A few years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. Although it was a common form and treatable, I was shattered by the news. I felt betrayed, not so much by God, but by my own body. I lay awake nights thinking about the thing I had inside me and wishing that I could go back to the days before the diagnosis. When the doctor told me that my surgery appeared to be successful, I felt like a condemned prisoner who has just been given a pardon. “This is what forgiveness feels like,” I told my wife.
But sin is not really like cancer. Sin is not something that can be cut out of us or brought into remission by repeated treatment. It is not an alien presence. This is what I think Paul means when he says, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (Rom. 7:18). Sin not only is in me, it is me. It is part of my nature. It is because sin is so deeply embedded within, that we have such a high tolerance for it.
Theologian Josef Pieper describes sin as a warping of our created nature: “Sin is an inner contortion whose essence is misconstrued if we interpret it as sickness or, to descend into an even more trivializing level, merely as an infraction against conventional rules of behavior.” Because of this, the only solution for sin is an extreme one. The remedy is death. Since sin is me, there must be an end to me. This is somewhat ironic since death is also the progeny of sin. Death entered the world through sin (Rom. 5:12). Through Jesus Christ, God turned sin’s own weapon against itself. Those who belong to Christ have been united with Him in His death and resurrection (Rom. 6:5).
This remarkable union places the power of the cross at our disposal. Those who have been joined to Christ in His death have been granted power to “put to death the misdeeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13). The once for all death and resurrection of Jesus Christ produces within us a continual experience of dying and rising when it comes to our struggle with sin. There is an end point to this. The climax of our redemption will be our own bodily resurrection when the imperishable will be clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality (1 Cor. 15:54). Then death will be swallowed up in victory and sin along with it. That is when we will really know what forgiveness feels like.