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Friday, September 3, 2010

Weekly Trivia Files: Degrees of Badness

You may have noticed at some point that every culture in the world, and practically all of the world religions have some sort of "hierarchy of badness" in place--that is, some offenses that are considered worse than others.  For example, murder is viewed as an almost universal evil, but lying is usually considered to be a pretty mild transgression.

Again, speaking in generalities, these "degrees of wrong" are usually assigned different levels of punishments, and can often be reversed using another system of "levels of merit."  In this way, lying to your neighbor or the judge are less wrong, and more easily "worked off," than, say, burning your neighbor's barn or killing a child.

All of this tends to contribute to the notion that we have some leeway when we sin, depending on how bad it was or how easily reversible it is.

Christianity is different, because (despite what some churches teach), the Bible makes no distinction between different kinds of sin or their punishments.  In fact, we read the dreadful verdict, "There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," (Romans 3: 22b-23 NIV).  There is no hierarchy of badness and goodness here, because all are measured by the same measure, and none are above reproach.  By this measure, lying and murder are equally abominable, because they are both transgressions that testify against us and come against the very nature and glory of God (see Jeremiah 14: 7; Isaiah 59: 2, 12-14).  There are no levels of sin; all receive the same punishment, which is the curse of death (Romans 5: 12).

The story of Adam and Eve's fall even backs this up.  The first sins were not murder or some other "extreme" kind of sin, it was simple disobedience, followed by lying.  Adam and Eve both lied, shifting the blame for what they had done onto someone else, and at the same time, implying that their disobedience was somehow less grave than the sin the other had done (Adam: "I ate it, but she ate it first." Eve: "I ate it, but the snake tricked me first").  God didn't treat the sin of lying with any less harshness than the sin of murder that their son later committed (see Genesis 4: 10-16); both sins resulted in banishment from God and from all that they knew--this is just a foreshadowing of what death would be.

There are no degrees of badness, and we are all judged by the same standard, so no one can look down upon another for having done a "worse sin."  As Christians, we know that without Jesus' sacrifice to take away the reproach of sin, we would all be going to the same end. Because of this, we should all be honest about ourselves, and be humbled before God, so that He can exalt us.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody 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 up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—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 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18: 9-14 NIV)


Kamal Singarapu said...


It is so comfortable to believe that all the sins are wrong in their category but it is very difficult to believe that they are viewed of equal intensity and will be judged in like manner by God. We some how don't want to believe this as truth but it is. Thank you for putting the first two sins of [Adam & Eve sinning in the garden and Cain killing his brother] in context by showing that they are viewed of equal intensity.

There is an amazing truth that you shared in the later part of your blog. Here it is "There are no degrees of badness, and we are all judged by the same standard, so no one can look down upon another for having done a "worse sin."" God's one standard towards all the sins shows us His righteousness and it also does not allow us to boast in our sinfulness when we think that our sin is not that sinful when compared to others sins. There is no opportunity to boast. It is but the grace of God that we are all forgiven from all our sins by the blood of the Lamb of God.

Enjoyed reading this blog.

Rachel said...

Glad you enjoyed it! I posted this, and remembered one more Bible verse I didn't include, because it was slightly outside of the central topic of the post:
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2: 8, 9 NIV).

When we think some sins are worse than others, we begin to think that some can be worked out of, and we boast of how we've gotten ourselves out of trouble. The truth is that all sin puts us at the total mercy of God, without any remedy within our power. What a wonderful thing it is that God chose to be so merciful to us, even sending His Son to die for our sins!

Thanks for reading. :)