I had an argument with someone recently over the severity of sin. This person took great offense to the suggestion that she was no better than someone upon whom she looked down, and my assertion was that no, sin was sin – and a whole lot of little things fell out of the rather heated discussion.
For one thing, it took me a while to remove my emotions from the argument – and it was an argument, not just a heated discussion. That was probably wrong of me; I normally try to keep my emotions out of it, but just like the assertion offended the other party, her assertion that she was better than someone else offended me.
The thing is: I understand her point. It’s easy for us to say “I’ve never murdered; I’ve not stolen; I’ve not coveted another’s wife; I’ve not done this, I’ve not done that.”
Compared to someone who has done those things, whatever they are, it’s easy to say to yourself that God approves of your actions more than he approves of theirs – if He approves of theirs at all.
From a human standpoint, from the standpoint of the individual, this is probably true. If there’s a scale, and for us there is a scale, then yes, one who’s murdered another is “worse” than one who has not, all other things being equivalent.
But my point was that our scale does not matter. Here on Earth it does, I suppose; I’d not suggest the same sentence in jail for one who’s shoplifted and another who’s killed in cold blood.
Yet to God, there is no scale. I’m one of those people who hates litmus tests for people, but God uses one as the criteria for salvation, and praise be to His Holy Name that it’s the lightest burden to carry Man has ever known.
The test God uses is not: “Have you sinned?”
The test God uses is: “Have you accepted redemption through Christ’s death on the cross for your sins, and His resurrection?”
If you can say “yes” to that question, then everything you have ever done apart from that decision is irrelevant. God removes your sin from you, as far as the east is from the west. (See Psalm 103:12.)
Further, God tells us that there’s no gradation of sin – James says that if you’ve broken any of the law, you’ve broken all of it (James 2:10).
So we can see here two points of view: one is human, and says (correctly) that some sins are worse than other sins. This isn’t a new consideration; the rabbis held that anything short of murder was reparable.
The other point of view is God’s, and it says that all sin separates Man from God, and that all sin is reparable through Jesus Christ.
What, then, should we use as our perspective?
Well, it depends.
It’s understandable that we’re repelled by certain sins. Child abuse, for example, is horrible; once someone has shown that they’re an abuser of children, skepticism towards their rehabilitation is understandable (even if they are rehabilitated.)
That said, if one is a brother or sister in Christ, then… they are a brother or sister in Christ.
The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) hits this head on.
In this parable, a son wanders away from his father, entering into a wasteful life; he returns, penitent and regretful. (He asks to be treated as if he were a hired servant, not a son, in verse 19.) The father instead treats him as a treasure, once lost but now found, celebrating his return.
The story concludes with the older son, who resents the acceptance and celebration of the return of his brother.
28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'” (Luke 15:28-32, ESV)
The older brother’s perspective is understandable, in my opinion; he’s wondering why nobody celebrated his continual obedience while this wayward brother’s return is seen as a wonderful thing.
He’s focused on the wrong thing; he’s still looking at the sin, the leaving of the son from his father’s household, where the father is focused instead on the son’s return.
What a wonderful picture of the forgiveness of Christ, and how we should see those who turn to Him, no matter what their past has been! The brother is using the human perspective; the father is using the perspective of our Father in Heaven.
Clearly, we should strive with all of our being to see others as God sees them, and not as we in our human frailty and pride see them.