Little Sins

I was reading yet another article on the travails of Mark Driscoll (a whole separate topic) when I came across this statement:

It seems that these are the three areas where Christians most likely to fall into sin—pride, sex, and love of money.” … First John 2:15-17 calls them, “All that is in the world—the lust of the flesh [sex], the lust of the eyes [love of money], and the pride of life.” In other words—passions, possessions, pride.

It’s true that we tend to consider these the “Big Ones.” Most sins can be placed into one of these three categories. For example, we’re told not to covet our neighbors’ goodies. That would fall under “lust of the eyes.” We’re not to covet his wife either, lest we succumb to “lust of the flesh.”

But what about all the other sins? Are there “big sins” and “little sins”? Do some matter more than others? It’s obviously wrong to murder someone, but how about dishing up some dirt sharing some prayer requests for them? Yeah, that’s gossip, but gossip isn’t that bad, is it? After all, we have entire magazines devoted to it!

We know we aren’t supposed to lie. There are dozens of verses on the evils of lying. (Politicians are apparently exempt from this prohibition.) But what if your best friend asks if you like her haircut? Don’t we all say it looks terrific, no matter how bad it looks? (On the other hand, “terrific” literally means “inspiring terror,” so technically we could be telling the truth.)

As a new believer, I found myself struggling to overcome big, obvious sins. I wasn’t tempted to murder, but there were plenty of other ways to disobey God, and a lot of them looked pretty attractive. As I grew in my faith and developed some spiritual muscles, I began to feel pretty good about myself. After all, I never got drunk. I didn’t swear. I wasn’t robbing any banks, and I still hadn’t killed anybody. God must be pretty pleased at how I was shaping up, right?

Then the Holy Spirit gently opened my eyes. Sure, it’s not all that difficult to avoid the Big Ones. But what was I doing about my critical attitude, my lack of self-control (I wish there was an exception for chocolate), or my self-centeredness?

As a church, we tend to focus on the more obvious, public sins. We’re horrified if someone has an affair or abuses their kids (and rightly so). But then there are the other sins. Some are hidden; no one knows we are sinning except God. Who else knows when we’re envious of another’s success, for example? Others are socially acceptable—cheating on our taxes, driving over the speed limit (gulp), grumbling and complaining. Even premarital sex no longer raises an eyebrow.

To a great extent, as the culture goes, so goes the church. That celebrity just had a baby with her boyfriend? Great, now we can do that too! Our leaders lie? It must be all right then.

All these little sins may seem innocuous to us, but God has His own viewpoint. James writes, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”

Our culture has it all wrong. To God, sin is sin. There is no hierarchy. Jesus bluntly explained it during the Sermon on the Mount—we sin when we call others “Fool” or when we look at another person with lust. We squirm with guilt, and stop reading those passages—or assume that the standard is impossible (it is, at least from a human perspective), so we stop trying. But there’s a third alternative. We can let Jesus be perfect on our behalf, and allow the Holy Spirit to change us. That’s why the gospel is Good News!

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