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.