Participating in the Sin-Suffering Way of Jesus

Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way
The servant [in Isaiah 52:13—53:12] serves God. That goes without saying. But the distinctive thing that comes into focus . . . is that the servant serves God by serving the sinner, by taking the sinner’s place, taking the consequences of sin, doing for the sinner what he or she is helpless to do for himself, herself.

This is the gospel way to deal with what is wrong with the world, deal with this multifaceted sin-cancer that is mutilating and disabling us. . . . [W]hether the wrong is intentional or inadvertent, the servant neither avoids it in revulsion nor attacks it by force of words or arms. Instead, the servant embraces, accepts, suffers in the sense of submitting to the conditions and accepting the consequences (177).

[W]hile the suffering and death of Jesus is definitive and complete, there is more—and the more has to do with our participation in what Jesus accomplishes in his suffering and death. . . . The overall pervading concern of the text is that every follower of the gospel shall embrace the identity of servant in the very terms in which the Prophet of Exile presents it . . . . Much as we try to get out of it or find a way around it, there is simply no following Jesus that does not involve suffering and rejection and death. No exceptions (178).

The uniqueness that is Jesus does not exclude us from participation in his servant ways. We can—we must—participate in Jesus’ work the way Jesus did it and does it and only in the way Jesus did and does it, obedient and joyful servants as we follow our servant Savior who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45) (179).

Sin is not redeemed by scrubbing it out of existence but by taking it in as a sacrifice that makes “many to be accounted righteous.” This is obviously what Jesus did. We, of course, are not Jesus; we cannot do this in and of ourselves. But we can participate in what Jesus does with the sins of the world, the sins in the church, the sins in our family, as he takes and suffers them. We can enter the way of Jesus’ cross and becomes participants in Jesus’ reconciliation of the world. Salvation is not escape from what is wrong but a deep, reconciling embrace of all that is wrong.

This is a radical shift from condemning sin and sinners—an ugly business at best. We no longer stand around as amused or disapproving spectators of the sins or troubles of others but become fellow sufferers and participants in the sacrificial life of Jesus (184).
Aaron Orendorff
Dealing with the sins of others is messy work. The points of contact where another person’s sin overlaps with our own disheveled lives often feel like war-zones. It makes little difference whether we’re the one’s actually being sinned against or if we’re simply “collateral damage.” Pain is still pain. Dealing with sin—in whatever form—defiles and deconstructs. The wages of sin is death (inescapably).

In those moments, what we want (or rather I should say: what I want, what I desperately want) is to simply do away with it, to condemn it—sin and sinner alike—to escape it, to “scrub it out” and wash my hands of the whole affair. It’s always easier to just avoid the business of other people’s sin, to check-out, to distance ourselves from the mess, create a fortress and hunker down.

The way of the gospel, however, will not allow this. The way of the gospel calls us not to condemn sin but to bear it. To enter in, with eyes wide-open to the pain and dirt of their trouble. The gospel calls us to give our lives away—our emotions, financial security, reputations, health—as an act of saying, “I believe in Jesus. I believe in his way. I will suffer your sin, not reject it; I will suffer it with you as he suffered for me.”

The degree to which we suffer the sins of others is the degree to which we have understood how Jesus suffered for ours.

Sin, Forgiveness and Confession

Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way
Praying with David, who knew a good deal about sin, we soon learn that the remedy for sin is not the extermination of sin, not long training in not-sinning, not a rigorous program conditioning us in a pavlovian revulsion to sin. The only effective remedy for sin is the forgiveness of sin—and only God can forgive sin. If we refuse to deal with God, we are left dealing with sin by means of punishment or moral education or concocting some strategy of denial. None seem to make much of dent in the sin business. No. The way, the only way, is to get in on God’s forgiveness. And we do that by confession (91).

Confession is a way out of the puny, self-deceiving, mulish contrivances we attempt in order to manage sin on our own. Confession is entrance into the vast world of forgiveness, encompassed with God’s deliverance and steadfast love (92).

An Immersion in [Imperfect] Humanity

Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way
There is not the slightest effort given in the biblical story to make David admirable in any moral or spiritual sense. And yet there is the assumption in all of this that flawed and faithless and failed as he is, he is representative—not a warning against be behavior but a witness, inadvertent as it was, to the normalcy, yes, the inevitability of imperfection (82).

The life of David is a labyrinth of ambiguities, not unlike our own. What we admire about David does not cancel out what we abhor, and what we abhor does not cancel out what we admire. David is not a model for imitation; David is not a candidate for a pedestal. The David story is an immersion in humanity, no different from the humanity conditioned by our culture and flawed by our sins. The story of David is a not a story of what God wants us to be but a story of God working with the raw material of our lives as he finds us. David’s story is told with so much detail so that we will have spread out before us exactly what goes on in a thoroughly lived human life in which God is shaping a life of salvation (88).

God is Christlike

Michael Frost and Alan Hirsh, The Shaping of Things to Come
[I]n light of the New Testament, the remarkable truth is not so much that Jesus is Godlike, but that God is actually Christlike. (God is Christlike and in him is no un-Christlikeness at all). In the light of the New Testament revelation all who would wish to know who God is and what he is like, need look no further than the person of Jesus (John 1:18, 14:9). From now on, all true perspectives of God must pass through the very particular lens of the man called Jesus of Nazareth. To say this more technically, all theology must now be understood through Christology. . . . From our perspective as human beings Jesus becomes the reference point for all genuine knowing, all true loving, and all authentic following of God (37).

“he prefers partnership to mere accomplishment”

Michael Frost and Alan Hirsh, The Shaping of Things to Come
There’s a riddle in the Talmud that goes like this, “If God intended man to live by bread, why didn’t he create a bread tree?” And the answer is that, in fact, God could have created a tree that produced crusty loaves of bread, but he prefers to offer us a grain and invite us to buy a field and plant the seed. He prefers that we till the soil while he sends the rain. He prefers that we harvest the crop while he sends sunshine. He prefers that we grind the grain and knead it and bake it while he gives us air in our lungs and strength in our arms. Why? Because he would rather we become partners with him in creation.

Of course, God could simply supply our every need and solve our every problem. But our God invites us into a creative partnership with him. . . . We suppose he could have converted the whole world by now, but he prefers partnership to mere accomplishment (159).
Aaron Orendorff
It is striking and admittedly a bit jarring to entertain the thought that God “prefers partnership to mere accomplishment.” My basic orientation towards the two is exactly the opposite. I see partnership as the means and accomplishment and the ends. In other words, I regard accomplishment as the point and operate as if the real business of life was about “getting something done.” God, on the other hand, appears to think quite differently about the matter. The real business of life is partnership itself. Relationships are ends (not means) and “getting something done” is in many ways little more than a clever and handy excuse to partner.


Because God is interested in people, not projects. Real people demand real relationships. By inviting humanity into the process of creation and recreation—by making us agents of his kingdom’s coming—God is deliberately forfeiting productivity for the sake of process. He is saying (on purpose), “Yes, I’ll get less done and it’ll get done slower and there’ll be a lot more pain in the getting, but that’s the way I want to go. I want to go the way of people.”

In a similar way, we must begin to see our own relationships as ends in and of themselves. We love because we’ve been loved and because loving is good (morally and existentially), not because loving gets us somewhere. How would our approach to work, school, family, ministry and life all change if we adopted the same attitude as God? How would our approach to people be different if they themselves were what we were after and not what they might do for us?