Monday, October 29, 2012

Are Some Sins Worse Than Others?

I have been often asked whether some sins are worse than others.

My reply is that I suppose that depends on what the questioner means by "worse."

On one hand, we can say that all sins are equal in their adequacy to condemn the sinner to hell and make him liable to the judgment of God. In that we respect, we can answer the question with a qualified "no." No one particular sin is worse than another.

Jesus taught, for instance, in the Sermon on the Mount that anger is equivalent to murder (Matthew 5:21-22) and that lust is equivalent to adultery (Matthew 5:27-30). But this equality is in respect to the pronouncement of guilt made necessary by the sin. In both cases, the mental sin (anger/lust) has the same damning power over the sinner as the actual committal of the sin (murder/adultery) would have.

Too, we can say that all sins are equivalent in that they are a violation of the holiness of God and are tantamount to what R.C. Sproul called "cosmic treason." There is no such thing, then, as a sin (no matter how small) that is not an affront to the majesty of God's nature. A peccadillo (literally: small sin) is an oxymoron.

I might also add another way in which all sins (when confessed) are equal: they can be forgiven. The Apostle John reminds us, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:8-9, ESV).

On the other hand--and I think this is highly significant--we shouldn't pretend for a single moment that being angry with a brother or calling someone a fool has consequential equality with committing murder. In the former, a man burns with hatred in his inner life; in the latter a dead body lies bleeding on the ground. In the same way, only a fool would suggest that lust has equality of consequence with actual committed adultery.

A number of Scriptures suggest the inherent inequality of the consequences of sin, including: Luke 12:47-48; John 19:11; Hebrews 10:29 [cf. 2:2-3]; 1 John 6:16. By the way, the first text listed in Luke's Gospel seems to suggest that hell itself will be worse for some than others.

This is why repentance and confession of sin must be in relation to the destructive "real time" power of sin. Personal, private sin may require no more than sincere and immediate repentance between the redeemed sinner and his Redeemer.

A man who unexpectedly lusts over a tawdry billboard while driving up 75N, for instance, does not likely need to do any more in confession than immediately repent, even while he is still driving. (Of course if lust is a perpetual problem and a repeated stumbling block for him, he may seek the counsel and comfort of confession of sin alongside his pastor or elders).

If that lust is physically carried out in such a way that he actually commits adultery--he breaks his covenant with his wife, destroys the marriage of another man, and dishonors his family and church--his confession will likely need to be public.

In this sense, then, all sins are by no means "equal." Some sins destroy the inner-life of a man. They burn like a house-fire in his heart while the man is destroyed from the inside out. And yet other sins break out of the heart and burn like wild fire. They destroy not only a man, but his family, his church, and possibly even his country.

These sins are no doubt "worse."

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. Please consider following on Twitter at @matt_everhard. 

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