“In your culture, what is the greatest act of sin someone can commit?”
This was a question I asked of a young Asian man with whom I had been meeting for months to do evangelistic Bible studies. He was an enthusiastic pursuer of “truth,” and he wanted to know about biblical truth. So, over some spicy lamb kebabs every Wednesday, we would go through biblical texts and his objections.
As we met together weekly, I began to realize that his appreciation for the law and for the fact that all sinners have broken the law was not as personalized as it was for me. In his mind, everyone in his country breaks the law, even the police and politicians. Corruption is to be expected because it’s how business is done. Corruption is only bad if you get caught and publicly humiliate someone. So the reason transgression is bad is not because it misses the mark of perfection per se, but because it brings about shame and dishonor to yourself or, even worse, to someone you ought to respect.
The losing of face because of shame motivates the morality of so many cultures, specifically the one in which I was ministering.
A Fresh Facet of the Gospel
My friend did finally answer my question about the greatest sin, but first he explained that it was the worst sin because it brought the worst shame. The sin? Betrayal. Then I realized how I could explain the facets of the gospel more clearly.
I explained that all people have betrayed their Creator, choosing rather to honor themselves and their own creations, thus bringing unspeakable dishonor to him. Instead of abandoning them because of their shameful acts, God acted to honor the greatness of his name by sending his Son to become man, live the life that perfectly honors the Father, and die the death that only traitors deserve. In so doing, the Father’s execution of the Son would take away his righteous anger and the shame of all who would bow the knee, trust, and honor him. And in exchange, the Father would adopt them as sons and lavishly bestow upon them the eternal inheritance of his one faithful Son.
“In the cross, man’s greatest act of sin has become God’s greatest act of grace.”
That hit a nerve. He frowned when I told him that he had betrayed God, but his jaw dropped when I explained that Christ endured the shame of the cross in the place of all who would turn from their dishonorable treason and trust in him alone as their execution-bearer and shame-taker. All treason committed against the Emperor of the universe would be eternally pardoned because of the slain Lamb. All dishonorable shame brought upon the Creator of the universe would be eternally expiated by the forsaken Scapegoat. All pleasure and privilege bestowed upon the honorable Son would be credited to those who honor him by their faith in the Son.
Whatever the culture, it is faith alone in Christ alone that turns a shameful traitor into an honorable heir. In the cross, man’s greatest act of sin has become God’s greatest act of grace.