Monday, May 11, 2009

Degrees of Sin?

This quote is from a facebook message and is the context for my reply, which is the bulk of this post:

Hey Josh, Remember that old facebook note that I had for my paper on how we tend to rank sin but in God's eyes sin is sin? You had commented on that saying that that is not necessarily correct and you gave your views on it. Well, I deleted that note after I finished my paper but my mom for some reason is asking for me to get your response to that again. If you could tell me again, that would be great. Thanks so much

I vaguely remember the note, so I can only tell you what I think based on the info you've just given me.

The scripture usually in question here is James 2:10, which says, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it."This is the great equalizer. The truth of this statement keeps people from becoming arrogant about their righteousness as compared to that of others. For example, "Well, I only steal paper clips, but you are a homosexual. Therefore, I'm not as sinful." We see from the context of James 2 that what we're dealing with is the law of freedom (the gospel) vs. the law of justice (Judaism). James is saying that even if we live by rules and regulations, there's no room to boast. Whether you're an olympic swimmer or an amateur, treading water from New York to London is a hopeless cause, and that's what the law requires.

But we don't live by rules and regulations. We live by grace. Even so, as Paul is clear to mention in Romans 6, we don't simply go on sinning just because grace is there to pick us up. Why? Because there are concequences to our actions. These consequences are both physical and spiritual, and both personal and communal. The heart of the gospel is to restore peace between God and man and between all humans. If an action or attitude does not restore that peace, then we want to avoid it, because our calling is to be peacemakers. If an action or attitude is destructive, well then that's certainly not peacemaking.

So all of that is a foundation for this: There are varying degrees by which some actions or attitudes tear down the kingdom.

Homosexuality is destructive physically because we are, as Paul says, "sinning against our own bodies," but also spiritually, because we are altering the image of God in our souls as male or female. It's destructive personally because it's one's own lifestyle choice, but it's destructive communally because society's foundational institution is the family, and when we're broken at the foundation, there's not much hope for us elsewhere.

Now, compare that to a stealing a paperclip, and you see the vast difference in consequences, even though both break peace with God and man and therefore warrant eternal seperation.

Stealing a paperclip is definitely a physical injustice and a personal flaw. It also has the potential to affect the safety of the community who can no longer trust their things to be safe, which has spiritual remifications for their ability to be vulnerable. Everything is interconnected, which is why a breaking of the peace in one aspect of life is a big deal, and why our job as peacemakers is a huge calling. The Hebrew idea of "shalom" is supposed to conjure an image of a carefully woven tapestry without a single thread out of place.

Now, compare stealing paperclips or being gay to judging your homosexual brother. Maybe there are no obvious physical consequences, but peace is certainly broken as you have become self-righteous, hateful, exclusive, and prideful. And those attitudes deprive your community of at least one peacemaker, which is in itself destructive.

We make far bigger a mess than we are helpful cleaning up, but think about a child who has spilled milk all over the floor. Maybe the child's "help" isn't really all that helpful in the cleaning up process, but their parent certainly does delight in the spirit of repentance and making things right if that child desires to "help" fix his or her mess by grabbing a towel and at least getting down there. God is gracious to us all as a loving Father, and we are peacemakers as a sign of our grateful hearts that he forgave us while we were yet milk-spillers.

In short: we're all hopelessly messy, but some messes are bigger than others and at least some messes are avoidable, so we should try our best not to spill any more and stop pretending like we aren't just as hopeless as the next guy.

Hope that helps.


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