God Doesn’t Grade on a Curve
What is the worst sin you can think of? Murder? Denying Christ? Sex outside of marriage? Hurting a child? Humanity is capable of some pretty awful things. If I asked you to think of the least harmful sin, what comes to mind? You might think of little, white lies or a sin of omission. If we asked God the same questions, I don’t think He’d have an answer for either. So often we rank sin on a sliding scale from not-so-bad to really, truly awful. But God doesn’t see sin that way.
Everything that isn’t holy is sin
When we were little my Mom described it this way. “There’s God,” she told us “who is holy. And then there’s everything that isn’t God, that isn’t holy, and that’s all sin.” There are only two options: perfect God and imperfect humans. We see a world in shades of grey but God tells us in His word that it’s black and white.
Some sins are easier to see than others, but that doesn’t make them worse. Romans 3:23 says quite clearly that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” It doesn’t say that some only sinned a little. What makes a ‘shades of grey’ view of sin so dangerous is the behaviour that can come out of it. It is a skewed view of sin and it can skew the way we view a lot of other things as well.
1. Seeing sin on a sliding scale can lead to judging others. It is incredibly easy to point to someone whose sin seems outrageous and think “well I’m not as bad as her”. The Bible speaks about pride so much and pride is right at the heart of judging. As soon as I start judging someone else, I’ve put myself in God’s role and I am sorely qualified for the position.
2. Ranking some sins as worse than others leads to self justification. If we stray from the idea that all sin is equally sinful it’s easy to believe that a particular sin isn’t that bad. It can lead to wondering, “If it’s just a little sin do I really need to confess it?” Again, the Bible is quite clear. Luke 16:10 says, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” All sin is sin. All sin needs to be dealt with as quickly as possible.
3. Setting up a scale of bad to worse creates the idea of an ‘unforgivable sin’.
If we set some sins up as “worse” than others then people, Christians and non-Christians alike, can be caught in the lie that they have done something that God could not forgive. What hope is left for someone who feels they are outside of God’s willingness to forgive? Imagine what a terrifying place that would be.
Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I believe that God is willing and able to forgive a contrite heart. Confess, repent and be forgiven comes up over and over again in Scripture. Look at the history of the Israelites. How many times did they walk away from God and how many times was He willing to receive them back? There were consequences to their actions, there were delays and pain, but each time they came running back God was there with open arms. Why expect it would be any different now?
Community: The antidote to sliding-scale thinking
Francis Shaeffer asked, “How should we then live?” If he was alive today he might have said “now what?” Judgment is all about casting out, shunning and shaming an individual. The farthest we can get from that is extending community. That’s not to say that we turn a blind eye to ongoing sin, but if someone is making an honest effort to come back to God we can be part of the welcoming committee.
Years ago a friend of mine showed up at church one Sunday morning clearly pregnant and very much alone. Some of the looks she received as she walked in to the sanctuary could have slayed dragons. No one needed to tell her that as an unmarried woman she wasn’t supposed to be pregnant. She already knew that and she and God were working that out.
It took an amazing amount of courage for her to walk into church that day. It would not have taken much to convince her not to try it again. But she was welcomed, and because of that she was able to be exactly where she needed to be – in church. She was there reaching out to God who never stopped reaching out to her. He never stops reaching out to me either.
God is invitational
We are all, equally, in need of grace and the wonderful news is that God’s grace is sufficient. It is enough for you, and enough for me, and enough for the person I mistakenly feel might be irredeemable. God does not say “get your life cleaned up and when you’ve got it all together, come on in.” Instead He says in Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
God is invitational. He asks for repentance, no question there, but He welcomes the seeking and accepts all who ask to be forgiven. Is there someone on the fringes of your community, of your church, who is weary and burdened? Could you be the person who demonstrates a little of what God’s invitational love looks like? Maybe it’s as simple as smiling and saying hello. Perhaps it is inviting them to sit with you in the service or chat afterwards or go for coffee. Maybe it is simply being able to say “I’m not here to judge.”
When we can see sin for what it really is we can see ourselves as we truly are – an equal community, guilty in a variety of ways but redeemed under one grace. All have sinned, but His grace is enough if we humble ourselves and ask. God doesn’t grade on a curve, thank Heaven for that!
Thank you for the gift of your Son and for grace that the hymns describe as “grace that greater than all my sin.” I confess that I sometimes judge other people. When I am tempted to do that Father, remind me of your grace. Help me to extend community to the weary and burdened.
Take your place on the throne of my life and fill me with the Holy Spirit as You commanded me to be filled, and as You promised in Your Word that You would do if I asked in faith. May Your Spirit in me give me the strength to model Your love and patience. Make me more like You in my attitudes and thoughts and actions. Thank you for loving me more than I know.
In your name,