Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Are There Degrees of Sin?

That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will he beaten with few blows” (Luke 12:47–48a).

A few years ago a secular psychologist published an article in which he attacked Jesus Christ for teaching that all sins are equally bad. According to this man, when Jesus said that a lustful look was equivalent to adultery of the heart (Matthew 5:28), He was saying that lust was just as bad as adultery. Clearly, wrote this man, this is a crazy idea. Lust may be wrong, but it is not as wrong as actually defiling another marriage by the act of adultery.

Had this gentleman looked more carefully at Matthew 5, he would have seen that Jesus was not teaching any such thing. All Jesus said was that inner lust is a form of adultery and inner hatred is a form of murder. He did not say inner hatred is just as bad as outward murder.

The apostle James wrote, “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). James is not saying all sins are equally heinous, but rather that God’s Law is, like Himself, a unity. To break any particular law, small or great, is to break the unity of the whole Law. To oppose God in little ways is still opposition. To put it as succinctly as possible: sin is sin.

Not all sins, however, are equally bad. Jesus made this clear when He warned the Pharisees, “You have neglected the more important matters of the law” (Matthew 23:23). Also, when Jesus was asked to state the greatest commandment, He did not respond with the idea that all laws were equal in weight.

What makes some sins worse than others? As Christians, we need to know the answer to this question because in our secular society there is a hierarchy of sins that is not the same as that in the Bible. On network television, it is permissible to take God’s name in vain, but certain sexual swear words are censored. This hierarchy of sin does not reflect biblical principles.

Sins directly against God are worse than sins indirectly against Him. Sins that hurt our neighbor are usually worse than self-inflicted wounds. Sins are aggravated when committed against authorities, or against the weak and helpless. A sin is worse if it leads others to sin.

Other factors which aggravate sin are those done with premeditation, committed after warnings from the church, or involving the breaking of solemn vows. Can you think of others? As you reflect on this study today, ask God to show you what sin you have which leads to further disobedience. Strive to stem the tide with the little things and give God glory for the victories.