I understand that the idea of the ‘image’, as in Genesis 1:26-28, to mean that humans are designed to function like angled mirrors. We are created in order to reflect the worship of all creation back to the Creator and by that same means to reflect the wise sovereignty of the Creator into the world. Human beings, worshipping their Creator, were thus the intended key to the proper flourishing of the world. “Worship” was and is a matter of gazing with delight, gratitude, and love at the Creator God and expressing His praise in wise, articulate speech. Those who do this are formed by this activity to become the generous, humble stewards through who God’s creative and sustaining love is let loose into the world. That was how thing were meant to be. The purpose of the Cross is to take us back, from where we presently are, to the intended goal…
Worshipping things other than the one true God and distorting our human behaviour in consequence is the very essence of “sin”: The Greek word for ‘sin’ in the New Testament means…not just “doing wrong things,” but “missing the target.” The target is a wise, full human life of worship and stewardship. Idolatry and sin are, in the last analysis, a failure of responsibility. They are a way of declining the divine summons to reflect God’s image. They constitute an insult, an affront, to the loving, wise Creator Himself. The Great Playwright has composed a drama and written a wonderful part especially for us to play; and, like a spoiled and silly child, we have torn up the script and smirked our way through a self-serving but ultimately self-destructive plot of our own.
As we know in other walks of life, when people duck our of their assigned responsibilities, someone else will take them over instead, and no good will come of it. When humans sin, they hand to nondivine forces a power and authority that those forces were never supposed to have. And that is why, if God’s plan is to rescue and restore his whole creation, with humans as the active agents in the middle of it, “sins” have to be dealt with. That is the only way by which the nondivine forces that usurp the human role in the worlds will lose their power. They will be starved of the oxygen that keeps them alive, that turns them from ordinary parts of God’s creation into distorted and dangerous monsters.
You can see this in the obvious examples: money, sex and power itself. Lie fir, these “forces” are good servants but bad masters. Not for nothing were they treated as gods and goddesses in the ancient world – as indeed many people treat them today (though without using that language), sacrificing to them and obeying their every command. These “powers” need to be overcome not so that we can live disembodied lives in which they play not part, but so that we can live fully human lives n which they make contribution as and when appropriate. They stop being demons when they stop being gods. (pp 100-101)
The reason we commit “sins” is because, to some extent at least, we are failing to worship the one true God and are worshipping instead some feature or force within the created order. When we do that, we are abdicating our responsibilities, handing to the “powers” in question the genuine human authority that ought to be ours.
To recap, then, humans were made to be “vicegerents.” That is, they were to act on God’s behalf within His world. But that is only possible and can only escape serious and dangerous distortion when worship precedes action. Only those who are worshipping the Creator will be humble enough to be entrusted with His stewardship. That is the “covenant of vocation”…that is what is lost when humans decide to rebel and take orders from within the world itself. That is why, in the developed view within Israel’s traditions, the basic “sin” is actually idolatry, worshipping and serving anything in the place of the one true God. And, since humans are made for the life that come from God and God alone, to worship that which is not God is to fall in love with death. (p 102)
The primary fault of the human race, according to Romans 1, is idolatry. The primary response, from the one God himself, is to ‘put forth’ the Messiah as the place of meeting, the ultimate revelation of the divine righteousness and love. (p 339)
The hilasterion – the [‘Seat of Mercy’ (Romans 3:25) that is now Jesus Christ] would there be the place of cleansing. When mortal humans come into the Presence of the living God, they bring with them pollution, particularly the ultimate pollution of death and anything to do with it. Sin matters because it is the tell-tale symptom of idolatry…Idolatry, turning away from the source of life, results in sin, which already breathes the musty air of death. And death is the ultimate denial of the goodness of God’s creation – the very thing that the Temple, holding together heaven and earth, was supposed to affirm. How, then, can the Temple be cleansed so that humans, with the polluting smell of death upon the, can nevertheless come into God’s Presence? The answer supplied by the Levitical ritual is that the sacrificial blood is the sign of God-given life, a life more powerful than death, a life therefore that purifies both sanctuary and worshipper. Cleansing thus enables meeting. The hilasterion [Jesus Christ] points to both. (p 333)
Excerpts from ‘The Day the Revolution Began – Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion’ by NT Wright (Harper One © N.T. WRIGHT 2016)