Tonight, this passage highlights for me one of the big differences between the tradition of which I am a part (the Church of the Nazarene) and some of our more Calvinist/Reformed brothers and sisters. It’s pretty obvious for any Nazarene theologian who might read this, but it’s what’s at the forefront for me tonight: For our tradition, salvation/being “rightified” is a relational thing.
For some others, it’s more positional: Humans sinned. They are now in the “sinners/condemned” column, and when God rightifies them, they are moved into the “righteous/saved” column. Lots of theological implications for this, including our old nemesis Eternal Security. Sin is a thing God cuts out of me and separates as far as east is from west. It’s a cancer to be removed.
Not sure that’s what this passage says, though: For just 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. (v. 19). Paul talks about the trespass of one man leading to death, and the free gift of grace leading to life and salvation. The thing about this passage is its use of relational language. Sin happens as the one man disobeys. Disobedience happens only in relationship one to another. In the same way, salvation comes through the obedience of Jesus. Obedience happens only in relationship. Grace as a gift implies a relation between the giver and the receiver.
I guess I grow weary of positional language, because honestly I think it leads to excuses and cop-outs for full-blown sinful behavior. I feel like I’ll throw up in my mouth a little every time I hear something like, “well, you know… we’re not perfect. We’re just sinners, after all” when it’s used to explain away the sinful behavior of folks who claim to be Christian. Such an argument doesn’t carry much weight in a tradition where “sin” properly-so-called is defined as a “willful transgression against a known law of God.” Is it possible to actually live a whole day and not willfully thumb my nose at God and disobey on-purpose? It better be, or the real moral and ethical expectations of Jesus really don’t matter. And relational theology is a key to understanding that, I think. Sin and righteousness happen in relationship. Relationships are dynamic, changing, growing or declining, messy and beautiful things. There are not a lot of formulas and static propositions that can grow a relationship.
The same is true of being a follower of Jesus. It’s not static, stale, and formulaic. It’s dynamic, alive, breathing, growing, and living… almost like being in love.