Saturday, May 30, 2015

All Sins are Equal....Right?

In the spirit of accuracy and truth I have an irresistible need to make sure everything aligns with the Bible. It's a deep conviction. I literally lie awake having internal debates where I weigh the sides of any given issue. I cannot suppress it. My hearts yearns for accuracy and precision. I do not expect everyone to understand it except to say you may have a similar predicament with something else. Perhaps you lose sleep over a friend who needs mercy and you do everything you can to help him or her. Maybe you have friends and family who aren't saved and you lie awake contemplating ways to work the Gospel message into them in every conceivable scenario. You might be someone who thinks for hours and hours or spends hours and hours preparing meals, opening your home or planning events for the body of believers. To some degree and in some way you can relate to having a burning passion for something that edifies the body and, on the flip side, you can also relate to not understanding how other people can't have the same passion. 

That lengthy and Pauline paragraph brings us to today's topic:
Are all sins equal?

The short answer: no.

Now, the long answer:

Before the intricate dissection begins I must concede that when most people say this I think they often are saying, "just because you haven't murdered someone, doesn't mean you are sinless." I would heartily agree with that statement as it's taken directly from Scripture
 Romans 3
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
And then Psalm 53
 The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God,”They are corrupt, and have committed abominable injustice;There is no one who does good. 2         God has looked down from heaven upon the sons of menTo see if there is anyone who understands,Who seeks after God.  3 Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt;There is no one who does good, not even one.
There's that. That leaves us understanding that every single person on the planet is guilty of sin. I'm guilty. You're guilty. The best person you know is guilty. All guilty. 
Godwin's Law

What those verses don't prove is that all sin is equally as heinous. What other verses can we look at? 

James 2
10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.
That's it, right? This proves it. All sins are equally as bad! Bada-bing! I can just end this post right now! Except this verse is in the same context as the other verses! You think your works are going to save you? It ain't gonna happen. To be saved by works you have to live a perfect life and no one has except for One. James is reminding his audience of the same things Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. Which leads us to...

Matthew 5
27 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; 28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 
Uh oh. EVERY married man has done this. No exceptions. We've all lusted after a woman who wasn't our wife and that means we're all guilty of adultery. This proves it! This proves all sin is equal! Looking at a woman with lust for a moment is as bad as having sex with her!  

But is that what Jesus was proving?  He was getting to the....heart...of the matter. The root of all sin is the corruption of man's heart. No one commits adultery without first lusting after a woman. No one commits murder without first being angry with a person. Jesus clears up what was falsely being taught: namely, that keeping the Law externally was what one needed to do to be saved. Jesus comes along and rebukes their man-made laws and twisting of God's Law to tell them that "God looks at the heart." Just because you haven't killed someone doesn't mean you don't harbor the same root causes that lead someone to murder. 

Let's step back and consider whether you even believe it or whether anyone even believes this for a second. Do you really think that losing your cool after being on hold with the cable company for an hour after dealing with a bratty kid, after getting home from work on 4 hours of sleep is as bad as murdering 100 people? Do you really think that? Honestly? If yes, keep reading. If no, you can stop here. 

What verses can we look at? Maybe we should think about this from the positive side. Are there some good works we can do which are better than others? 
We can definitively say "yes" to that. Is preaching the Gospel to someone better than holding the door for them? YES! Absolutely yes! Is actively praying and giving of your time and money to help a friend in need better than texting them "thinkin' of ya"? YES! Is obedience better than sacrifice? YES! 

So if some things are better, then some things have to be worse, right? 

Mark 12
38 In His teaching He was saying: “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, 39 and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, 40 who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation.”
Luke 12
 47 And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, 48 but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but fewFrom everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.
Revelation 20
And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 
James 3
 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.
False teaching is for sure a worse sin than other sins. False teaching leads people from Christ and into hell. It makes sense that false teaching incurs a harsher penalty. It also makes sense that we'll be held accountable to the knowledge we have; the greater the knowledge, the greater the punishment. 

What about other specific sins? We'd all agree that any sin done in God's name (e.g. false teaching) makes the sin worse, right? If you have an affair and say it's what God wanted, you've made the thing worse because you've invoked the name of God (3rd commandment) to justify doing the work of Satan. You're blaming God for your wickedness. That's worse than just having an affair. 

Are you still with me? 

If we traverse all the way back to the Old Testament, do we see all laws punished equally? Does every violation get punished with death? Did the Law God ordained prescribe the same punishment for every crime? No. Not at all. 

