Busted Myth #3: Sin is Sin or All Sins Are Equal

All sins are not equal.  Although saying all sins are equal is often espoused as a means of humility it is not the proper avenue.  In an effort to destroy legalism someone might tout that their little white lie is just as heinous as murder.  As this is untrue so also it is a false means to true humility.

All sin, any sin brings death, but as we examine the law we discover that not all sins meet the same temporal punishment.  While some crimes call for restitution, others call for death.  But this is not the ultimate text upon which I rest my case.  To me, the strongest proof that there are degrees of sin is Christ’s reply to Pilate, “Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin” (John 19:11).

One thing we see in scripture is increased obligation according to revelation or responsibility.  For instance abuse of gospel revelation incurs greater judgment now than prior to the Christ’s first coming.

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.  For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? … – Hebrews 2:1-3

Again exposure to the gospel puts men under greater responsibility.

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.  For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God.  But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.  – Hebrews 6:4-8

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.  Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses.  How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?  For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.”  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.  – Hebrews 10:26-31

Also those who wish to be teachers will be held to a higher standard.

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.  – James 3:1

Still I agree with Ralph Venning that:

…as God is holy, all holy, only holy, altogether holy, and always holy, so sin is sinful, all sinful, only sinful, altogether sinful, and always sinful (Genesis 6.5). In my flesh, there dwelleth no good thing (Romans 7.18). As in God there is no evil, so in sin there is no good. God is the chiefest of goods and sin is the chiefest of evils. As no good can be compared with God for goodness, so no evil can be compared with sin for evil.

And Jonathan Edwards that:

That the evil and demerit of sin is infinitely great, is most demonstrably evident, because what the evil or iniquity of sin consists in, is the violating of an obligation, or doing what we should not do. Therefore by how much the greater the obligation is that is violated, by so much the greater is the iniquity of the violation. But certainly our obligation to love or honor any being is great in proportion to the greatness or excellency of that being, or his worthiness to be loved and honored. We are under greater obligations to love a more lovely being than a less lovely. If a being be infinitely excellent and lovely, our obligations to love him are therein infinitely great. The matter is so plain, it seems needless to say much about it.

So the magnitude of sin is to be measured by the majesty of the deity offended.  My sins are bigger than the cosmos.  They are the shirking of my greatest obligation, to love God with all.  So how can sin be infinite and yet there still be degrees of sin.   Edwards helps us here also:

Another objection (that perhaps may be thought hardly worth mentioning) is, that to suppose sin to be infinitely heinous, is to make all sins equally heinous: for how can any sin be more than infinitely heinous? But all that can be argued hence is, that no sin can be greater with respect to that aggravation, the worthiness of the object against whom it is committed. One sin cannot be more aggravated than another in that respect, because the aggravation of every sin is infinite, but that does not hinder that some sins may be more heinous than others in other respects: as if we should suppose a cylinder infinitely long, cannot be greater in that respect, viz. with respect to the length of it. But yet it may be doubled and trebled, and make a thousand-fold more, by the increase of other dimensions. Of sins that are all infinitely heinous, some may be more heinous than others…

So in one respect all sins are infinitely heinous, yet in another respect there can be a difference of degree.  Consider that the two lines below go on infinitely.  They are both infinite, yet one is muted and the other bold.  What one sin whispers, another can shout.

So what does this teach us about the pursuit of true humility?  It is not to come by comparing ourselves with men, even if it is to say all our sins are equal.  No, true humility comes by seeing ourselves in light of God’s majesty (1 Peter 5:6, James 4:10).  In the light of His glory only do we realize the infinite magnitude of our sin.  We will love much, not when we see ourselves equal with our fellow man, but forgiven much by a holy God (Luke 7:47).

Busted Myth #2: God Can’t Look at Sin

In case you’re wondering what the first myth was, it concerned the cliché “forgive and forget. ” That little post brought a few more dumb spiritual slogans to mind birthing a miniseries. While “forgive and forget” is profoundly detrimental to the human soul and the  image of God, there is a slogan that perhaps grates me more—“God can’t look at sin”.

There’s a sense in which this is true, however, I think this sense hardly ever is intended.  Why anyone is zealous to tout this little slogan is beyond me. The image I get is of an effeminate God with a weak stomach who looks at sin the same way a two-year-old “princess” would look at her brother’s freshly found slug. The idea that God responds to sin with a whiny “yucky” is repulsive to me. The reasoning behind this little slogan is usually that because God can’t look on sin, you, being sinful, cannot go to heaven unless you’re first cleansed from your sin. We wouldn’t want to ruin God’s vision after all.  It’s not God’s justice, righteousness, wrath, anger, or holiness that’s the issue, but rather a defect in His eyesight.

