On Sin, Brokenness, and What We Should Do About It

On Sin, Judgmentalism of Christians, and Brokenness

Judgment.

That’s become a really dirty word in Christian circles lately.

A whole rash of books (like Jefferson Bethke’s great Jesus>Religion) have been published in the last few years stating that Christians are too judgmental, and this makes us irrelevant in the wider culture. But even worse, we’re hypocritical, because God judges all sins the same.

Frequently the sin that is brought up in these books is homosexuality: Fundamentalists rail loudly against homosexuality, these authors point out, but they ignore the gluttony in the pews. They rail against sexual sin, yet do nothing about gossip and pride. And as such, we turn ourselves into huge hypocrites and become the butt of jokes. A better way to approach our culture, say these authors, is to say that we are ALL sinners and ALL in need of grace.

I have noticed this preoccupation with homosexuality and shoddy doctrine myself. For instance, here’s an article about the new “Trail Life USA”, an alternative to the Boy Scouts, that is launching with tremendous fanfare. They want to return to traditional values, and I certainly support that. But in the article, one Trail Life leader said,

As Christians from a scriptural basis, we love all folks, but the Scripture is very clear that being homosexual is a sin…

No, BEING a homosexual is NOT a sin.

Participating in homosexual behaviour or entertaining lustful thoughts are sinful, as is ANY sexual activity outside of marriage. But simply BEING a homosexual is not a sin. God does not punish us for temptations but for our misdeeds. To say that being a homosexual is a sin is so hurtful to those who are trying to get right with God. We’re saying that “even if you do the right things, you will still be condemned because of your temptations.” That’s not Christian doctrine, and it is very unfortunate that in so many Christian circles we talk this way. Language matters, and we must be careful with how we portray Christ.

So I agree with 90% of what Jefferson Bethke and others in this line of thought write, because I have seen it, too.

But I worry sometimes that we’re leaving out something important, and that’s sin’s effects on people. And so I’d like to share today my train of thought when it comes to judgment and brokenness.

1. We Are All Equally Deserving of Death–All Sin Makes Us Guilty

I completely agree that any sin makes us deserving of death and deserving of judgment. James 2:10 says:

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.

No matter what we have done, even if it is only “little” in our eyes, we are guilty of breaking the whole law.

There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. None of us can stand before God and say, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as THAT guy.” Christians shouldn’t be judgmental towards others, as if we are good and they are not. We are all guilty, and we all need Jesus.

2. Some Sins Contribute More to Brokenness

I once heard a very wise man say this:

The cost of lying is that you become a liar.

Sin changes us. The price that we pay is that we are no longer the same person. We are now identified with that sin. And here’s the rub: there are some sins that change us more than others. This is where I think some of the Christian authors today run the risk of trivializing the results of some sins. Yes, all sin makes us equally guilty before GOD, but some sins have more of an effect on US than other sins do.

1 Corinthians 6:18 says:

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.

There is something about sexual sin that has a profound effect on us. I think it’s because sexuality and our ability to experience true intimacy with others and with God are so intimately connected. God created us with all kinds of chemical reactions and hormonal reactions to sex that would, in turn, bond us to our spouse. When those chemical reactions start to be paired with sexual activity that isn’t within marriage, we start literally “rewiring the brain” so that what becomes arousing is not intimacy with a spouse but anonymous encounters, pornography, or something else. And soon we lose the ability to experience true intimacy, let alone the fullness of sexuality that God designed us for.

This impacts not just our sexuality but also our relationships with others. When sexuality becomes disordered, it affects how we view other people and how we view ourselves.

We are all broken, but some brokenness is just harder to have healed, and sexual sin seems to have tentacles that worm their way into all kinds of areas of our lives.

Acting on homosexual impulses is not the only sin, of course, that does this. It is one of the most serious, in terms of its effects, but a porn and masturbation addiction can do pretty much the same thing, and is far more rampant.

My fear is that by saying so loudly, “we are all equally guilty,” we risk diminishing the seriousness of the effects of some sins.

Here’s how I would say it:

All sins make us equally guilty before God, but some sins create more brokenness. Those who have sinned in those ways are even more in need of the support, love, and accountability that a church can offer.

People who are broken don’t need our condemnation; of that the authors are perfectly correct. But let’s still remember that there is brokenness, and if we stop acknowledging that, then we also stop offering hope for healing.

