Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Are There Lesser & Greater Sins?

            Andrew Murray1 defined sin as an assault against God. Millard J. Erickson defines sin as, “Sin is any evil action or motive that is in opposition to God. Simply stated, sin is a failure to let God be God and placing something or someone in God’s rightful place of supremacy.” 2

            Are all sins the same? Is stealing a loaf of bread the same as murdering the neighbor?

            The wages of sin is death, teaches the Bible3– small and big included.

            Wayne Grudem in his work Systematic Theology explains why all sins need not be construed as the same. However, in another sense, he asserts that all sins are the same.

            In a legal sense, even a very small sin makes us legally guilty before God and therefore worthy of eternal punishment. The classic case of Adam and Eve’s disobedience against God resulted in the penalty of death (Genesis 2:17 cf. Romans 5:16). That one sin made Adam and Eve sinners before God. They were no longer able to stand in HIS Holy presence.

            Galatians 3:10 and James 2:10-11 also teaches us that we are guilty even if we commit one small sin. Therefore, in the legal sense, every sin, large or small does not matter, makes us guilty before God.

            The Bible also teaches us that some sins are worse than others because they have more harmful consequences in our lives and in the lives of others, and in terms of our personal relationship to God as Father, they arouse HIS displeasure more and bring more serious disruption to our fellowship with HIM.

            When Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, he referred to a greater sin, “Jesus replied, “You would have no authority over me at all, unless it was given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of greater sin.”” (John 19:11, NET, Emphasis Mine). Jesus referred to Judas, who had known HIM for three intimate years, yet willfully betrayed HIM to death. Thus the sin of Judas was greater because of Judas’ far greater knowledge and malice connected with it.

            God while showing Ezekiel the visions of sins in the temple of Jerusalem referred to greater sins, “He said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing—the great abominations that the people of Israel are practicing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see greater abominations than these!”… He said to me, “You will see them practicing even greater abominations!”… He said to me, “Do you see this, son of man? You will see even greater abominations than these!”” (Ezekiel 8:6,13,15, NET, Emphasis Mine).

            Christ also refers to some sins as lesser than the others, “So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19, NET, Emphasis Mine).

            Similarly, Christ while pronouncing woes on the Pharisees said, ““Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You give a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you neglect what is more important in the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness!” (Matthew 23:23, NET, Emphasis Mine).

            Presence of lesser and greater commandments imply certain sins being of a lesser magnitude than the others or certain sins being worse than other sins in terms of God’s own evaluation of their importance.

            Wayne Grudem goes on to explain further.

            We can readily see how some sins have much more harmful consequences for ourselves and others and for our relationship with God. If I were to covet my neighbor’s car, that would be a sin before God. But if my coveting led me to actually steal the car, that would be a more serious sin. If in the course of stealing the car I also fought with my neighbor and injured him or recklessly injured someone else as I drove the car, that would be even more serious sin.

           Similarly, if a new Christian, who previously had a tendency to lose his temper and get into fights, begins witnessing to his unbelieving friends and, one day is so provoked he loses his temper and actually strikes someone, that is certainly sin in God’s sight. But if a mature pastor or other prominent Christian leader were to lose his temper publicly and strike someone, that would be even more serious in God’s sight, both because of the harm that would come to the reputation of the gospel and because those in leadership positions are held to a higher standard of accountability by God: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we will be judged more strictly.”(James 3:1, NET, Emphasis Mine) and “But the one who did not know his master’s will and did things worthy of punishment will receive a light beating. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48, NET, Emphasis Mine).

            Our conclusion, then, is that in terms of results and in terms of degree of God’s displeasure, some sins are certainly worse than others.

            June marks LGBTQ Pride month, so an application of the doctrine of greater and lesser sin to homosexuality would be appropriate.

            We can confidently assert that possessing a homosexual orientation need not be a sin if that orientation is not practiced via romantic gay relationships. A mere homosexual orientation excluding the lustful thoughts need not be a sin because the orientation does not lead to either lustful thoughts or a detestable homosexual behavior.

            Finally, here’s a prayer point. Let us pray that our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community will seek the power of the Triune God to not allow their orientation to give birth to sinful and detestable practices against God.


1Andrew Murray, a famous Christian writer, in his work The Joy of being Forgiven

2Christian Theology (Second Edition)

3Romans 6:23

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