Monday, May 20, 2013

A Sin Is A Sin Is A Sin

Inconsistency.

It can lead to hypocrisy.  Which can make the faith we profess look pretty goofy to the unsaved world.

For example, inconsistency with regards to the sanctity of marriage - and sex in general - has helped contribute to our society's growing struggle over gay marriage.  We evangelicals have historically been viewed as hypocritical when it comes to morality, and especially now that most of us have come out against gay marriage, we're finding our argument in favor of heterosexual monogamy falling on increasingly deaf ears.

Forget the reality that we have almost as bad a divorce rate within our faith communities as the unchurched world does.  What about our tolerance - and even open enjoyment of - sex-laced TV shows and movies?  What about our relative ambivalence towards celebrities who have extramarital affairs?  Aren't these all sins, too?  It used to be the unchurched who mocked tart-faced Christians for pointing out sexual sins, but these days, plenty of evangelicals run from the "fundamentalist" label, shrugging off sexual immorality in the media - and in our personal lives - as just part of living in our post-modern culture.

Then, when something like gay marriage begins to gain traction in our society, suddenly evangelicals are flying out of the woodwork claiming such a concept is beyond immoral.  Gay marriage strikes at the very core of the family unit, which itself is the basis for civilized society.

Which, of course, is true.  But making such a fuss over a particular sin being particularly evil because it's particularly vulgar sounds inconsistent, provoking the unsaved around us to sneer, "so, you're making up the rules for sexual propriety?  I thought your God did that."

Well, yes, He did, some of us evangelicals protest.  It's just that some sins are worse than others, and homosexuality is one of those sins that's worse than cheating on your spouse, or any number of other sexual sins involving any number of other people.

So... sexual sin is only really bad when gays do it?

Piper or Gagnon - All Sins Equal, or Not?

In his recent response to this inconsistency, Barnabas Piper wrote an op-ed for World magazine, "This Sin But Not That Sin," questioning "why Christians feel the need to respond with such bold clarity to homosexuality while not doing the same to other cultural sins."  Piper (son of celebrity pastor John Piper) wonders if evangelicals who argue for stiffer weights against gay sin do so because "standing up against homosexuality is much easier than decrying other sinful lifestyles."

After all, heterosexual fornication is likely far more popular and prevalent within evangelical congregations than homosexual fornication.  Which one will get a preacher fired more quickly?

"It is as if the sins of adultery or fornication are wrong, but a sort of normalized wrong," Piper writes, "whereas homosexuality is a 'weird' or 'unusual' sin.  What we fail to recognize is that every sin from the mildest gossip to the wildest orgy is a mark of the fall, proof of sins twisting God’s good creation."

Which, of course, is true, isn't it?  I've advanced the same logic many times here on my blog.

Meanwhile, seminary professor and Biblical sexuality expert Robert A. J. Gagnon, has taken a traditionalist's exception to Piper's even assessment of sin.  Gagnon claims in "A Response: Is It Wrong To Treat Some Sins Differently?" that God indeed has a hierarchy of sin.  Except, instead of any scriptural justification for his viewpoint, Gagnon relies on conventional conservative emotions to portray certain sins as particularly deviant.

Gagnon asks, for example, if cutting in line carries the same weight as Hitler's extermination of millions of Jews.  Isn't having sex with one's mother worse than "slight" gossip (whatever "slight" gossip is)?  He tries to quote scriptures pertaining to homosexuality as proof of his hierarchical argument, but those verses, taken in context, better prove Piper's point than Gagnon's.

Yes, we assign different civil penalties between cutting into a line and ethnic cleansing, but that is because humanity can better withstand the former than the latter.  And yes, we find it revolting to even consider the thought of having sex with one's parent, whereas gossip is far more acceptable a sin.  While these realities reflect our socialization regarding the appropriateness, popularity, and pervasiveness of particular sins, however, they don't reflect any God-designed scale of suitability.  Indeed, while there may be different practical and civil consequences for different sins, and yes, homosexuality can cripple God's design and intent for sex, procreation, and even love; the fact remains that all sin is sin.

And in God's eyes, there's only one eternal punishment.

Consider Lot's wife, or the guy who put his hand against the ark to keep it from falling into mud, or the couple who both lied to the Apostle Peter about how much money they got from selling some property:  they were all killed by God for their disobedience.  Yikes!  How many personalities in the Bible did God kill because they were gay?  Meanwhile, David committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband slaughtered on the front lines, and the child of David's illicit promiscuity was killed.  What does all this say about sin?  Not that there are varying degrees of it to God, but that God detests all of it. 

There is simply no list in the Bible where some sins are rated better or worse than others.

Sin As the Expression of Utter Depravity

In fact, I'd say that if anything, Piper did not go far enough to make his point. What is mankind's utter depravity, unless it’s the complete lack of virtue of any kind?  We don’t win any bonus points or partial credit by choosing to commit one sin instead of another.  God can’t look upon ANY sin – isn’t that what makes them equally abhorrent in His eyes?