3. Not All Sins are Judged Equally

I do believe that we are equally guilty before God, and equally deserving of judgment. Absolutely. However, I don’t see evidence in Scripture that we will be judged in the same way. On the contrary, there are plenty of stories in Scripture that show that some will be judged most harshly. Here’s Matthew 11:23-24:

And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.

Those who reject Christ, when they have an amazing opportunity to accept Him, will be judged more harshly. Interestingly, they will even be judged more harshly than those who are best known for homosexual sins, showing again that God does not judge homosexuality as the worst sin at all.

Here’s another example that further illustrates what I’m saying about brokenness, from Luke 17:2:

It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.

God really doesn’t like it when people cause children, or young Christians, to stumble. Why? Quite often it’s in these moments that we cause real brokenness. Those who abuse children; those who introduce a young teen to pornography; those who divorce without good grounds and cause their kids to look elsewhere for their identity and for love and affection; these people need to be very wary on the day of judgment.

God cares about our brokenness. God knows that some things hurt and wound us deeply. Sin has horrible effects on us, and the only way to find true healing is through Christ. I do believe that we as Christians have been too quick to label certain things as horribly sinful, while also ignoring the sins that we ourselves practice. But please, in our efforts to right that wrong, let’s not forget about brokenness.

Brokenness is not God’s judgment on us; brokenness is simply the natural consequence of sin.

And brokenness is so sad, and so damaging, and often so intractable.

Brokenness should cause us to run to Jesus all the more, and if we as a church present the picture that God hates those who sin sexually, people are far less likely to achieve real healing. But if we also present a picture that all sin is equal and thus we are all equally broken, we also fail to give people a proper picture of what healing is.

We need both messages: we are all equally guilty, but some people desperately need major healing, and Jesus wants to give you that healing. That, I think, is the Christian approach to sin, and I hope that my attempt to flesh it out makes sense.



Comments

  1. “Not All Sins are Judged Equally”, but we really do not know how sins are judged. We can, however, see that some deeds have more serious effects than others. It might therefore be wise to condemn some sins more harshly than others based on the effect they have on individuals and society.
    For example, if you have a kid and do not want them to eat when they get home from school does it mater what they eat? If you reprimand them equally weather they eat a chocolate bar or a carrot, they are more likely to eat the chocolate. If, however, you explain that they should not eat because it will spoil their appetite for dinner, but that if they must eat, fresh vegetables are preferable to a sandwich, which is, in tern, preferable to chocolate, they are more likely to refrain from indulging.
    When it comes to male urges, they are much more difficult to repress for a boy in his late teens or early twenties than for a man in his forties. It is somewhat unfortunate that, in our society, a young man is likely to get married after his prime has passed – and there is no acceptable outlet until he is married. While I don’t claim to have a solution, it should be made clear to the young men that any action that has an impact on another person is particularly egregious.

  2. Beautifully written. And very well explained. I think we are we are all guilty. Some more so than others. I am not trying to be funny – I just mean that the consequences of sin (some sin) can be far reaching. And I agree – I think that God is far more concerned about divorce than about someone just being a homosexual. And we, as a church, need to acknowledge that. Thank you.
    The Baby Mama recently posted…The Great DeceiverMy Profile

  3. Great article! Thanks for being clear and concise, and taking it all back to God’s Word!

  4. Thank you! This post is so very timely for me. A family member blasted my husband and me for believing and teaching our daughters that sex should be saved for marriage, that we are not living in the “real world.” Do you have a recommendation for reading material supporting your stance on sexual activity and affects on intimacy, etc,?

    We are living this conflict that the church seems to call out certain sins – homosexuality, abortion – and not others. It is painful to hear as your heart goes out to people dealing with these struggles or maybe they are not struggling and just walk away feeling condemned.

    Whom do you seek for support? I feel trapped between two worlds.

  5. Sheila…

    AMEN! That sanctimonious behavior only pushes people further from the church…it does not welcome them. We are charged with encouraging people toward Christ. Thank you for your important message!

