Escaping Sin through Grace
I’m sharing something I wrote a few years back. I stumbled across it recently and was struck by its slightly uncomfortable use of disease transmission as metaphor.But more than that, I was caught by the helpful alternative to a common model of sin and salvation. I hope you enjoy it.
While reading Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise, I stumbled onto a new way of thinking about sin and salvation. I adapted an old model of how disease spreads into a description of how human beings relate to sin. It all started with this diagram:
For a variety of reasons [that we’re all now much too familiar with], this doesn’t model disease very well at all. Bad news for someone trying to describe a pandemic, but good news for a preacher who spends all his time thinking about church (even while reading books about other topics).
When discussing salvation—that is, being saved from sin—one particular idea is rarely far from my mind: The common belief or assumption that every Christian has an identifiable moment when they were saved. That moment neatly cleaves life into before and after. One goes in a sinner and comes out saved. Visually, it looks like this:
While it doesn’t fully explain sin, this diagram does describe something about how God’s grace works. Those who have found salvation in a big, watershed moment were stuck in a spiral of sin until God’s grace broke in and led them to a better way of being. (“Recovering” indicates that one is better but not perfect. We’re saved from the sin spiral, but are always working on remaining in right relationship.)
I struggle with this, however, because I’ve never had that experience. I’ve been a Christian for as long as I can remember. My life doesn’t have a dramatic moment of escape from sin. I’ve wandered here and there, but haven’t had to hit rock bottom before coming back. So where do Christians like me fit?
That first diagram, the bad model of disease, held the key. It’s all in that arrow at the bottom, an alternate way to get from A to B. Just as it’s possible to get immunity from disease without catching it, Grace’s Escape isn’t the only way that God reaches out to us. It’s possible—indeed, common!—to get to the end without going through the middle:
For many, God’s grace works like an antibiotic, curing a nasty infection and setting a person back on the path to health and wholeness. For many others, grace finds its way in before a person spirals deeply into sin, like a vaccination that prevents acquisition of a nasty disease. The beauty of this model—indeed, the beauty of our God—is that each path gets you to the exact same place. Either path connects you to the grace and love of God.
Back in 2021, in addition to enjoying the amusing and uncomfortable parallels between sin and a pandemic, I’m grateful for the reminder that we approach God by a variety of paths. I hope that, whatever path you are on, you’re cultivating your connection to the grace, mercy, and love of God.