On the other hand, you and I are so accustomed to sin that we don’t realize how thorough and visceral it is in each of us.  We're socialized to evaluate bad behavior based on its penalties and outcomes, as well as how our society conditions us to function within and readily accept a sinful environment.  Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve, we've had a sin nature that completely corrupts us.  That is what makes Christ’s sacrifice for us so beautiful.  That’s what forces the necessity of salvation.  Christ died to pay the penalty for homosexually, gluttony, gossip, adultery, cutting in line, speeding, ethnic cleansing, hatred, lying - every sin!  We're not any better for thinking sexually impure thoughts instead of committing sexually impure acts.  We're rotten, filthy, vile to the core.  The Ten Commandments aren’t listed in order of severity, as much as they build upon each other to create an impregnable whole.  There is nothing we can do to merit the grace of God.

Nothing.

Meanwhile, might those of us who want to think that some sins are worse than others actually be undermining the integrity of the entire Gospel argument?  We say there is no salvation by works, but if we say God views some sins more punitively than others, then by default, we're kinda saying that we can be less bad by doing other things.  Yet that is a fallacy, isn't it?  The Gospel is that nobody is righteous.  Nobody.  We can't hold ourselves to be better than somebody else because we haven't committed the same sins they have.  The Gospel doesn't work that way.  We can't compare ourselves to our neighbors.  To see what sin truly is, we need to look to God's holiness.

And for those of us who are saved, we see not only God's holiness, but His grace, extended to us through the death, burial, and resurrection of His holy Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!  We see the penalty for our sins "paid in full" through Christ's sacrificial gift of His life for ours.  That is the beauty and majesty of the faith we've been given.  That is the glory of Christ and the sovereignty of God at work.  That is why we should not rank our sins based on how acceptable they are to society.  Society is not the standard!  God is!

God is not, however, a respecter of persons.  He will save the homosexual, the gossip, the fornicator, the glutton - He'll save whomsoever He will save!  Instead of inadvertently convincing gays that they're a disadvantaged step beyond grace and they need to change their extraordinarily sinful lifestyle so it's not as offensive, we need to repent of our own sin of condemning special classes of people because we've unilaterally decided we don't like their sin as much as somebody else's.

The late writer and artist Gertrude Stein has been credited with taking an obscure Shakespeare quote and turning it into "a rose is a rose is a rose."  Which means that some things simply exist as they are.  That's what sin does.  Sin exists.  Just as to Stein, all roses have equal value in their capacity to provide pleasure, to God, all sins have an equal capacity to incite His wrath.

Ironically enough, Stein, a lesbian, is also credited with being the first author to incorporate the word "gay" into a published manuscript and have it mean "homosexual."

A sin is a sin is a sin, indeed.


3 comments:

  1. I disagree strongly with the assertion that all sin is equally bad - that a sin is a sin is a sin. More importantly, I think such a view is demonstrably unbiblical. It is in direct contradiction to the Westminster Confession of Faith (see SC #83). These two articles are helpful: http://www.reformed.org/master/index.html?mainframe=/documents/fisher/q083.html and http://michaeljkruger.com/are-all-sins-equally-heinous-a-response-to-jonathan-piper/

    Now the problem is that many people like to use this truth as an excuse for sin - "My sin isn't as bad as yours." That's a wrong approach to sin and humility. Every sin deserves God's wrath, so in a sense, while some sins are worse than others, no sin is better than any other.

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  2. Perhaps even better, here's Barnabus' dad saying the exact opposite - http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/ask-pastor-john/are-all-sins-equal-before-god

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  3. Thank you for your feedback, Jason.

    I actually wrote my essay after reading Michael Krueger's opinion of Barnabas Piper's column. And with all due respect Piper's father, I don't agree with him on a couple of other things, so I guess we can add this topic to the list. Perhaps, then, you won't be surprised to learn that my considered value of the Westminster Confession is as a handy "user guide," not an infallable resource. I disagree with it in a couple of other places as well.

    However, I claim my biases not because of any special revelation from God or superiority complex of mine, but because, especially in this instance, there is no direct teaching in Scripture that backs up any opposing views to mine. I readily admit that some sins have different repercussions than others, but to try and categorize the ways in which we can be abhorrent to God seems to miss the point: without Christ, it doesn't matter if you die an axe murderer or a church secretary, it's all the same.

    When it comes to homosexuality, frankly, I think the argument for different levels of sin can be conveniently used as a subtle smokescreen for Christians who don't want to love gays. The argument is particularly mute if we're trying to evangelize the gay community (which, believe it or not, some Christians are - my PCA pastor is one). If we're going to rank sins, adultery is probably right there alongside homosexuality, but few preachers blast the former as freely as they do the latter.

    How thankful I am for God's grace that covers every sin! I'm also thankful for your input.

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