More Than the Sum of My Sins

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation*: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 2 Cor 5:16-19; NIV

Sometimes people hurt us. Sometimes even the people we love hurt us. It can make us defensive, angry, and judgmental. We have a tendency to view people as the sum of their sins, as “all bad,” or even as enemies when they bring us pain. I have found myself trapped in this mindset, isolated to protect myself, thinking the worst of people who loved me dearly.

When I was a teenager, I thought my parents were trying to harm me intentionally. I had a lot of emotional turmoil at that point in my life, like a lot of people. I remember thinking that I wanted to get as far from them as possible, the moment I could fend for myself. I have done the same thing in relationships, believing the worst of someone I trusted when they let me down. It allowed me to avoid reconciling with them. Thinking that someone is a bad person provides you an excuse for hatred. It eases your guilt, and allows you to avoid offering forgiveness or taking responsibility for your own sin.

The passage from 2 Cor. 5 is one of my favorites because it reminds me of something that I need so desperately for myself. I need to be given a fresh start. If you count my sins against me, especially if I am someone who has hurt you, I could be a horrible person, in your eyes. I have disappointed people in ways that are difficult to admit. But I have hope. In Christ, I experience God’s mercy in spite of my failures, and find that I am not the man I was. I am a new creation, in him. I have a new identity and I am empowered to love others and do great things in his name. There is no greater message than this. It is the core of what we call the gospel. It is the best news imaginable, for someone like me. And also for someone like you.

When Paul writes “we regard no one from a worldly point of view,” what he literally means is that he doesn’t see people from this physical, external, judgmental perspective that is typical of our world. It is so easy to view people that way, but God won’t have it. If God doesn’t view me as a bad person, then it follows that I cannot view others that way either. People are more than the sum of their mistakes. They are his children, and by faith in Christ, they are made new also. When we stand in the presence of Christ, our pain will be gone, our anger and bitterness swept away, our failures forgotten. What will be left are the things about us that matter. Love, joy and peace. If they are the only things that matter on that day, then they are the only things that matter now. Like Paul, I can choose to look at people the way God does – even people who hurt me. I do choose that. And I pray those I have hurt see me the same way.

It is not just a message of hope for me and for you, it is a message God has committed to us to share with others. One of the ways we share it is to do it.

* The NIV includes a second version of this phrase in a footnote, and I read it the way I have it printed here. The new creation that Paul talks about is us.

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