Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Levels of Sin

Question:  Does God judge sin differently based on severity of the offense?  It's a simple question but one that is difficult for most Christians to answer with honesty.  Most would say no, sin is sin, but most of us are not being honest with ourselves, even after we've uttered this pat answer.  I know I'm not.  We seem to have some sliding scale for offense in which we internally measure what is acceptibly tolerable and what is shamefully intolerable. 

One end of the scale might include "minor offenses" such as lending your two-cents worth at the morning gossip session or the course joking in the break room or taking that regular extra few minutes on your lunch because you put so much more into the job than most of the others anyway.  Sometimes its simply the thought " I should really help out with..." and deciding not to.  Minor things, almost negligible.  Ok, yeah, there's a twinge of guilt associated with them, but a quick "sorry Father, please forgive me" and we're on our way.

Certainly these things should in no way be catagorized with the guy who spends hours in front of the computer staring at pornography, or the attict stealing money from her family so she can push the needle in one more time, or the drunken father exploding into a rage for no good reason with fists of fury.  Worse still, the criminal who harms or murders the child, or kills another adult, or the rapist, or the sex offender, or the drug trafficker pushing his product with full knowledge of what it is doing to the lives and community into which he sells, certainly these people deserve to feel hell-fire licking their heels far more than the paper-clip pilfurer, right?

Certainly these latter offenders are subject to criminal laws based on severity of offense, but that is based on trespass against other people.  What about trespass against a holy and sinless God.  One who doesn't measure on a sliding scale, or a curve, but measures against one thing only - the pure and perfect standard of himself.  What does sin look like to a being such as he who is without it and cannot be touched by it?  In the whole Bible, there are essentially two words for sin that are primarily used, one hebrew and one greek, one for the Old Testament, one for the New Testament. 

In the Old Testament, the word primarily used is the word "chata" and it means "to miss the goal or path, to incur penalty, to endure loss, to bring guilt, condemnation, and punishment, to miss oneself, to lose oneself".  I love this definition.  For one, it characterizes what the people of those times lived and dealt with when confronting the issue of sin.  Romans states all have sinned and this was true of the people before Christ as well, but not being under the grace of the cross, I imagine they took sin a bit more seriously than we do today.  After all, they had to sacrifice animals, blood had to be shed, and there was a sense of condemnation and fear of punishment.  I wonder how differently we'd behave today if we had to think twice about so many of our actions based on the fear of condemnation or blood sacrifice.

Unfortunately, as is evidenced in the numbers and types of opposition Jesus faced, this system also produced a legalism lacking in grace, mercy or love one for another.  Note how ready the religious were to discard the adulterous woman's life just to see what Jesus would do and say about the situation.  One commentary I read indicates that when Jesus stooped in the dirt, he was writing every major sin the men present had committed detailed with names and that this was why they disbanded.  They legally had every right to press this issue and kill the woman but the words Jesus put in the sand had them so cornered with guilt and shame they had no where to go but away from him.  It was only in this light then did Jesus ask her "where are you accusers?" and follow with "neither do I condemn you". 

In the New Testament greek, the word for sin is "harmatia" which translates "to be without a share in, to miss the mark, to err".  I love this definition as well because we get from it that sin causes us to lose out, to lose our share.  Between these two we see that we are missing out and enduring loss and even losing ourself when we sin - losing who God created us to truly be.  God has a plan for us, his word says so and he has countless good works already planned out in detail for us to be involved with - things that will bless us and grow us and his kingdom.  But sin cheats us out of this, it causes us not only to miss the mark with him, but to miss out to lose our share in that plan.  There are no levels of missing out either.  There's just missing.  Either you hit the target or you don't. 

The man who complacently failed to follow whole heartedly after Jesus and was "luke-warm" though he went to church and gave in the offering will find himself right along side the murderer, rapist, sex trafficker, and pornographer when told to "DEPART".  Why?  Because sin still was permitted to permeate and allowed to comfortably reside.  Sin had hold when co-workers slandered, sin had hold when poker-night language turned crude, sin had hold when witnessing was less desirable than reputation, sin had hold when self was more important than time given to family.  Hebrews 12:1 urges us to cast off this sin that so easily entangles because it doesn't matter if it is what one would consider one of the "minor" offenses or something truly horrendous, our savior had to be ripped and torn open and brutally executed in an agonizing manner for all of it.

