Your Sin is Worse Than My Sin
To some Evangelical Christians, divorce, and subsequent remarriage, is pretty close to being an unpardonable sin. On the other hand, homicide, if the murderer is appropriately penitent, is acknowledged by the same people as eminently forgivable. Christians appear to have a need to develop a hierarchy of sins.
The author grew up a Roman Catholic – I became an Evangelical Protestant as a young man. During the Roman Catholic phase of my life I encountered my first experience with the practice of ranking sins from not too bad to awful. The Roman Church holds to the differential of venial verses mortal sins. If you did not confess a mortal sin to a priest and receive absolution, you would no longer be in “a state of Grace” and hence, you could not partake in the sacraments of the church. Worse yet, if you were to die with an unconfessed mortal sin on your soul you would be in danger of going to hell. On the other hand, a venial sin is not nearly as dreadful as a mortal sin. You can remain in a state of grace while committing venial sins and still receive the sacraments. Better yet, an unconfessed venial sin will not send you to hell if you die. However, it will add to the time you will have to spend in purgatory. The Roman Church has lists of sins which provide their members with guidance about specific aspects of sin. Interestingly, within the last year, The Catholics have developed an I phone app (Confession: A Roman Catholic App), to help their believers navigate the sin / confessional matrix.
When I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior, I thought I had passed beyond the bondage of sin differentiation into the joy of freedom in Christ (cf. John 8:36). Alas, I soon I realized that Evangelical Christianity has its own sin ranking system. Too be sure, it is not as formalized as the Roman Church’s, but it is still very evident. Furthermore, it appears that some evangelical sins wax and wane depending on the cultural epoch. Take for instance the sins of adultery and fornication. There was a time, not too long ago, when almost every state in the
considered adultery to be a felonious crime.
One could go to jail for having an extramarital relationship. Obviously, this sin has been in sharp
declination of importance within the general culture, as well as in the
evangelical sin hierarchy. One has only to notice the marital history of
various political candidates, who have been supported by many evangelicals, to
witness the diminished importance of this sin.
Likewise, there was a time when Evangelical churches taught their young people about the dangers of fornication, which was considered to be a serious sin. Around 1970, that began to rapidly change. Within the general culture the idea of fornication as a sin is now an almost ludicrous notion. It has now become normative for couples to sleep with each other shortly after meeting. There does not appear to be much difference between Evangelicals and non-believers in terms of such sexual conduct. To be sure, some Fundamentalists have tried to eliminate dating and switch to things like herd-dating. Likewise, virginity pledge endeavors, such as “True Love Waits,” are another attempt to call Christians back to keeping sex within the framework of marriage. Unfortunately such efforts seem to have little effect upon the current sexual behavior of Christians in this society.
The sins ranked at the awful level for contemporary Evangelicals appear to be abortion and homosexuality. These have drawn a huge amount of attention, especially during the recent political campaign. While these behaviors are Biblically offensive to God, are they worse than an economic system that allows the poor and powerless to be savaged? Certainly there is relatively little said in the Bible about homosexuality and abortion, compared to the substantial number of passages that relate to the mistreatment of the poor and the powerless. Indeed, if you regard the implications of just Matthew 25:24-46 alone (I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, etc.), it would seem our lack of concern for the poor is considered to be a really major offense by God.
The point is not about which sins are worse – rather it is why we rank them at all. Obviously, all sin is offensive to our holy God. Many of us rank sin largely to satisfy the pharisaical urge to be better than others. Consider the two men that Jesus refers to in Luke 18:9-14. One is a self-righteous Pharisee who tells God in prayer how much better he is then assorted criminals and a nearby tax collector. The tax collector – who the Pharisee referred to – stood off at a distance, beat his breast and earnestly said, “God have mercy on me a sinner.” Jesus finishes this parable by noting that it is the tax collector who is justified by God.
Sin is a part of the human condition; the Bible is very clear about this.
points out in Romans that, “All have sinned and
come short of the glory of God” (3:23). Likewise we are told that “If we say
that we are without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I
John 1:8). So sin is inescapable, even in the lives of those who believe in
Christ. Then, to complicate this, Jesus
says that “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). But we
can’t seem to keep his commandments, so we sin. Does this mean we don’t love
Jesus? God has given us a way out of
this in by telling us that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and
will forgive us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). So we are back into a love relationship with
God. But – wait a minute – does this mean that since we are continually sinning
that we have to continual be confessing our sins, in fear that God will no
longer love us? Saint
This is where the love of God comes in, and it’s a two-way street. God is not an old man in a nightgown who is out to zap us when we fail. Consider the parable of the prodigal son
(Luke 15: 11-32). The son uses up his inheritance in really depraved, sinful circumstances. When he hits rock bottom he goes back to his father in shame and defeat. Amazingly, the father is jubilant at his return and welcomes him back with delight. Wow! This is what God is all about with us.
God really, really loves us in ways that we simply cannot comprehend. God just wants us to love Him in return. If we love Him and spend time with Him each day, he will show us our sins and help us to grow past them. As God exposes our sins in love, our job is to confess them and try to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This should be a part of the normal Christian walk, an experience of joy in the Lord, rather than that of dread. Thank you Lord for the joy of our salvation!
Note, the author of this piece was Brendan Furnish