  6. sasha dence says:

    Well the homosexuality issue is really an issue isn’t it? If one is not sinful for being homosexual only for acting on homosexual desires, then one can be homosexual and sinless only if s/he never acts on it. The only option then is lifelong celibacy. That is very, very hard in this culture and most churches really can’t help someone live lifelong celibacy. It is hard.. It can be done, of course but. The other alternative is that Jesus heals homosexuality. I guess I’d have to say sometimes. He also heals MS, for example, but not always. I just feel we need a different answer to gays than either that Jesus will heal them or that they must practise lifelong celibacy. I think, having talked to many gays that that is their other big problem with Christians. That most really don’t get what those two answers are like. If you don’t get healed, you’re doomed to be always alone. Sure one can have friends, but… But. Of course, once someone is in a relationship with Jesus, a lot more can be accepted and borne, but it is only from the inside that that is possible. From the outside looking in, it looks terrible. We have to accept that for a homosexual person, their orientation is as deeply real to them as it is for a heterosexual person. If someone had tried to tell me that my heterosexual desires would be healed by Jesus, or, if they weren’t, I’d have to lead a life of, what 50 maybe 60 years of celibacy, I’m not sure I’d be a Christian today. Those messages are not what they seem to someone who is Christian.

    My understanding of following Christ is seriously participating in the reality of other people. When we point to scripture all the time as the final authority, I do not believe we follow Christ. I believe that scripture was on authority, the other was himself. One could argue that Jesus and scripture are the same thing — but Jesus himself, at the time, seemed to prize compassion more. He broke rule after rule — healing on the Sabbath, working on the Sabbath, etc. to show what ultimately matters. The hunger of his disciples, the suffering of a cripple, mattered more than the letter of the law. I agree that some sin causes more brokenness than others. I have seen first hand how some sin, sin our society accepts as ‘alright’, causes devastation, but I’m not sure we are in a place where we can really know the affects of all sins. I agree 100% about the fact that the worst affect of sin is that it changes the sinner. We become what we do. That is the horror of sin. We become adulterers, liars, cheaters, murderers, etc. Jesus said that to even harbour anger in our hearts against another is murder. We are thus, or most of us, all murderers. We won’t know how we have corrupted the original image of God that each of us was created to be until we get where we’re all going. My personal conviction is that we should focus on our own stuff and leave God to work out the sins of others. For ourselves, scrutiny — for others, compassion and forgiveness, and we’re not compassionate unless we live, for a day, someone else’s life. That is, experience the real lives of people, some of whom are gay, not deal with homosexuality as an issue.

    • I like your comment – especially the last part about focusing on our own stuff! As for “to even harbour anger in our hearts against another is murder”, yes and no. Murder is murder – but there is a difference between cold calculated execution and spur of the moment reaction (with lasting regret). I do not claim to know how God judges, but we as a society do, and should, view some actions as worst than others.

  7. sasha dence says:

    Oh and yes, Stanley’s point, about how much harder it is for young men than older men to control their sexuality. Yes, that is a valid point it seems to me. Testosterone is powerful stuff – I am only now — in my 50′s really understanding how powerful. Really really hard to control. Of course, it must be controlled and there were rules and laws that controlled in times of yore. No longer. So the Christian boy is in this double bind. I know my older son comes home from university and his unChristian friends give him such a hard time about remaining celibate before marriage. But he told me the harder time comes from being constantly inundated with images and messages that tempt, tempt, tempt. So far, he’s controlling it – so far sports and his faith are keeping him in line but it really isn’t the same for him as it is for my daughter who isn’t constantly controlling this volatile chemical in her system. And then masturbation is out too. Again, for my daughter this isn’t the temptation it is for him. I guess what I’m saying, it is harder for boys than for men or girls in this culture to remain pure, doesn’t our judgement have to be tempered by awareness? My youngest boy, for some reason, seems to have no problem (yet) with Christian rules. I guess what I’m getting at — the Christian rules weren’t written when we lived as long, married as late and lived in a culture dominated by some kind of sexual immorality as normative. I’m not saying that the rules therefore do not apply — they do in way more than ever — but Jesus also said, don’t judge. Ever. It wasn’t a request. he actually gave very few commandments – but that was one of them. The other was, love one another as I have loved you, and how he loved was by identifying with us — by being one with us as God is through Christ. Still working this out myself as a concerned mom.

    • Sasha, to your comment that the harder part comes “from being constantly inundated with images and messages that tempt, tempt, tempt” I would say the message is more of an issue than the images. By that I mean that nearly every program or movie that targets the young audience seems to have promiscuity either as a message or as a backdrop. It is very difficult to stay on the narrow path when every thing you hear (other than at church) seems to indicate that is not normal nor healthy. I really think our society has it backwards when we a scandalized by nudity (in movies) while we think nothing of the message of promiscuity!
      Good luck with your sons. It is not easy being the outcast because of your beliefs. Give support to your sons, keep the communication channels open, and pray!

