of God’s love in our lives is by restoring the
proper place of personal value. In Galatians Paul identifies himself as a
bondservant of Christ and then reiterates this identity by proclaiming,

20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives
in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of
God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Gal 2:20)

God interrupts Paul on the Damascus journey. At some point in the encounter, Paul
realizes he is loved. This love has nothing to do with Paul’s service as a
Pharisee, Paul’s Roman citizenship, or any of Paul’s other characteristics. This
love springs from the heart of God who chooses to love Paul.

Only this love gives Paul value as a person. Thus from then on, he acknowledges
Himself as a servant of Christ—the one who loved Paul and gave His life for him.
Only this love could overcome the poison of sin and give Paul the grace to live in
the way of the cross. In and through this love, Paul’s unique gifts are
transformed into expressions of love. Paul lives in service to the people of God.

His training in Torah that had been used to persecute the church now becomes a
gift to help open the mysteries of the riches of the gospel. His Roman citizenship
even plays a role in serving the body by making a way for him to go to Rome and
proclaim the gospel to Caesar’s household.

Again and again in his letters, Paul will call the people of God to love. Again
and again Paul will remind the people of God that their unique abilities and
spiritual powers are not for personal gain or even personal identity. Rather, all
of these gifts are truly gifts of love to distribute in and among God’s people.

Through the cross, the power of death caused by sin is broken. In the cross, we
encounter a love that gives us value and purpose and power to pour out our lives
in love. The transforming power of love expressed in and through us is expressed
as a fruit of God’s Spirit at work in us.

Fruit takes time to grow. There is no technique that replaces the Spirit at work
in us producing the fruit. Techniques and shortcuts to spiritual growth will
quickly turn our focus from love to self, and soon the works of the flesh will
become all too obvious again in our lives: coveting, envy, jealousy, and all
manner of selfish ambition.

So we are called to the cross. We are called to find our hope and our identity in
the cross of Christ. We are called to embrace the cross as the Father disciplines
those he loves through tribulation and trial. In the midst of struggles, we return
again and again to the love of God in the cross. We emulate that love by laying
down our lives for those around us.

By God’s grace, His love shines through us even in the midst of our deep flaws. In
His grace alone, we learn the power of loving and laying down our lives in love.
In His grace alone, we become agents of transforming love in a world infected by
the destructiveness of sin. By His grace alone, we learn to rejoice in the unique
calling of our own lives and our own characteristics.

And by His grace and power alone, we one day will stand blameless before the
Father in Heaven.