Does sin separate us from God? Is there a big chasm between a holy God and sinners? You will most likely say, yes. I’ve said yes for about 30 years of my Christian life. But I would like to faithfully question that assumption today.
If you don’t know what I mean by “faithful questioning,” please go to my post titled, “Why we should practice the art of faithful questioning.” With that said, let us move ahead and explore this question with open hearts and minds and without fear.
The diagram (or some variation of it) here is probably familiar to you. It originally comes from a booklet by Bill Bright (founder of Campus Crusade for Christ) called “The Four Spiritual Laws,” published in 1952.
Our idea of sinners being separated from God is deeply entrenched in our Western mindset, so I will need to take a more thorough look at it than one post can cover.
First, here’s the four spiritual laws as they are as usually laid out:
- God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.
- All of us are sinful and separated from God. Therefore we cannot know and experience God’s love and plan for our life.
- Jesus Christ is the only provision for our sin. Through him we can know and experience God’s plan and love for our life.
- We must individually accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord; then we can know and experience God’s plan for our life.
While I wholeheartedly agree with the first and third points, I have a problem with the first clause of point two (in boldface type above), specifically with our understanding of separation from God. I only have a slight technical issue with what point four might insinuate in our thinking. The truth is, we can’t make Jesus anything. His lordship over our lives is not up for our vote or acceptance. That’s totally man-centered thinking. It is God who made Jesus Christ Lord and Savior over all mankind, whether we accept Him or not (Phil.2:9-11).
This is not meant to imply that I believe in Universalism. Jesus died for all mankind, but we must accept His free gift of grace by faith in order to benefit from this salvation. Nonetheless, it is HIS salvation, of His doing alone.
Okay, on to point two. Are sinners separated from God? And, if so, how are they separated? Looking at the diagram above, we see that the proof texts provided are Romans 3:23 and Isaiah 59:2. Romans 3:23 (we fall short of God’s glory) doesn’t explicitly speak of separation, so we’re left with Isaiah 59:2. There are a lot of confusing translations of this verse (translators often insert their bias), so I will use the Young’s Literal translation, which is considered the closest to the original language.
But your iniquities have been separating Between you and your God, And your sins have hidden The Presence from you — from hearing. (Isa.59:2)
We will take a closer look at what Isaiah 59:2 is actually saying in a future installment. I will simply summarize my objections to the premise of separation from God today, then take the rest of the series to look more closely at each objection.
Objection one: Actually, nothing can be separated from God. All things (including heaven and hell) are held together and consist IN Christ (Col.1:17). Otherwise, we have self-existent sinners, which would make them God!
Objection two: It assumes our decision can change what Christ has already done. God is not going to change His status toward us or do something new if we believe. Instead, we must let faith rise up in our hearts and change our thinking so we can benefit from the fact that God has already reconciled us to Himself (2 Cor.5:18).
Objection three: It’s based in Platonic dualism. It was Plato, not God, that postulated a separation of heaven and earth, spiritual and physical worlds, or even light and darkness. But Christ is “the light that shines IN the darkness,” even though the darkness does not comprehend it (John 1:5).
Objection four: It makes the Triune Godhead conflicted. If God is too holy to look at sin, and Jesus is the “friend of sinners,” what does that do to the Trinity?
Objection five: If God is “not counting our sins against us” anymore…why are we? (2 Cor.5:19) How can our sin separate us from God if Jesus took them away, once and for all?
Objection six: It insults unbelievers by telling them they can’t do anything good or know God. The irony is, we actually shut people off to the gospel by insulting their intelligence and natural understanding of goodness, love, and ability to know God (Rom.1:19-21).
Objection seven: It places the wrong emphasis on the problem. It not only misses the point of Isaiah 59:2, it focuses on separation and sin rather than faith and perception.
Before I close this summary, I’m sure that, at least initially, many who read this will disagree with some (or all) of my assertions. That’s quite okay. I’m just asking you to bravely do two things:
First, remember the Bereans! (Acts 17:11). Rather than reacting negatively because it goes against what you’ve been taught, will you take a fresh look at your assumptions about this and have faith that God will direct you to the truth? We’re all growing in our understanding of God and only see in part (1 Cor.13:12). Let’s keep the trapdoor of our mind open, remaining humble in heart and teachable.
Second, and this is a question that Dr. Bruce Wauchope (Perichoresis- Australia) asks, which I think is always appropriate for us to consider: “Does your theology (or objections to my theology) make Jesus look bigger or smaller?
Okay, we will dig into this next time!