Christianity is founded on the belief that Christ’s mission was to sacrifice himself to redeem the sins of the world. But which sins?
Surely not just a little boy telling his mother to shut up, or a fair maiden turning out not to be quite so maidenly? Anyway, according to another basic tenet, all individual sins derive from the original collective one.
So, in the conviction of any Christian regardless of his confession, it was that sin that God redeemed by being incarnated, living for 30-odd years as a man and then accepting an awful death.
Hence His sacrifice wiped man’s slate clean of the Fall and therefore of wholesale guilt. Yet since the evidence before our very eyes shows that man didn’t become pristine as a result, a second sin, Mark II as it were, must have replaced the first one, and this substitution could only have occurred after original sin had been redeemed.
Logically, this must have been the sin of rejecting Christ. That offence isn’t identical to original sin, though neither is it dissimilar to it. Both, after all, represent rejection of God: the first by disobeying and the second by failing to recognise Him.
If Original Sin Mark I was disobedience and therefore rejection, then Mark II is rejection and therefore disobedience. But mankind in its entirety never rejected Christ. Some – arguably most – people did so, yet some – arguably few – didn’t.
However small the second group may have been, it was made up of people who of their own accord chose to belong to it, thereby, if we follow this logic one step further, cleansing themselves of the new version of original sin.
Therefore the choice between acceptance and rejection cannot be collective. It has to be individual and it has to be free. That’s the meaning of John 32:8 – “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Knowledge of truth is the first step towards freedom, and it’s up to each of us to acquire this knowledge – or at least to accept it if it’s offered by an outside donor.
This can only mean that after Christ’s sacrifice each individual can establish a personal account with God, and, even if we start out that way, we don’t have to stay tarred with the brush of original sin for ever, be that Mark I or Mark II.
It stands to reason that a man could do nothing to redeem the collective Mark I, which is why Christ’s sacrifice was necessary. But it’s equally clear that a man can do something to redeem the individual Mark II.
This understanding has a far-reaching significance in secular matters as well. For, whenever we demonise some people for presumably belonging to a diabolical corporate entity without any proof of individual wrongdoing, we dehumanise not only them but, by denying free will, all of mankind.
Thus a German who belonged to the SS was complicit in its atrocities, by association at least. But if one accuses an ordinary person who lived in Germany at the time, the accuser must bear the burden of concrete proof. The same goes for Russia and her KGB. Neither nations nor religions do murder; it’s people who do that, and they do so because they freely make a wrong choice.
It can still be argued that, since the world at large demonstrably didn’t accept Christ, we may be slated for collective perdition. But what’s undeniable, at least for any Christian, is that Christ showed a clear path to individual salvation, and we are free to take that path or not.
Free will thus becomes the most important possession of man, which it can only remain if we stand to gain from a correct choice or suffer the consequences of a wrong one (this is a veiled argument against the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, but we won’t go into that now). God’s is the absolute freedom, but if we are truly created in his image, ours has to be at least a relative one. Only God can be totally free, but that doesn’t mean man has to be totally enslaved.
Such thoughts are hard to escape on this day. And when they flood in, all those Brexits, Covids and trade deals begin to look puny and trivial. Well, until tomorrow at any rate.
A blessed Christmas to all of you, whatever your religion, origin, race or sex. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”