Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Degrees of Sin

"Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8).

In the Middle Ages, Roman Catholic theologians formulated a distinction between venial and mortal sins. Venial sins are relatively slight, being committed without full reflection. Mortal sins, they said, are sins that are so wicked that they destroy the justifying grace of God in the soul. If you die in a state of unconfessed mortal sin, you will not be saved.

The Protestant Reformers rejected that distinction, and because of this, some Christians have come to believe that all sins are equally bad in God’s eyes. In one sense that is true, because every sin is an act of rebellion against God, and in terms of justice every sin deserves eternal damnation. The Reformers went on, however, to state that God does not always deal with us in terms of justice, but that He offers us salvation in the Gospel. Thus, Calvin concluded that all sins are mortal in the sense that we deserve death from them, but no sin is mortal in the sense that it can destroy saving grace.

Beyond this, the Reformers clearly taught that there is a difference between petty sins and gross, heinous sins. The Bible clearly teaches that such sins as adultery and murder are not to be overlooked, but are to be subjects of church censure and/or civil action. At the same time, Christian love covers over a multitude of minor sins.

The Bible teaches us that there are degrees in hell, and that some sins are punished more severely by God than others (John 19:11; Luke 12:47–48). Why is this important? Because if we don’t make this distinction, we will be drawn into worse sins. If a man is having trouble with lust, he may think, “Well, I might as well go ahead and commit adultery, since I’m already guilty.” We must keep in mind that the punishment for adultery will be far more severe than the punishment for lust.

Even our “private” sins affect others since they affect us and our relationship with God. Be honest with yourself today and this week to face those areas in your life where you may be guilty of yielding to a greater sin by erroneously thinking all sins are equally bad in God’s eyes.