Is trading Jesus for 30 pieces of silver as bad as oversleeping?
ALL sin separates us from God. Let there be no mistake. Any single sin is enough to keep us out of heaven. God's holiness can't tolerate sin to be in His presence. The point isn't to categorize sin and thus minimize our own sinfulness because we haven't committed the big ones. The point is to rightly divide the word. 

Personally, I've been on both sides of this argument. Most everything I write about on this blog is something I've had to work through at some point. Here's what I realized after being on both sides: people on both sides are guilty of using their argument to feel better about their sins. 

The person who says all sins are equal can often be saying that to feel better about all the awful things they've done. Perhaps they're guilty of adultery and so they really, really want to believe that a fleeting moment of lust is as bad as a planned out affair. Or the other person might think sins have degrees of heinousness so that they can feel better. "Ha! That guy is in prison for assaulting his wife's lover when he caught her with another man! I'm better than him! All I did was steal people's retirement and frame them for federal crimes over the course of a decade!" 

Or maybe it's something a little tamer: "I heard him cuss the other day! That's awful! I also heard..."
Uh oh! Is gossiping less offensive than cussing? I have no idea! But apparently this person thinks so! 

I don't think there's a clear cut ranking system for sin. You can look up the sins that were punishable by death for yourself. You can research the sins which we might call "lifestyle" sins that are listed throughout the New Testament but even those aren't categorized from best to worst. They're all bad. I think it might be best to look at each sin within its own drawer.

Are there degrees of anger? Yes.
Are there degrees of lust? Yes.
Are there degrees of lying? Yes. 

Is all anger, lust and lying a sin? Yes. Do each have equal consequences? No. 

We have to look at the attitude of the heart with any given sin. Do mature Christians get angry? Sure. Do mature Christians murder? No. Is there a difference in the heart of someone who carries out a premeditated murder than someone who loses their temper once a decade? Obviously. 

The thing is that if it were not for the grace of God, then I do not know what kind of sinner I'd be. It is only by the grace of God that I am not as bad as I could be. It is only by the grace of God that I'm not in prison. It is only by the grace of God that I'm forgiven of all my sins - the big ones and the small ones. Christ HAD to die for all my sins so that I could be reconciled to God. I wrote all I just wrote to end with this: 
The smallest offense to God was still enough to put Christ on the cross. Now let's see how lightly we take any sin. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

If Just One Person is Saved...

In recent years there have been an abundance of television and movie programs centered around biblical stories and people. Noah, the Exodus, the Cross, the Disciples and even one about the whole Bible. Many folk were excited about these shows and movies. "Isn't it great that Hollywood is making these types of things?"

No. It's a terrible thing.

"But Tim, what if these programs lead someone to Christ?"

This is the question we'll examine today. It's a tough question. It's one we all will encounter in one way or another. What are the limitations to how we evangelize?

First of all I am joyful and thrilled when anyone comes to genuine saving faith in Christ. I'm not particularly concerned what type of church a person was saved in. There are more than a few churches that preach a genuine saving Gospel and even some of the churches that don't can't restrict the saving power of the Gospel. For instance, a person might be at a Benny Hinn show and get saved. Not because of anything Benny Hinn said or because of a clear Gospel presentation but because there might be a Bible there and the person might read it and have his eyes opened to see Jesus is Lord and Savior and that he needs to repent of His sins. That person would then be saved in a Benny Hinn church but not because of the Benny Hinn church. So I would rejoice even though he was saved in the church of a false teacher.

Does that justify the entire ministry of Benny Hinn? What do you think? Can we say Benny Hinn's ministry of scamming people out of money and leading people into hell is worth it because one hypothetical man was saved? That's a tough question and one that a person who denies election would have trouble answering with any consistency.

The answer is a resounding 'no.' We can't justify sin because someone might get saved. God is not going to force people into sinning so that they might save someone else. Think about how many things you can justify if you use the "what if one person is saved?" Rationalization:

  • Sure robbing a bank is wrong, but what if I leave a Gospel tract and someone gets saved reading it?
  • Yea I know murder is wrong but what if at my trial I preach the Gospel and people get saved?
  • Okay I know I shouldn't go to a strip club, but what if I witness to the exotic dancers?
I don't think I need to go on. Those are obviously some extreme examples. Can we do this in more subtle ways? Can people all across the spectrum of evangelism be guilty of this? Let's go back to the question about Hollywood making "Christian" movies. 