God doesn't see levels of sin.  He simply sees sin.  He hates it.  It is repugnant to him because it cost him the one he cherishes and those he loves most.  Because of it, very many (billions) of his children will suffer in eternal torment and seperation apart from him - not because he wants them to, but because regardless of his every effort, his giving of everything he has including himself, they have chosen to turn their back upon him, to reject him, to deny his love in their lives.  We have a loving God who aches for us but who is also a perfect God and a just God.  For us to be so arrogant as to ask him to tolerate sin for our sakes is to ask him to lower himself and become less than he is for our selfishness.  But this is what so many demand of him with questions such as "how can a loving God send people to hell?"  It's akin to asking my wife to somehow permanently disfigure herself so I could feel less guilty about cheating on her.

God's love for us is total and beyond our ability to record even in all of the volumes of books in all of time.  His complete sacrifice cast his grace so far beyond our sin with a recklessness as to whom it fell upon that we cannot wear it out.  But that grace, rather than granting license to sin, brings even greater power to triumph over sin.  Jesus echoes this in statements like "you have heard it is wrong to commit murder, but I tell you....to hate is the same as..."; or "you have heard it is wrong to commit adultry, but I tell you to look at another lustfully is the same as..." - just to have it in your heart is "...the same as" under this grace.  This demonstrates that this grace covers but it also empowers to live a much higher calling.

This is why God so desperately wants us to get this sin off ourselves when we commit it.  I've done it.  I've sinned, felt bad about it, held onto it for days and days and THEN finally came to the Lord with it.  This is so far from what God wants.  1 John 1:9 shows us that he simply wants us to come to him with a repentant heart, confess it - get it out, and he takes care of the rest - it's done, gone.  This isn't a license to jump right back into it.  He wants a heart change.  Repentance is about turning the opposite direction from whatever it was you were embroiled with and walking towards God and staying on that path.  But once this is done, there's no continual self bashing, no continual condemnation.  It's done.  Grow past it and go on! 

It doesn't matter what it is, God wants your repentance so that he can move you back into his blessing, his path, so that you can be a partaker again of the life and plans he has for you.  His son died horribly for you to be able to come to him for this very reason.  Certainly some actions have earthly consequences based on man's laws.  If I murder someone, I can expect jailtime, regardless of how right I make it with God.  But my life may just become the most effective tool for Christ in that prison.  It's not an end-all based on man's definition of sin, but on God's definition of redemption.  It's not about levels of sin.


  1. I have been studying Romans with some men on Wednesday mornings. We uncovered a key to overcoming our sinful nature in Romans 8:13 - "13For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live,". This verse tells us we can use Holy Spirit to put to death the misdeeds of the body also known as sin or the sinful nature. In Romans 7 we learned we have two parts - a sinful nature and a spirit saved by grace. Paul tells us we choose in our mind to be God's sons. If we choose to live by Holy Spirit's power, we receive life in our mortal bodies. If we live according to our sinful nature we die. I am so thankful to know the key to beating my sinful nature is by asking for the Spirit to put it to death. I have also seen this work in my life. Now the challenge is to make the choice to submit to Him, His way of life, and His love.

  2. Studying this out again a month later with some other scriptures I really appreciate your insights regarding Romans. To be crucified with Christ is the goal. The greek for "crucified" is very literally a staking down of the flesh unto death. It keeps coming full circle with Galatians 5 and the Fruit of the Spirit. These are the evidences of walking the Life of the Spirit that I need to cultivate daily, even moment by moment. That choice of submitting to Him is not always easy or what my flesh wants, but it is what is required to walk according to the Spirit - hence the struggle between putting the old man down and living in the new life God has given us. Thank you for the encouragement!