In the Christian world, we tend to categorize sins. (For those who don’t consider themselves followers of Jesus, the same thing can happen, but “sins” are replaced with something else – addictions, vices, bad habits, or socially-inappropriate character traits.) Sometimes, the division is between “big” and “small” sins; other times, it is between sins that impact others and those that impact only ourselves.
However, my belief is that there is another, more insidious, categorization of sins that many of us fall into unconsciously: those who sin in the same way as we do, and those who sin differently.*
Sin is sin (see Romans 3:21-28), and any sin causes us to fall short of the standard required to remain in a relationship with a holy – perfectly sinless – God. But, in our pride, we are tempted to judge others for their sins – not identifying all sin as an affront to God’s perfect and holy standard, but judging people against our own life.
In one of these cases, we judge those who “sin differently” from us. For instance, we may see someone who is struggling with an addiction, and consider them less righteous than us, despite our struggles with other challenges (but just not that particular addiction). We mentally classify this person as one of “them” (and not one of “us”), and may offer them platitudes (like “just kick the habit”, or “quit doing that”), even as we fight against our own temptations (or, worse yet, embrace our own sins).
In this situation, we miss the chance to love our neighbors, and fall into our own sins of pride and unrighteous judgment. Matthew 7:1-5 presents Jesus’s viewpoint on judgment, and the passage from Romans (above) reminds us that we are not in a position to consider other sinners as any less than ourselves. By finding common ground in our shortcomings, and recognizing our shared opportunities for forgiveness, we begin to heal divides and maybe even achieve the unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17 (see verses 11 and 21-22).
The other case can be just as damaging, but in a different way. Frustrated with our own weaknesses, we may judge those who struggle with the same sins as we do. Born out of self-loathing, we cringe when we see others in the same situation. Our frustrations with our own limitations aren’t always obvious, though. We may not see the connection until someone points it out.
If we struggle with this case, we would do well to memorize Romans 8:1. For those who have accepted Jesus’s payment for their sins, justification (being pronounced innocent) is complete. Once we can live in freedom ourselves (see Galatians 5:1), we can share the source of that freedom with others – and let them live without the extra weight of our judgment.
I believe that Jesus died to pay for the sins of all people, and that those who accept Him have all of their sins covered – past, present, and future. While I may struggle with categorizing people as “those who sin differently”, I have the opportunity – upon recognizing that – to do better.
So, as we recognize our shortcomings, let us love one another as God loves us. Let us not consider our own sins as somehow less offensive to God as anyone else’s. And, let us not not consider any individual action – whether ours or others’ – so sinful that it cannot be covered by the blood of Jesus.
Join me as we challenge ourselves to live out a life of both truth and grace (John 1:17).
For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.
John 1:17 NASB
- I’m not the only one to have made this observation. There are a number of quotes and writings on this subject, each of which – including my own, and an example that I’ve linked below – I challenge you to evaluate thoughtfully.