In a recent trip to New York, I saw a curious sight. Across the street from my hotel was a brownstone that housed a modest church. Attached to the church was a large cross. Embedded in the cross were neon lights that proclaimed: SIN WILL FIND YOU OUT. During the day, the letters were rather difficult to read. At night, however, they blazed with the cruciform news: SIN WILL FIND YOU OUT. Ironically, this news shone brightly in the neighborhood of New York known as Hell’s Kitchen. How appropriate!
I’ve heard the expression SIN WILL FIND YOU OUT before. It means that if we do what’s wrong, we will someday reap the due consequences of our behavior. This aphorism comes from a story in the Old Testament book of Numbers. There, some of the Israelites promised to participate in a particular way in the conquest of the promised land. Moses warned them that if they did not do as they had promised, then, “behold, ye have sinned against the LORD: and be sure your sin will find you out” (Num 32:23, KJV).
Sin does have a way of finding us out. We see this writ large in the headlines, where leaders in business, sports, government, entertainment, and, I’m sad to say, the church are regularly outed for their misdeeds. They may have been able to hide for a while, perhaps even for decades. But, in time, their sin finds them out. (Of course, with the dawn of social media, sin is often paraded in front of the world within minutes of the offense.)So, I don’t doubt the truth of the message on that cross in Hell’s Kitchen. But what I find curious, even misleading, is the setting of that message. From a biblical perspective, the cross of Jesus doesn’t announce the fact that sin will find us out. It bears a very different message.
I can think of a couple of replacement messages for that cross that would be more apt expressions of biblical teaching. One would be, YOUR SIN FOUND JESUS OUT. For example, the New Testament letter of 1 Peter, quoting from the prophet Isaiah, announces, “‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.'” Yes, our sin has dire consequences. But Christ, as the Suffering Servant of God, took these upon himself on the cross. There, our sin found Jesus out, so to speak.
Another message that might take the place of SIN WILL FIND YOU OUT is GRACE WILL FIND YOU OUT. As we read in Ephesians 1:7-8, “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” Christ’s death on the cross brought redemption and forgiveness as a lavish expression of God’s grace. The cross of Jesus proclaims God’s amazing grace. Yes, our sin has consequences. But God, as a free gift, bore our sin on the cross in the divine Son. Through the cross, grace finds us out. This is, indeed, good news, suitable for any neon cross, anywhere.