(Part Three of the Playing King of the Mountain with God, Series)
It’s been my observation that all of us, Christians and non-Christians alike, “rank” sins. And I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about it, but we Christians generally tend to rank at the top, the sins of others, rather than our own.
So, the gossip and the legalist notice the pastor is getting liberal. The pastor’s wife who struggles with envy, judges those in the church with money. Responsible, but stingy Christians are quick to remind everyone that it’s the poor and the lazy, who are being ruined by the welfare system.
And, conservative evangelicals have this in common; they all rank the big three, worst of all – pro-choice, gays and liberals. Thank heavens for them, or we’d never get out of bed in the morning with our guilt!
Ironically, Jesus is far more condemning of what some Christians tend to think of as soft sins or the “misdemeanor sins” of pride, materialism, failing to care for the poor, religious hypocrisy and failure to forgive generously, than he is of what we often think of as “felony sins.” Felony sins, like adultery, divorce, pornography, alcoholism or homosexuality.
So here’s what I think: To lessen our guilt, we Christians tend to vilify the sins we’re least likely to commit ourselves. Then, on top of that, using some internal, moral-actuarial table, we will credit ourselves for church attendance, having personal devotions, giving and generally being “good Christian people.” In our moral checking account, these good things, more or less offset the debits for our misdemeanor sins. And most of us figure we actually have a positive balance compared to most other Christians we know.
This, largely unconscious thought process, numbs our sensitivity to sin – our personal sin! And going back to the “playing king of the mountain with God” idea, we don’t always think of ourselves as “defying” God with our sin. It’s just part of what it means to be human, we tell ourselves. No one is perfect. But to sin, is to defy God.
God himself, does rank sins But there’s another falsehood I’ve heard repeatedly in evangelical circles, that “all sins are equal in the sight of God.” This falsehood may have it’s roots in a misunderstanding of verses like Romans 3:25, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Yes, every human is separated from God because of sin. But that doesn’t mean all sins are equally serious. How do we know that?
In Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, we find most of God’s laws to Israel. Disobeying certain categories of those laws, as in Leviticus 20, required death (sexual sins, offering children to Molech, and children who disobey and shame their parents, etc.). But the punishment for other laws was to make restitution, or atonement. Clearly, God considers some sins, more serious than others and so should we. Then we have these verses in the New Testament. “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
Yes, God has both the right and the authority to rank sins, but we Christians do not!
So then, how shall we live? In Luke 18, we read this: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ ‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ ‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’” Luke 18:9-14
Stop ranking anyone else’s sin, but your own. That doesn’t mean we can’t call out the sins of others in an attempt to keep them from hurting themselves, others, or embarrassing God. But, it does mean that before we do, we remember these words from Jesus. “ For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:2
Then with great sensitivity and gentleness, Paul instructs us on how to approach someone about a serious sin in their lives. “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” Galatians 6:1
An Assignment So, here’s an assignment for you. Spend 15-30 minutes meditating on this question; what sins did Jesus appear to condemn, or warn against the most?
Were you surprised with what you found? Please share “your” top five or six with us.
I think it’s time we Christians pay a lot closer attention to the sins God thinks are the most serious. My guess is that our soft sins are closer to Gods bulls eye than we’d care to admit. Because he is King of the mountain, he alone determines right and wrong – guilt or innocence.
How following Jesus works in real life.
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