Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Worst Sin

In my last post, I wrote about "deal breaker sins" and the story of David and Bathsheba. That post is background for this one. The summary of that post is this: There are sins, whether we like to admit it or not, that we consider "deal breakers", sins like homosexuality, adultery, murder, illegal drug use, abortion, etc. But... If I have the same evil desires that David (or anyone guilty of a deal breaker) has, then why do I think my sins are not as bad as his? Can we classify sin at all? If we can classify sin, what is the worst sin of all?

I've heard and I've believed and taught that all sin is sin is equal. When I believed that, instinctively and intuitively, it just didn't seem right. Also, the fact that most consider "deal breakers" to be really bad indicates that this belief isn't really easy to accept. I know that my instincts and intuition and behavior are not standards for truth. However, when something clearly violates these, it does give me reason to pause, consider, and re-examine. I've discovered that sins are not equal. It's obvious to most anyone that all sins are not equal in terms of consequences and in terms of their effect on other people. So, I won't deal with those two senses of inequality in this post. This post will focus on what the Bible says and what Jesus taught about the inequality of sins.

So what does the Bible say? Are some sins worse than others? Let's begin by establishing that Jesus does, at least once, point out that not all sins are equal. Pilate had freed a guilty murdering, thieving rebel named Barabbas (Mark 15:7; John 18:40) . Then, he brutally beat an innocent Man nearly to death (John 19:1). After this, Pilate is demanding an answer from this bloody, bruised, humiliated, dying Man and threatens Him with his power. Jesus replies, "You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin." (John 19:11)

From this passage, it seems reasonable to conclude that not all sins are equal. Judas (or Caiaphas, not sure which is being referred to here) had a greater sin than Pilate. If the sin of handing Jesus over was greater than Pilate's abuse of power, cowardice, brutal beating, and murder, then the sins that are most repulsive to me may not be the greatest sins.

When you couple this statement of Jesus with His statements that it will be more tolerable for Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom in the judgment than it would be for Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum (Matt. 11:21-24), it seems that even the punishment for some sins is more severe. Seem impossible? Then what is the point of Hebrews 10:29? Some sins deserve and will receive a more severe punishment. Consider also Lamentations 4:6. Some translations say "the punishment for the iniquity of ... my people ... is greater than the punishment of Sodom". Others say "the iniquity of ... my people ... is greater than the sin of Sodom". I can't make sense of all of these verses without concluding that some sins are greater than others.

Having looked at some passages that deal directly with this, let's now approach this logically. A few months ago, I wrote about weightier matters of the law. Logically, if some parts of the law are weightier than other parts of the law (Matthew 23:23), does it not follow that violating the weightier commandments is worse than violating the ones that are less weighty? Please don't misunderstand. I'm not suggesting that we can ignore the less weighty matters. I'm not suggesting that any sin is "not so bad". Just as all of God's word is pure and right, all sin is corrupt and wrong and evil. But, just as not all of Scripture is equal, not all sins are equal. I think I've more or less known deep down all along that they're not equal, but I've classified them all wrong. What are really the greater sins?

What are the weightier matters according to Matthew 23:23? Faith, justice, and mercy. What do those have in common? They are heart based virtues. They are qualities that are cultivated inwardly and are not easily observable or measurable. What are the two greatest commandments? Love God and love your fellow man. If these are the greatest commandments and sin is disobedience, then does it not follow that the greatest sins are to disobey these greatest commandments? To lack love, faith, mercy, and justice?

Following Christ is a matter of the heart. This is the essence of "I desire mercy and not sacrifice." Following Christ isn't about prettying up the outside. It isn't about just avoiding the deal breakers. It isn't about obeying laws for the sake of obeying laws. It's about cultivating virtues in your heart. It's about allowing Christ to dwell in you and take away your evil, selfish desires and to replace them with perfect graceful character traits. It's about cultivating those virtues to maturity. It seems to me that this is the point Jesus is making in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:21-48. Rather than simply avoiding murder, you should avoid anger and keep vengeance out of your heart. Rather than simply avoiding fornication, you should remove lust from your heart. Rather than loving only your neighbors, love everyone, including your enemies. Following Christ is a radical inward change.

Still in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus uses hyperbole to show that some sins are greater. In Matthew 7:1-5, He talks about a splinter and a beam. If I'm right about what I've written in these two posts, then this would imply that correcting others faults in a merciless, unjust, unloving way is exactly what Jesus was talking about here. Having evil desires, lust, pride, laziness, injustice, being unloving, being unkind, being unmerciful, those are beams. I admittedly have beams in my eye. When I'm perfect in my faith, mercy, justice, and love, when I have conquered laziness, lust, and pride, then I'll feel like I'm qualified to judge others. Until then, I'll follow Jesus instruction to "Judge not." Right now, I'm too busy working with Christ to remove my beams to be picking at splinters in others' eyes. God alone is judge.

I have seen and participated in my share of unloving judgment and condemnation of others. If the greatest commandment is to love, then it follows that the worst sin is to withhold love. Who is the worse sinner, the murderer, homosexual, adulterer, addict, etc. or the one who hates the murderer, homosexual, adulterer, addict, etc.? When I shun and avoid and berate and gossip about and slander those who are struggling with sin, when I fail to show them the love of Christ (Christ who loves me and reaches out to me while I am a sinner), I am guilty of the worst sin, even worse than the deal breakers.

To be clear, if you interpret these posts to mean that I believe that murder, homosexuality, adultery, etc. are NOT sinful or are not so bad, then I have failed miserably to communicate my message. Those are sins. Period. However, withholding love is a greater sin than any of those. I pray that I will learn to show love to the guilty, more like Him.

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