Just recently, I had the honor of paying $90 to have my mechanic look over my car and tell me there was nothing wrong with it. He kept it overnight, because the battery had just died and he wanted to be sure. In the end the problem turned out to be an old 150W Inverter that I had purchased on one of my travels a few years ago to allow me to power my laptop from one of the van power sources. While it has been a long time since I used this inverter, we had apparently left it plugged in. After being plugged in it had been a minor drain on the battery. Not as bad as leaving your lights on, but enough that it was starting to drain the battery significantly overnight. It didn’t used to do this, but it does now. This minor accessory developed a small flaw that has caused me major problems.
This is how sin works in our lives. It is rare for us to start with a major sin. Usually we start small. A little lie because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. A quick look at a provocative magazine. Taking that candy bar without paying for it because the big corporation will never miss it. Then we go on about our lives either without thinking about it or deciding that we didn’t hurt anybody, so it doesn’t matter.
There are two problems with this line of reasoning. The first problem is that there is no sin that doesn’t hurt somebody. I could talk about how shoplifting actually increases prices at retailers, so others are paying for your crime, or how looking at dirty magazines objectifies the people who are featured in it and lines the pockets of those who only want to use people as commodities. But those are too specific, and don’t hold force in other areas. Sin is often harmful to those around us, but there are two people that should be mentioned that are always harmed by sin.
The first person is yourself. Solomon warns us that sin is a trap that ensnares us and holds us fast (Proverbs 5:22). Paul tells us that the wages we earn when we sin is death (Romans 6:23). Paul also talks about people who are liars and encouragers of sin when he talks about people whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron (1 Timothy 4:1-3). Each time we sin we destroy a part of ourselves that is good. We ruin our ability to discern right from wrong and we work towards a permanent and lasting death. Sin leads only to more sin. In the end, sin can only take us to destruction. This is why Jesus told us that if part of our body causes us to sin that we should get rid of it (Matthew 5:29-30).
The second person is God. There is a reason why David said that he had only sinned against God (Psalm 51:3). Without God, sin has no meaning. Sin is going against what God has created us to do. Sin cannot be in the presence of God. Solomon mentions things that are an abomination to the Lord, and they are all one or another form of sin (Proverbs 6:16-19). God is the final judge and arbiter of our fate, and he cannot tolerate sin. This is why so many times the Bible refers to him blotting out our sins or remembering our sins no more. The Father gave up his Son to be cruelly put to death to try to get rid of our sin. It pains him to see his creation sin.
Which brings us back to the problems with trying to reason our way out of the problems of sin. We have this conception in our minds that there are sins that don’t matter. The God who said don’t murder, also said don’t work on the seventh day, and also said don’t bear false witness (Exodus 20:3-17). The penalty for breaking the Law of the Lord was almost universally death, usually by stoning. The consequences were always severe for any sin. God did not have a scale on which he said, “this sin isn’t as bad as that one.” God just said that sin is sin. All sins are worthy of the consequence of death.
This is why Paul tells us that we need to stop sinning once we are baptized into Christ (Romans 6:1-2). It is important for us to understand that while we will constantly be working to not sin, there will be times when we will fail. John reminds us that if claim to be without sin, we call God himself a liar (1 John 1:9-10). However we also know that we have someone to intercede with God on our behalf, his son Jesus Christ (1 John 2:1). Jesus isn’t just our advocate, he was willing to die to separate us from our sins. That is how badly God wants us to stop sinning and become righteous. He doesn’t want to only take the planks out of our eyes, he wants to get out the specks too. And he is the only one who can see clearly enough to do it.