By Peter Amsterdam
October 23, 2018
In the previous article, we looked at the blessings of obeying God’s commands.1 It is also wise and helpful to consider the consequences of sin in our lives.2 Theologian Wayne Grudem gives this definition of sin:
Sin is any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude, or nature.3
This definition points out that sin isn’t restricted only to acts that we commit, but also includes attitudes that go contrary to what God requires, and it acknowledges that as human beings we have a sinful nature.
When we look at the Ten Commandments, we see that they speak against sinful actions such as killing, committing adultery, and stealing. However, we find that besides addressing sinful actions, the commandments also address attitudes which are sinful.
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”4
This commandment shows that not only does God consider the act of theft or murder to be sin, but He also considers conscious desire to do wrong to be sin.
Jesus further emphasized this point when He said:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.”5
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”6
The apostle Paul also made reference to attitudes like enmity (ill will or hatred) and jealousy when he wrote about the “works of the flesh.”7 This tells us that living our Christianity calls us to be moral in our thoughts and attitudes as well as in our actions.
Some ask whether certain sins are greater than others. In one sense the answer is no, they aren’t; and in another sense yes, they are. When we look at sin as far as our legal standing before God, then any sin, no matter how great or small, makes us a sinner and therefore guilty before God. Adam and Eve were judged for committing one sin.8 The apostle Paul made reference to this when he wrote:
The judgment following one trespass brought condemnation.9
Paul made this point again when he quoted the Old Testament in his letter to the Galatians.
“Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”10
In the book of James, we find the same teaching.
Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.11
Since any one sin makes us guilty of breaking God’s law, we can’t look at one sin as greater than another.
However, there are greater and lesser sins in that some sins have greater consequences than others. For example, if you covet (have a strong desire to possess something that belongs to someone else) your neighbor’s new car, you disobey the commandment which says “You shall not covet … anything that is your neighbor’s.”12 However, it becomes more harmful if your coveting leads you to steal the car, causing loss to your neighbor. Likewise, it’s a sin to hate someone, but it’s a much greater sin to let that hate lead to physically harming them.
There are also greater and lesser sins related to the kind of commandment that is broken. Jesus implied that some sins in the Old Testament were greater than others when He said:
Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.13
He also rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for keeping lesser laws and disobeying more important ones.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”14
At times, circumstances surrounding the actions of the person who is committing the sin might make the sin greater. For example, a particular sin committed by someone in a position of authority or responsibility, or who has more knowledge that the act is wrong, may be held more accountable by God than someone in another situation. In the book of James we read:
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.15
Jesus made a similar point.
That servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.16
Understanding that there is a distinction between greater and lesser sins can help us in our interactions and relationships with others. There will always be numerous minor offenses which others commit that we should overlook, since love covers a multitude of sins.17 It should also help us in our interactions with others—our children, workmates, employees, friends—and even help us understand ourselves, to know that while lesser sins are still sins, we all commit them, and we should forgive others, and ourselves, when we do.
As Christians who have been saved, we will never lose our salvation. We have become children of God and will remain so forever, even if we were to sin willfully. We have been adopted into God’s family.
In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.18
You are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.19
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.20
To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.21
Even if at times we are disobedient, our Father doesn’t reject us—we are still His children. However, this doesn’t mean that there are no harmful consequences of our willful, conscious sin. Following are some of those consequences.
Our fellowship with God will be disrupted. When we willfully sin, it impedes our fellowship with God. The apostle Peter instructed believers to turn away from evil and do good because the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.22
We will experience our Father’s displeasure. Our Father loves us and will always love us, but He is displeased when we sin, just as we deeply love our child, but can be very displeased with what our child has done. We must do our best to not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.23
We might experience our Father’s discipline. In the book of Revelation, we find the risen Jesus speaking of discipline for those who sinned.
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.24
We read elsewhere of discipline from God’s hand given to those who are His children.
Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. … For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.25
As God’s children, we receive discipline from our Father when we sin, with the intent of making us better, more obedient children.
We will become weakened spiritually. Paul warned that when believers yield to sin willingly, they are in danger of finding themselves enslaved to that sin.
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?26
The apostle Peter made the point that believers are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.27 He then added:
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.28
The Greek word for “wage war” means to serve as a soldier. Peter made the point that these passions of the flesh, sinful desires, are “enemy soldiers” which cause harm to one’s soul, weakening people spiritually.
We will tend to become less fruitful in our ministries and lives. In order to bear abundant spiritual fruit, we are to “abide” in Jesus, to maintain close personal fellowship with Him. If we don’t do so, we will be less fruitful Christians.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.29
We will lose some of our heavenly reward. Our salvation is a gift from God and is received by faith alone.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.30
We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, … because by works of the law no one will be justified.31
Though we are not saved by works, Scripture teaches that there is a relationship between our conduct in this life and the rewards we will receive in heaven.
We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.32
Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.33
If we live lives of faith and obedience to God, we are promised heavenly rewards in the life to come. If we continually willfully sin, Scripture teaches that we will suffer some loss of our heavenly rewards.
We each sin, and sometimes (hopefully not often) we sin willfully. While we have been saved through God’s love and grace, and will never lose our salvation, Scripture still directs us to confess our sins and to ask God for forgiveness.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.34
Why are we called to regularly confess our sins if we have already been saved, and all of our sins—past, present, and future—are already forgiven? The reason is that there are two different senses of forgiveness, both connected to our relationship with God. The first sense has to do with legal guilt or innocence and the punishment for sin. As sinners, we are guilty of disobedience and we are “legally” condemned. However, Jesus died for our sins, thus taking our punishment upon Himself, so we are also “legally” forgiven and no longer condemned.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.35
The other sense of forgiveness has to do with a restoration of the personal fellowship with God which is disrupted by our sins. We should regularly pray and ask God to forgive our transgressions, because if we don’t confess and ask the Lord to forgive us, then a distance in spirit develops between ourselves and God. If we want to renew our fellowship with Him, we need to seek forgiveness and ask Him to restore His close personal relationship with us.
In the first sense of forgiveness, God relates to us from His position as the judge of the universe. In the second sense, He relates to us as our loving Father. When we receive eternal salvation through belief in Jesus, we receive forgiveness, as God in His role as judge judicially forgives all our sins. When we regularly seek our Father in heaven and ask His forgiveness for the sins we have committed, then as our Father He forgives us and renews our relationship with Him. Because sin has consequences, we do well to regularly confess our sins and seek forgiveness.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
2 The following points are condensed from Wayne Grudem’s Christian Ethics (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), chapter 5.
3 Grudem, Christian Ethics, 138.
4 Exodus 20:17.
5 Matthew 5:21–22.
6 Matthew 5:27–28.
7 Galatians 5:19–21.
8 Genesis 3:1–7.
9 Romans 5:16.
10 Galatians 3:10, quoting Deuteronomy 27:26.
11 James 2:10.
12 Exodus 20:17.
13 Matthew 5:19 NIV.
14 Matthew 23:23.
15 James 3:1.
16 Luke 12:47–48.
17 1 Peter 4:8.
18 Galatians 3:26.
19 Galatians 4:7.
20 1 John 3:1.
21 John 1:12–13.
22 1 Peter 3:11–12.
23 Ephesians 4:30.
24 Revelation 3:19.
25 Hebrews 12:5–7, 11.
26 Romans 6:16.
27 1 Peter 2:9.
28 1 Peter 2:11.
29 John 15:4–5.
30 Romans 5:1.
31 Galatians 2:16.
32 2 Corinthians 5:10.
33 1 Corinthians 3:12–15.
34 1 John 1:9.
35 Romans 8:1.