      • Interesting point, Stanley. I have been doing a series on body image and am going to find a way to incoporate your idea. We spend more time and energy condemning the body and it”s natural attractivness that God intended while the message that accompanies the image is where the real harm is done. If you were to show a picture of Michelangelo’s David and a photo of a nude man in the same pose, the photo of the man would be deemed unsuitable and perhaps even pornographic, even with no verbal context given for either image. I am not advocating free reign on publishing nude photos, but pointing out that we have allowed and encouraged God”s creation to be demonized because it was co-opted by pornographers for their use, God did not create us with clothing to hide what was meant to be a source of joy, pleasure, fulfillment and a path to the living experience of a Holy relationship. Beauty has been externalized and is defined by physical standards that are perpetuated by a youth culture we boomers created. Now, we can no longer meet the standards we set and our wives are the most visible victims.
        Dan recently posted…“Look away! I’m hideous.”: Part 4My Profile

  8. Great post, Shiela!
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  9. Thank you for addressing this issue. Check out the following blog for some great insight concerning how we as Christians should love everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation. http://freedhearts.wordpress.com/
    Also, the book “Torn” by Justin Lee is excellent.

  10. Very well written! This is a great way to start a dialogue with your spouse, and also a good reminder that we need to be continuously praying to see people (including ourselves!) through God’s eyes.

    I would also like to note that I also feel that there is no sin in “being homosexual”, but I prefer to use the term “same sex attracted”. History seems to show that this attraction is pretty common and I would love to see brothers and sisters ask for help in this area without feeling like the need to label themselves as gay, lesbian, etc. For better or for worse there is a lot of emotion wrapped up in those labels!

  11. I agree with your post–clearly it wouldn’t be “judgement day” if God wasn’t making distinctions between sins. There would be nothing to judge–it would just be guilty/not guilty–and we’re all guilty. But that has to be balanced by the fact that we don’t know exactly how he sees/judges things and we don’t need to replace HIS judgement with our own.

    And I don’t want to get too deeply into the homosexuality debate, but I would like to point out that suggesting they remain celibate to avoid sexual sin is the same thing we ask of any Christian single (and I have unmarried friends who are in their 40s now) and the same thing that Catholics expect their priests to do. I also know of several family members who were widowed young and have remained alone for 30+ years. It is certainly not easy, but it’s not outside the realm of realistic either.
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  12. I have a genuine question about how being a homosexual is not being a sin. What makes a person a homosexual if they do not act/think out homosexual thoughts? They very well may have temptation (which I agree is not a sin) but what makes them homosexuals if they do not act on/ponder those temptations?

    Otherwise I think there is a lot of good truth in here. At Christians, the ultimate goal of sanctification is to be like Christ. He is not comparing sins, we are all guilty and have fallen short of His glory.

    • Alchemist says:

      Well, that would be the exact same as a heterosexual person thinking sexual thoughts/ entertaining sexual fantasies about a person that isn’t their spouse. They are just attracted to people of the same gender instead of the opposite gender.

      It’s simply lust. All lust is sinful. Me thinking sexual thoughts about a women or a man is exactly the sin.

    • Being attracted to the same sex isn’t a sin. Those are the natural feelings they are having. When you were a teenager and you were attracted to the opposite sex…you weren’t sinning b/c you acknowledged the fact that you were attracted to the them. Being a homosexual is someone who is attracted to the same sex. The act of homosexual sex is the sin. Acting on the feelings is the sin. Obviously if they are looking at gay porn then they’re sinning against God b/c he doesn’t want us to do that…the same as if a straight person was looking at porn.
      I think people think that homosexuality is a conscience decision…let me ask you…when did you DECIDE to be attracted to the opposite sex??? BEING homosexual is just their sexuality. It doesn’t mean they have to act on it to BE homosexual just like you don’t have to have sex with the opposite sex in order to BE a heterosexual!!!! I have a family member that is gay and that has really opened my eyes to the truth of homosexuality. Yes, he is in a relationship with another male…but what does Jesus want me to do about it??? He wants me to love him. That’s all. I don’t get to judge…b/c I don’t have that cross to bear. I have my own. I need to worry about what I’m doing…not what he’s doing. I need to show him the love of Christ instead of judging him for his choices. Jesus loves him too. Jesus died for his sins too.
      I often think about how hard it would be to have to stay single for the rest of my life if being with someone was a sin. But God gives us all different things to go through in life.
      I can’t stand how hypocritical “christians” can be towards other. Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself. Not just the straight ones, the chrisitian ones, the ones YOU judge is being good. He wants us to love all of them.

