I grew up in a deeply evangelical subculture of Colorado Springs, worshiping at a large-ish nondenominational church, attending a private Christian school, and going to Christian camps in the summertime. Growing up that way was a tremendous blessing in many ways. I heard the gospel from a young age, and was brought to place my faith in Christ very early. In addition to the formidable gospel witness of my parents and family, I received sound biblical teaching from the pulpit, in school chapel services, and in classrooms. From a human perspective, I owe nearly my whole formation to this religio-cultural creche, and I am deeply thankful for what I received from it.
One of the main emphases (and rightly so) of my formation was conversion: decisive trust in Jesus for salvation from personal sin, so that upon death one could be delivered from the punishment of sin and into the presence of God. Belief in this basic gospel was often the beginning and end of messages in chapel services and at retreats. It was because of this emphasis that I placed my nascent faith in Christ as a child. But one implication of this emphasis was that, in being continually pointed to the reality of personal sin and need for personal conversion, sin became a reality that was bounded on every side by the borders of the human person. That is, I knew myself as a sinner, and I knew that other individuals were sinners, and that we all needed salvation from Christ Jesus, who “came into the world to save sinners.” What I did not then comprehend was that sin had corrupted not only each person down to our bones, but all of creation from the stars right down to the sin-cursed dirt.
In Genesis 6, God saw that “every intention of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually.” Sin had personally infected every child of Adam, from his murderous firstborn on down through the generations. But more than that, the Lord observes that the earth itself was corrupt, and “all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.” The curse of sin had alienated man, the image of God, from God himself, from mankind, and even from the very ground. The whole creation, not merely individual descendants of Adam, was subjected to the futility and weariness of sin.
Solomon, too, observed this creation-wide corruption and the deep ache of creation for redemption, remarking on the unutterable weariness of things under the sun. There is a longing woven throughout scripture for not only personal salvation from sin, but for a full redemption of the whole creation. In the scriptures we read not only that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” but also that in the very redemption of the First Adam’s sons through the Second Adam’s sacrifice, the whole creation is redeemed. In Isaiah 55, as the wicked man forsakes his own way to return to the Lord, and the Lord showers abundant pardon on him, what happens? The very mountains and hills of creation “break forth into singing” and as they sing the trees clap their hands in time. As the curse radiated from one man outward to all of creation, infecting the dirt and the trees, the animals and every creature under heaven, so also redemption radiates outward from one man, redeeming not only a new humanity out of the old, but a new creation.
The scope of redemption, like the scope of sin, is not individual but cosmic. All created things were subjected to sin, and all created things are redeemed in Christ Jesus, according to the mysterious plan of the Father--a “plan for the fullness of time to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
How then is this cosmic redemption effected? How, that is, are all things united in Christ? Through the atoning blood of the cross. Isaiah’s glorious vision of the whole creation freed from sin, rejoicing with exuberant fertility, is accomplished through blood offered to redeem the whole creation. The author of Hebrews tells us that Christ entered, “not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” This he did “by means of his own blood.”
The atoning blood of Christ is at the center of all redemption. By his death and resurrection, he inaugurates a new creation, not merely saving sinners out of the old creation for a disembodied existence with him, but redeeming everything from the soil to the stars and everything in between. Having this perspective gives us a clearer picture of the deep infection of sin--no matter how severe we think it, the reality is worse. And a clearer view of the gravity of sin exalts the triune God, who creates, and redeems, and in redeeming, re-creates.