We so easily get sucked into this trap. We capitulate to the belief that any publicity is good publicity. So we see all kinds of "Christian" movies and shows being made by people who most likely hate Christ and we perceive that to be a good thing. I'm not saying these horribly inaccurate and gross misrepresentations can't be used by God in His divine providence for His glory; I am saying these movies and shows are horribly inaccurate and gross misrepresentations of God and His word. We can't rejoice in blasphemy. We can't cheer on false teaching. It's really not an option. 

"But Tim! What if one person gets saved???"

That person was getting saved regardless. The doctrine of unconditional election is why I believe so strongly that we don't need to lease out our right to evangelize to scoffers (Psalm 1). 

One of the only, and I mean only, good things to come out of the Elephant Room 1 & 2 was an interaction between Perry Noble and some of the other guys. Perry Noble was trying to defend his church using "Highway to Hell" by AC/DC as a worship song because one man was allegedly saved after hearing it. Perhaps he meant to say that the song got him thinking and the sermon included a Gospel presentation? I doubt the authenticity of the story because Perry Noble is a delusional narcissist parading around as a pastor but also because people are only saved in response to the Gospel. Regardless, Matt Chandler retorted and said something to the effect of men being saved after their mother's die in an accident but none of them (the pastors) are suggesting they begin a mom-killing ministry. 

Even some of the more conservative and theologically sound men (men I believe to be solid believers) I've followed online can seemingly succumb to this mentality. I don't question their salvation and I can't judge their motives. I feel comfortable assuming their motives are pure but I can question the wisdom behind saying Coptic Christians are in hell right after 21 of them had their heads cut off. We should ALL be open to counsel on how to better evangelize. I confess I am imperfect in how I do it. I agree that flawed evangelism is better than no evangelism. A man yelling the Gospel in people's ears is better than no one saying it at all. That does not mean that we can't all seek to be better evangelists. We can't be content to just evangelize. We need to evangelize as best as we possibly can.
They've adopted, at times, what I perceive to be an unnecessarily combative and incendiary platform in order to defend the truth and win people to Christ (I truly believe those are their motives). I love the truth. I love it. I love seeing people won to Christ but doesn't mean I'm going to not weep with those who weep just because they aren't believers or they might not agree with me 100% theologically. Maybe they are weeping and are saddened but the perception is that they're not. We can't change to suit everyone's desires and make everyone happy but I think we can step back and make sure we're doing things as lovingly as we can so as to not be an unnecessary stumbling block in people's ways. Speak the truth? Absolutely. Speak the truth in love. That love part should cause us to reconsider what we are saying and when and how we are saying it. 

"But Tim! Jesus told people to repent lest they likewise perish! Ha! Gotcha! You lose! That means we show zero sympathy for people who are mourning and we just pound them with the Gospel! You're a false teacher who hates the Gospel and truth, Tim! Admit it! Repent!"

He did say that. He did indeed. But He was responding to a question. He wasn't going to the sites of disasters and causing a scene. He wasn't drawing attention to Himself. He wasn't promoting a method of evangelism. He was simply answering a question about the cause of someone's death being a sign that they were a worse sinner. His reply was to remind them that all people die and some people die suddenly. You don't know when you'll die so you better repent of your sins now. 

What about when Lazarus died. How did Jesus respond? Did He mourn with Mary and Martha? Or did He point out flaws in Lazarus' life? What did He do?

John 11:35 Jesus wept.
It's like Jesus was fully human. It's like He was also fully God. It's like He understands the need to sympathize with people. It's like there's a time to laugh and a time to cry and a time to boldly call out errors and sins. 

I think we've all done this at one point. We've all made a wrong choice, a sinful choice, and then rationalized it in our minds by saying this thing could, in a roundabout way, lead someone to Christ. I can't even tell you the cockamamie hypotheticals I've concocted in my birdbrain to justify some of the things I've done.  I've been needlessly cruel and cold when famous people have died. Why did I have to bring such and such a person down one hour after he died? Yea it bothered me big time when Steve McNair and Michael Jackson were portrayed as angels but did I really have to remind people of their shortcomings the same day they died??? Maybe that was right. I'm not real convinced it was. I'm not going to lie about someone being in heaven when I don't believe they are but I don't think someone dying is the right time for me to go on the offensive. Gently offer Biblical rebuttals when people say Michael Jackson is in heaven? Sure. That's not what I did though. 

Here's the plan:
Go into all the world and preach the Gospel.
And do it without sinning.