Are there different levels of sin?

The American legal system has an extensive classification of crimes. But the Bible doesn't do that in regard to sin.

The American legal system has an extensive classification of crimes. There are various types of misdemeanors. There are different classes of felonies. Some crimes are minor while others are extremely serious. But the Bible doesn’t do that in regard to sin.

That is because every sin, in the last analysis, is a sin against God. So much so, that David, after committing adultery with Bathsheba, prayed:

“Against thee, thee only, have I sinned and done evil in thy sight.”

Psalm 51:4

The reality that his adultery was a breaking of God’s commandment loomed so large that it completely dominated David’s thinking. An example from American history illustrates this. John Hinckley’s shooting of President Reagan dominated the news even though other people were also shot. But compared to the coverage given to President Reagan, they were mentioned only briefly. Wounding a President is a very serious crime.

In the same way, sin is extremely serious because it is committed against God. Because of that, there are no such things as little sins. There are no misdemeanors when it comes to sin. In fact, even comparing them with felonies is not accurate. Every single sin is a capital crime deserving of the death sentence – because it is committed against the holy and almighty God. Taking a punch at your neighbor has consequences but nothing compared to what would happen if you punched the President of the United States. Same punch – vastly different consequences – because of who was on the receiving end. Sin is so serious because God is on the receiving end.

Defining Transgressions

We also see the seriousness of sin in how the Bible describes it. Take the word transgression. Some feel that transgressions are not as serious as sin. Such a view, however, does not line up with the meaning of the word. Unfortunately, the English word “transgression” doesn’t bring out the full force of the original Greek word, which literally means “lawlessness.” (Numerous Bible translations translated it that way.)  Lawlessness is very serious; it is on the level of rebellion. To see that, just think of what type of person the word “rebellious” brings to mind.

The seriousness of transgression is seen in Isaiah 53, the great prophecy that talks about Jesus paying for all our sins. That chapter ends with a statement that brings everything to a head. It says:

“and he was numbered with the transgressors;
and he bare the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors”

Isaiah 53:12; emphasis ours

In essence, it says that Jesus even died for rebels and made intercession for rebels!

The same goes for other words the Bible uses as synonyms for sin: words such as evil, wickedness, and iniquity. Each one underscores the seriousness of sin. None downplay it. Never is sin described as a simple mistake. Sin is sin – period. Each and every sin is hardcore, a capital crime, deserving of a death sentence – an eternal death sentence.

Is there hope?

Sin doesn’t just stain us. It kills us. In Romans 6:23 we read:

“The wages of sin is death”

But that passage continues:

“but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

This is a gift with no strings attached or no payments demanded in return. This is a gift purchased by Jesus for us. Friends, accept that gift. Believe that eternal life is not a reward you earn, but a gift given to you by a forgiving God. Believe that for that is the only way to have eternal life.

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