No, all sins are not equal.
Corollary: Some sins are worse than others. Our entire justice system is built on this concept.
But Christians have been conditioned to think that it’s false.
Jesus said lusting was heart adultery. So then, many extrapolate, it must be that lusting after a woman is just as bad as committing unspeakable atrocities against her. And then . . . you’ve got to draw the corollary. That means that committing unspeakable atrocities against a woman is no worse than lusting after her in your heart.
Jesus reserved his strongest language for the religious leaders who looked good on the outside, who acted holy in public, who laid rule after rule on the backs of the people, but in secret were practicing terrible sins and refused to be corrected, who considered their minutiae of outward-rule-keeping to be their ticket to holiness. You can read His scathing words in Matthew 23.
So now, another pastor of a fundamentalist megachurch (a megachurch full of minute rules) has committed atrocities. A pastor who, like his predecessor, wrote books and preached vigorously against these very sins, while covering them among other leaders of his church. Would we dare cry out with Christ against those like him, “Whited sepulchres! Full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness!”
But I’ll flip it. Rather, do we DARE say, “Well, God has used him, and I’m a sinner too, so I can’t judge, and we have to take heed to ourselves and forgive and forget, because God uses cracked pots.” This would, in fact, be the very opposite of the way of Christ. Unless we’re hypocrites ourselves, we must cry out against them.
But are you saying we’re all hypocrites? So we dare not cry out? Because surely I’ve had a self-righteous thought?
But how could Peter and Paul, who certainly didn’t do everything right, rebuke the religious leaders the same as Jesus did? It could only be because they understood distinctions in progressions of sins. Here’s how it works out, practically:
Do you find yourself attracted to and seduced by a thought that is dishonoring to God? Then repent on the spot, right then. Turn to Christ. I do this probably dozens of times a day. Jesus followers need to have their desires constantly recalibrated.
But do you go a step further and let that thought work out into action? Then repent right then, not only before God, but before whatever person your action affected. I have to do this regularly. Sinners need forgiveness. Sinners run to Jesus. He came to call me.
But do you go a step further and let that action work out into practice? Oh, please, I beg of you to repent and turn to Christ. Receive His forgiveness and His power to overcome that sin. Make humble, penitent restitution in whatever way is necessary to anyone who has been affected by your sin.
But do you go a step further—or many, many steps—and seek to shroud that practice behind a cloak of manmade-rule-keeping respectability that becomes more and more elaborate to cover your terrible secrets, as you preach louder and longer and make more complicated and burdensome rules and hold conferences and write books decrying the very sins that you yourself are secretly practicing?
Then woe unto you, hypocrite, blind fool! You’re shutting up the kingdom of heaven against men. You will not go in yourself, just as you’re blocking the door for those who want to enter. You will receive the greater judgment.
Are you causing young believers to stumble and go astray, and in some cases to leave the faith entirely? Then it would be better for you if a millstone were hanged around your neck and you were cast into the depths of the sea.
Do you find that “looking good” is more important than dealing with sin in your midst, lest you lose your “show window” image? Then you’re cleaning the outside of the cup, but the inside is full of extortion and excess. Serpents, generation of vipers!
Are you willing for someone to come and confront you with wrong, even about something major? Are you willing to receive it, repent, and make it right, even publicly if necessary? If you are, then, as when Nathan came to David, you can be received and forgiven.
But if you’re not, then every disciple you work so hard to make will become twofold more a child of hell than yourself.
If more of us who love Jesus are prayerfully willing to speak out and expose the hypocrisy in our midst—and my thoughts are now especially focused on the many fundamentalists who fit this description, leaders of churches and Christian schools and universities and mission boards and seminaries—then the destructive power these hypocrites hold can be broken.
If more of us who love Jesus will move forward in the power of the Spirit instead of hiding behind “we’re all sinners,” “judge not,” “let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” then this wickedness could be cleansed from our midst.
Souls can be restored. People who have turned from the faith will see truth and righteousness and may by the grace of God turn back. Victims who have been blamed will receive the love and restoration they so desperately need.
And God may yet have mercy on some in these circles of hypocrisy.