Proper Perspective on Sin
All sin is equal in God’s eyes. The original word for sin meant to miss the mark. A standard was set, in this case God’s laws and covenants with his people, and that standard was missed. So then, there are not levels of sin that are better and worse than the rest. All sin breaks covenant with God. All sin — from lying about what you did last night, to hating your sister, to stealing from a giant corporation — is punishable by death. God does not distinguish levels of sin because a broken covenant is broken whether a little or a lot. So all sin requires the sacrifice that Jesus made for us.
Yet, on a human level it is obvious that different sins have varying degrees of consequences on earth. This is something we all know, even if we haven’t consciously taken the time to think about it. If I told you that the next time you lied about your weight at the DMV you would be sentenced to jail time, you’d know that was ludicrous. And if I told you that your neighbor was the one who burned your house down, and he was caught on video, but the police decided he only had to attend a one day seminar as punishment, you’d be furious. We know that some things deserve worse punishments than others on a human level.
Why is this then? From unnoticed to earth-shaking, every sin is deserving of death, but not every sin is deserving of the same earthly consequences. Laws would never pass that charged murder and lustful thoughts with the same punishment. Furthermore, to shift in a different direction, lots of sins are not even punishable by many countries’ laws. It’s not illegal to look at pornography, or to lie about your income, or worship a statue in the forest. To be sure, man’s law aligns with God’s law in some ways. In America, theft and murder are still illegal. It’s illegal to lie on certain government forms or in a court. But since so many sins happen internally, on just the level of thinking, no government that I know of is yet capable of criminalizing those.
It’s clear that on a human level, we have to distinguish larger from smaller offenses if we are going to thrive as a species. We simply can’t treat mass murderers in the same way we treat someone who values their money above their deity.
Yet, in the community of Christ followers, I think it is important that we continually work to shift our perspective on relative levels of sin. There is a significant stigma against those who struggle against homosexual desire, or who are actively engaging in a homosexual lifestyle, but no one pays attention to someone who refuses to tithe. Getting drunk every weekend is disgraceful but avoiding serving in the church is excused.
We can see in the book of James that, “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it,” (James 2:10, NIV). It’s clear then that God does not wish for those in his family to hold some sin as worse than others. It’s a disservice to the health of Christian community to hold onto the false idea that one sin is worse than another as far as our relationship with God is concerned.
I don’t have all of the answers for what this means in practice, within our church communities. I just know it is something that God truly wants us to understand. At the very least, I think it’s worth all of us taking some time to contemplate on. I think shifting our perspective so that we see sin as God does — that is, it all breaks covenant with him, as well as between one person and another — will help us learn to give each other more grace. When your faith in money rather than God is no worse than my selfish ambition, I will be more able to show you grace.
Coming to the place where we see sin more clearly is only the start, as putting that belief into action will certainly still take time and commitment. I just know that it’s something I think God ask of us. And I’m continually learning to respond when He asks something of me.