God’s eyes are not closed. If they were I would really feel sorry for Jesus because he would have bumped into a lot of stuff since this world is full of sin. But he didn’t.  Jesus saw sin, exposed sin, and called it what it was, just like His Father.

Where does this foolery hail from? A bad reading of Habakkuk 1:13. Funny that a book so few Christians read should sprout such a widely spread slogan. If they would just read the rest of the verse it would be obvious what the author intended. The God who cannot look at wrong is looking at traitors. Looking here means looking on with approval, with apparent blessing. The essence of being blessed is to have the glorious and gracious face of God shinning down on you (Numbers 6:22-27). For God to look on you is for you to have His favor and for Him to be gracious in His disposition toward you. Habakkuk is lamenting that God seems to be looking at sin—apparently condoning it and  blessing it, and that this goes against His very character. God cannot look at sin with approval—this is what Habakkuk is anchoring his lament in.

God sees sin (Gen 6:5); and yet, He turns his face from it (Deuteronomy 32:19-20), but remember the way the imagery is used here. To be blessed is to have God’s face and to be cursed is for His benevolent face to be turned from you. Instead of benevolence, God’s face is directed against sin and sinners in wrath (Psalm 34:15-16).  So God’s face is turned away from them in one sense and toward them in another.

If an unregenerate sinner were to appear before God the issue would not be God’s weakness of sight, it would be the sinner’s. God’s eyes would flame with a holy hatred; the sinner would be condemned and undone.

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.  – Revelation 20:11

Busted Myth # 1: Forgive and Forget – Impossible!

The virtue of slogans is brevity. Their vice is ambiguity. So they are risky ways of communicating. They are powerful and perilous. So we should exploit the power and explain the peril.  – John Piper in Desiring God

The danger of a cliché or slogan is that they can make the unintelligent seam brilliant. This is often the route to accepting stupidity and heralding it as wisdom. I believe such to be the case with “forgive and forget.” Perhaps there is some individual who meant this simply to say that you must not bring up the incident of offence, that is, you refuse to prosecute anew. Alas if he could behold his cult. Humanly it is impossible to forget some things, especially the worst of things, the things that call for amazing forgiveness. To put such a burden upon a rape victim, or a molested child, and say that they have not truly forgiven their enemies unless they forget that wretched event is to play the Pharisee and heap heavy unbearable burdens upon such persons, a burden that they, if in the same position, surely could not, would not carry (Matthew 23:4).

“Ah, but God forgets! …Right?” This is the issue that I really want to address. God does not forget – ever! God does not forget – anything! He is omniscient; this is never compromised.  God does not forget our sins, He remembered them on Jesus. He removes our sins, washes us from our sins, forgives us of our sins, and takes away our sins, but He does not forget them. If God could simply forget sin, what need is there for an atonement where sins are paid for? We wouldn’t need an atonement; God simply need perform a lobotomy on Himself.

On this John MacArthur said:

I’ve heard people suggest that God forgets our sins when He forgives. They usually cite Hebrews 10:17: ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more’ (cf. 8:12). Or Isaiah 43:25: ‘I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins.’

But those verses don’t say God forgets our sins. They say He will not remember them. What’s the difference? To forget something is to have no memory of it. Obviously God, who is omniscient, has not lost His memory of our transgressions. Rather, He refuses to call them to mind. He promises not to bring them up.

Wayne Grudem states:

Someone may object that God promises to forget our sins. For example, he says, ‘I will not remember your sins’ (Isa. 43:25). Yet passages like this can certainly be understood to mean that God will never again let the knowledge of these sins play any part in the way he relates to us: he will ‘forget’ them in his relationship to us. – in Systematic Theology

I’ll wrap this up by dealing with the two oft cited texts, Hebrews 10:17 and Psalm 103:12.  In Hebrews 10 the single offering of Christ is being contrasted with the plethora of sacrifices under the Old Covenant. Under the old system there was a reminder for sins every year (Hebrews 10:3). Every year at the Day of Atonement all Israel was reminded of their sins.  Now under Christ a decisive payment for sin has been made once for all. God will not bring our sins up against us because they have been paid for. This is not the language of memory loss, but redemption. When I pay a bill the creditor doesn’t remember it anymore, against me. This means not that they wiped every record it from their databases; but that they have marked it as paid. I don’t want to hear my creditor ever say they have lost record of previous bills, I want to hear them say they have received payment. I don’t want God to forget my sins, for all eternity I want the Son to remind Him that my sins are paid for.

Finally Psalm 103:12 says nothing about forgetting but removing. My sins are removed from me, where are they placed? Into some abyss of forgetfulness? No they are placed on Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Again, God does not forget our sins, He remembered them all on Jesus, once for all.