  13. Charlotte says:

    I like this post a lot. I am not a Christian but I have a hard time with the Christian perspective which only seems to demonize homosexuality. I was raised in a religious home and I know that the bible condemns all sexual sin, divorce, gluttony, lying, adultery, stealing, etc. etc. but the only thing Christians seem to care about is homosexuality and abortion. I understand these are serious from a Christian perspective. But I have a difficult time seeing Christian people as genuine when they don’t vilify adultery or divorce with the same vehemence as they attack homosexuality. I agree there are some sins that cause more “brokenness” as Sheila puts it, but when those same sins are committed by straight people nothing is said about it. Portraying the Christian agenda in this way would make me much more open to hearing your message.

    • Alchemist says:

      I think you are confusing the political platform people like to use with regular practicing Christians. Most of us just quietly goes about our lives.

      Christian’s by and large don’t have an “agenda”. At least not in my circles. We want people to hear the good news; that Jesus died for all our sins and we can all be children of God by his grace and mercy. That’s it. We want other people to come to know and love the Lord.

      We also want to be allowed to worship in peace. And we believe that living in accordance to the word of God is the best way to ensure that society is peaceful, healthy and prosperous. So naturally we want to fight laws that is diametrically opposed to what we think is good for society. So I guess some people get disprortionally loud about some things. But there are also a great many people who just wants to get elected and makes all sorts of noise about their so-called “Christian” agenda’s.

  14. NICE!
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  15. I was quite intrigued before I read “divorce without good grounds.” Have yet to find a scripture permitting divorce unless your living spouse dies or you are in a Jewish, year long, betrothel period that allows divorce if your fiance fornicates(NOT adultery!! If adultery is grounds for divorce how is not nearly everyone divorced- lusting in your heart is adultery? Hosea anyone?? AND why didn’t Jesus SAY adultery instead of fornication?) I do have a problem with scriptures being confused and misconstrued, because I know the source of the strife and it is not our Lord. I hope you will research and find what I have on ‘divorce’ and God’s Law. This is a large area MANY churches are deceived in, as they are going down the Same path for homosexuality. And yes, the one statement did throw me off as I am a wife and mother of 2 with a prodigal spouse committing adultery and I can assure you there is NO loop hole in the Word for me to marry another person while my spouse is living.

    • Ashley, I’m so sorry you’re walking through this in your marriage! That must be so painful.

      I really respect the fact that you want to follow your interpretation of Scripture and want to remain true to God. That is wonderful.

      However, I don’t believe that your interpretation is the only one. Jesus definitely allowed divorce in the case of adultery, and in the Jewish world at the time, divorce also meant remarriage because living as a single person just wasn’t done. You couldn’t support yourself.

      The interpretation I’ve just given is the standard accepted one in Christendom today, but I do know that it is not universally held, and I believe that the important thing is that each person stays true to his or her conscience and does what they believe the Lord is putting on their heart. I just want to make it clear to other readers who are struggling with this that I do believe that divorce and remarriage is permitted in cases of adultery.

  16. Alchemist says:

    I’ve just in the past week witnessed an epic example of how sexual sin spreads brokenness.
    There was some kind of scandal this week on youtube and tumblr about some guys who are youtube famous taking advantage of girls. It sounds like its just the classic case of famous/ popular guy taking advantage of his social position to get in girls’ pants. But it has sparked all this debate about the nature of consent and women’s rights and I don’t know what else.
    And all the time I’m here thinking ??? These people acknowledges no moral law, but now they act all shocked when unbridled fornication turns ugly. I guess it’s good that they can see that some things are wrong? It makes me really sad. Some of these people have such good intentions. And they are just slightly… off. Stumbling in the darkness :(

    Two other examples that just makes my heart break for the culture in general:
    This song
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYPoMjR6-Ao

    And this video. The comments on this video is pretty sad too. Just a heads up: Meghan Tonjes tends to swear in her videos form time to time.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bktU3zLf3U8

    Just totally unrelated: I was informed today by four of my male colleagues that vagina’s are magical. Because being a graduate student is weird. And being the only girl in the lab gets interesting. I laughed a lot. I thought I’d share.

  17. You have covered the subject quite in debt and I thank you for it. Some parts I don’t understand and some other parts I don’t agree. But, one point I share with you is that we have no right to judge others. Maybe we haven’t done the sins they have done but we certainly sinned other ways. The ultimate judgement is reserved by God and only God.
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