Friday, April 29, 2005

Is All Sin Equal?

I quoted Miss O'Hara the other day, who pleaded with American churches to stop fixating on homosexuality to the exclusion of other sexual sin that is rampant in the church. Obviously, I agree with many of her thoughts on the issue; I think it's important to expose all sin and decry its effects on us. There is an inherent contradiction in bemoaning the rise of homosexuality while watching Will and Grace and waving good-bye to your daughter, who's going out for a date dressed like a tramp. (For more on the hypocrisy of American TV-watching--and a REALLY OLD post for this blog--go here).

But does any of this mean that all sin is equal? That there is no difference between one sin and another? Yes and no.

All sin is an affront to God's holiness and character, and all who sin (um, that's everyone) are guilty before Him. In that sense, yes, all sin has the effect of creating a gulf between us and God that only a Savior could bridge. That was His ministry of reconciliation, the message of which we've been entrusted to bring to all men.

Rom 3:21-25
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it--the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

1 John 3:4
Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.

So everyone has sinned and is in need of a savior. Even Mary, the woman who found favor in the sight of the Lord to carry in her womb the Son of God, acknowledged her need for a savior, and was told by an angel that a sword would pierce her soul, too! In this way the ground is level at the foot of the Cross: the vilest pedophile, the grossest liar, the bloodiest murderer can find forgiveness, cleansing, and a new Life--a new start--in Jesus Christ. But for the unrepentant, there are degrees of sin and condemnation, and Jesus warns about this.

Rom 2:9-11
There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.

Col 3:25
For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.

There is ample evidence in the Bible, which I'd like to explore in a cursory way today, that all sin is NOT equal in God's eyes. It's not even going to be punished equally--just as rewards for the saints will be different (and this is the unpopular part): according to their deeds. On one hand, I think anyone can grasp this. Should an unrepentant liar who goes to hell be punished to the same degree as Hitler, who was responsible for the deaths of millions? What just judge would render that decision? God is impartial, completely holy, and both merciful and JUST.

1 John 5:16-19
If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life--to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

There are MANY places one could go with the above passage, but my only point here is that John is drawing a distinction between some sins and others, and admonishes the believers that no one who is following Christ is also practicing sin (on an ongoing, habitual basis).

Jesus warned the Pharisees that they were headed for greater condemnation, I believe for many reasons: they knew the Messiah was from God (John 3:2) and yet fought against Him, they led the people astray (Matt 23:15), they were consumed with a lust for power and concerned with outward appearances of holiness (Matt 23). What did Jesus say to them?

Matt 23:14-15,32-33
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves....Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers! You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?

Believers will also reap consequences and rewards for their works of obedience, the quality of which will vary when tested, according to 1 Cor 3. James warns believers who teach that they will incur a stricter judgment (James 3:1).

As unpopular as it may be to mention being judged by what you do, it's very Biblical.

Matt 16:26-27
For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.

Rom 2:3-8
Do you suppose, O man--you who judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself--that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.

2 Cor 11:14-15
No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.

2 Tim 4:14
Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.

All of these passages are not just saying that a sinner will be punished. They are punished according to their deeds, or rather, according to what their deeds deserve before a just and holy God.

Hebrews 10:26-31 (capitalization is in the NASB)
For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?

How much severer punishment? That statement by itself shows there are degrees of punishment in hell.

SO, if you are still with me, all of this is not to say that Miss O'Hara was wrong, or that we should say, "Whew! I am a liar, but at least I am not an adulterer!" or "Whew! I am an adulterer, but at least I am not GAY!" By no means. Everyone who is not cleansed by Jesus' blood and living a holy life will not have a part in the Kingdom of Heaven. I don't want to be concerned personally with DEGREES of punishment, do you? I want to be with Jesus!

But since the Bible does address the issue, and there is general confusion about it that I observe in the church today, I wanted to address it briefly. It is very common to hear people say, "Well, all sin is's all the same to God." It's not all the same to God, and I think our very consciences testify to us that a teenager who steals a shirt should not be punished in the same way a rapist should. We have this sense of fairness and justice because of our Creator, who alone is able to judge these things righteously.

As for us, let us serve the Lord and focus on His hand at work, trusting and knowing that He is in control--and, in That Day, will do no more or less than His wonderful just and merciful nature requires.

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