Christian Paradox


He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, 

that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. 

By his wounds you have been healed. 

(1 Pet 2:24)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Jesus teaches us to practice humility while pursuing righteousness even if we suffer shame, persecution, and death, as he did on the cross. Because death is the penalty for sin (Gen 3:3), Jesus’ righteous death on the cross allowed him to pay the penalty of our sin (1 Pet 2:24; 1 Cor 15:3) and his resurrection identified him as the son of God. This linking of sin to the penalty of death is critical to understanding Christ’s atoning work on the cross.

Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man. Out of 189 verses in the Bible that use this term, 89 are found in Ezekiel, which refer to the prophet himself. The term in Hebrew literally means “son of Adam” (Ezek 2:1). In the more famous passage in Daniel 7:13, the Hebrew expression is the more familiar “son of man.”

Christ’s atoning death runs against our usual assumption that our debt for sin is, not against God, but against our neighbor. For example, discrimination, a form of persecution against our neighbor, results in tensions over racial, ethnic, class, and gender equality, as the Apostle Paul taught:

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek [racial and ethnic equality], there is neither slave nor free [economic equality], there is no male and female [gender equality], for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:27-28)

Being one in Christ means that we model our lives after both Christ’s humble life and death so that humility replaces pride, discrimination, and persecution in our own lives, as evidenced in our treatment of others.

Modeling humility, Jesus offers many alternatives to violence in dealing with persecution, including:

1. Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also (Matt 5:39)

2. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matt 5:44).

3. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. (Matt 5:41)

4. Judge not, that you be not judged. (Matt 7:1)

5. …render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. (Matt 22:21)

Refusing to defend oneself (one’s honor) could lead to perilous outcomes in a first century legal context because one was expected to offer one’s own defense, but it is absolutely necessary if persecution is to become a ministry opportunity, as we are told:

But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. (Luke 21:12–13)

We see this principle illustrated firsthand when Stephen refused to offer his own defense before the Sanhedrin and chose instead to defend Christ (Acts 7).

Stephen was the first among many Christian martyrs (Foxe 2001, 10), but other early Christians risked their lives in living testimony through service, as during a plague in Alexandria in the third century Christians refused to abandon the city and remained to care for the sick. A recent example of such fearless service was seen among Christian doctors working during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Less  so with the AIDS epidemic (Kinnaman and Lyons 2007, 110).

A life of fearless service is possible because in Christ’s resurrection life follows death—the origin of Christian paradox.


Foxe, John and Harold J. Chadwick. 2001. The New Foxes’ Book of Martyrs (Orig Pub 1563). Gainsville, FL: Bridge-Logos Publishers.

Kinnaman, David with Gabe Lyons. 2007. UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…and Why It Matters. Grand Rapids: BakerBooks.

Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Christian Paradox

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

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