What is the worst sin you can think of? Murder? Denying Christ? Sex outside of marriage? Hurting a child? Humanity is capable of some pretty awful things. If I asked you to think of the least harmful sin, what comes to mind? You might think of little, white lies or a sin of omission. If we asked God the same questions, I don’t think He’d have an answer for either. So often we rank sin on a sliding scale from not-so-bad to really, truly awful. But God doesn’t see sin that way.
Everything that isn’t holy is sin
When my siblings and I were little my mom described it this way. “There’s God,” she told us “who is holy. And then there’s everything that isn’t God, that isn’t holy, and that’s all sin.” There are only two options: perfect God and imperfect humans. We see a world in shades of grey but God tells us in His Word that when it comes to sin, it's black and white.
Some sins are easier to see than others, but that doesn’t make them worse. Romans 3:23 says quite clearly that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” It doesn’t say that some only sinned a little. What makes a "shades of grey" view of sin so dangerous is the behavior that can come out of it. It is a skewed view of sin and it can skew the way we view a lot of other things as well.
Seeing sin on a sliding scale can lead to judging others
It is incredibly easy to point to someone whose sin seems outrageous and think, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as her.” Pride is right at the heart of judging. As soon as I start judging someone else, I’ve put myself in God’s role, and I am absolutely unqualified for the position.
Ranking some sins as worse than others leads to self-justification
If we stray from the idea that all sin is equally sinful, it’s easy to believe that a particular sin isn’t that bad. It can lead to wondering, “If it’s just a little sin, do I really need to confess it?” Again, the Bible is quite clear. Luke 16:10 says, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” All sin is sin. All sin needs to be dealt with as quickly as possible.
Setting up a scale of bad to worse creates the idea of an "unforgivable sin"
If we set some sins up as “worse” than others, Christians and non-Christians alike can be caught in the lie that they have done something that God could not forgive. What hope is left for someone who feels they are outside of God’s willingness to forgive? Imagine what a terrifying place that would be.
Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I believe that God is willing and able to forgive a contrite heart. In Scripture, the process of confession, repentence, and forgiveness comes up over and over again. Look at the history of the Israelites. How many times did they walk away from God and how many times was He willing to receive them back? There were consequences to their actions, there were delays and pain, but each time they came running back, God was there with open arms. So why do we expect it would be any different now?
Community: The antidote to sliding-scale thinking
Francis Shaeffer asked, “How should we then live?” If he was alive today, he might have said “now what?” Judgment is all about casting out, shunning, and shaming an individual. The farthest we can get from that is extending community. That’s not to say that we turn a blind eye to ongoing sin, but if someone is making an honest effort to come back to God, we can be part of the welcoming committee.
Years ago, a friend of mine showed up at church one Sunday morning clearly pregnant and very much alone. Some of the looks she received as she walked in to the sanctuary could have slayed dragons. No one needed to tell her that as an unmarried woman she wasn’t supposed to be pregnant. She already knew that — she and God were working it out.
It took an amazing amount of courage for her to walk into church that day. It would not have taken much to convince her not to try it again. But she was welcomed, and as a result, she was able to be exactly where she needed to be — in church. She was there reaching out to God who never stopped reaching out to her.
God is invitational
We are all equally in need of grace. The wonderful news is that God’s grace is sufficient. It is enough for you, enough for me, and enough for the person I mistakenly feel might be irredeemable. God does not say, “Get your life cleaned up, and when you’ve got it all together, come on in.” Instead He says in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
God asks for repentance, no question there. But He also welcomes the seeking and accepts all who ask to be forgiven. Is there someone on the fringes of your community or in your church who is weary and burdened? Could you be the person who demonstrates a little of what God’s invitational love looks like? Maybe it’s as simple as smiling and saying hello. Perhaps it is inviting them to sit with you in the service or chat afterwards or go for coffee. Maybe it is simply being able to say, “I’m not here to judge.”
When we can see sin for what it really is, we can see ourselves as we truly are — an equal community, guilty in a variety of ways but redeemed under one grace. Everyone has sinned, but His grace is enough if we humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness. God doesn’t grade on a curve, thank Heaven for that!