Tag Archives: sin

Should Christians be tolerant?

Let’s be honest about the emotional reaction some of us have towards the concept of tolerance as a principle. If there were ever a buzzword for our culture, tolerance is it, and many of those who uphold this principle are often doing so in ways that are synonymous with an anything-goes belief system. And if compromise and a wishy-washy belief system is what we mean by tolerance, then we can certainly understand why a Christian would not want to be labeled as tolerant. But in a strict sense, tolerance has nothing to do with compromise. It is simply the ability to allow for views different than our own.

So, should Christians be tolerant? Well, that depends. If tolerance means compromising our belief in the message of Jesus Christ, the story of the Bible, or historic Christianity to avoid conflict with others, then no. But if tolerance means that we strive to live unwavering in our convictions and at the same time love others unconditionally, then yes. In this sense tolerance would look a lot like embracing prostitutes, tax collectors, drunks, and other sinners like ourselves. It would look a lot like emptying ourselves of our spiritual pride, looking beyond people’s actions, and seeing them as people who matter to God. It would look a lot like submitting ourselves to the will of God and laying down our lives for those who desperately need His mercy and forgiveness.

In other words, it would look a lot like Jesus.

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Are some sins more wrong than others?

Many of us have a tendency to judge certain sins as worse than others. We say, “I have my struggles, but at least I don’t struggle with that.”

Surely some attitudes and behaviors carry the potential for greater, far-reaching consequences than others. But that does not make one set of sins worse than another. The New Testament calls us to take all sin seriously:

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. (James 2:8–9 nlt)

James, the author of these words, does not seem to be setting up a hierarchy of sins. He wrote to people who were guilty of such things as favoring the rich over the poor,[1] and he is confronting the self-righteous attitudes of those who don’t feel they have sinned enough to need God’s grace. He told his readers that this kind of thinking is not only prideful but also self-deceiving. Everyone sins and needs God’s grace.

The mercy of God is not just for those who commit obvious and heinous kinds of sin. A person who doesn’t murder or commit adultery but shows partiality to the rich while ignoring the poor is a lawbreaker, too.

Sin is a struggle for all of us. And none of us have reason to feel superior to those who sin in ways we don’t. Most of all, let us never forget that our gracious God longs to extend His hand of mercy to all.

[1] James 2:1-4

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Is poverty the result of sin in my life?

It’s true that bad choices can make us poor.[1] But in a world damaged by everyone’s sin, there are all kinds of reasons for poverty. To view it as a sign of specific sin in our lives is neither helpful nor accurate.

If poverty means there is sin in our lives, why would Paul say this about the churches in Macedonia: “They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.”[2] Later Paul wrote, “You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor.”[3]

If Jesus was poor, would we dare say that his poverty was a sign of sin in his life? Of course not! Yet Jesus claimed to be homeless. “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head,” he said.[4]

Significantly, many passages in the Bible warn against ill-gotten riches. So we might just as easily ask: Is wealth a sign of sin in my life?

The prophet Jeremiah warned, “Like a partridge that hatches eggs she has not laid, so are those who get their wealth by unjust means.”[5] And the book of Proverbs says, “Evil people get rich for the moment, but the reward of the godly will last.”[6]

The apostle Paul wrote, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything.”[7] Yet he too warned against the dangers of wealth. “True godliness with contentment is itself great wealth,” he said.[8] Then he warned, “People who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”[9]

Jesus said, “Don’t store your treasures here on earth.” Instead, he urged, “Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”[10]

It’s dangerous and unfair to generalize, especially when making assumptions about rich or poor people — including ourselves. Material wealth (or the lack of it) is a poor indicator of whether we are following God’s ways. God is building his kingdom with people from across the economic spectrum. What matters most is how we use what he has given us.

[1]. Proverbs 10:4

[2]. 2 Corinthians 8:1-2

[3]. 2 Corinthians 8:9

[4]. Matthew 8:20

[5]. Jeremiah 17:11

[6]. Proverbs 11:18

[7]. Philippians 4:12

[8]. 1Timothy 6:6

[9]. 1 Timothy 6:9-10

[10]. Matthew 6:19-21

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Does James 2:10 imply that God doesn’t consider some sins more serious than others?

James 2:10 states: “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble at one point, he is guilty of all” (nkjv).

Some people have mistakenly thought that this verse means that all sins are equal in God’s view, that no sins are worse than others.

In the Old Testament, there were sacrifices to atone for sins done in ignorance or through weakness. But deliberate, premeditated transgressions were a more serious category of sin for which the law couldn’t atone (Hebrews 10). People who committed such sins (Leviticus 6:1-2; 10:1-2; 20:1-27; Numbers 15:32-35; 16:26-32) either had to make restitution (as in the cases of theft or lying) or be put to death (as in the cases of adultery, violating the Sabbath, cursing one’s parents). When David premeditatedly committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed, he wrote, “You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; . . . The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart” (Psalm 51:16-17 nkjv). David knew that no sacrifice could atone for what he did, and that he could only, like other Old Testament believers who committed such sins, cast himself on God’s mercy. The law provided no forgiveness. He needed grace.

Paul’s declaration in Romans 2 that God will judge “according to works,” “light,” and “opportunity” implies that there are degrees of guilt, as did Jesus’ declaration that rejecting Him and His gospel was a more serious sin than the sin of Sodom (Matthew 10:15; 11:23-24). If there are no degrees of sin, then it would be pointless to struggle to seek the lesser of two evils in the kinds of situations we all sometimes face.

What James is confronting in this verse is the self-righteous attitude that we don’t depend as much on God’s grace as someone who has committed more obvious and heinous kinds of sin. This kind of thinking is self-deceiving and encourages complacency. Any violation of the law is enough to keep us from being justified by the law’s standards. A person who doesn’t murder or commit adultery but shows partiality to the rich should not feel self-righteous. He is a lawbreaker too. The function of the law is not to justify but to bring awareness of sin (Romans 4:14-16; 5:19-21; 1 Corinthians 15:56). We should be humbled and conscience-stricken by the many sins we do commit, and not feel superior to those who sin in ways we don’t.

 

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What Did Jesus Mean, “Lead Us Not Into Temptation”?

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Do not lead us into temptation” (Matthew 6:13), He was not implying that God would ever encourage us to sin. Scripture makes this clear:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone (James 1:13).

Nor was He implying that there is something unusual about being subjected to temptation.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you (1 Peter 4:12-14 NIV).

Rather, Jesus was modeling the healthy self-distrust that should mark every child of God. He was showing us that we must be continually conscious of our own weakness and of the wiles of our enemy. We are not to have any false assurance about our ability to do as well as Jesus did when “put to the test” by Satan in the wilderness. Instead, we are to recognize our inclination to be headstrong like Peter, thinking he was equal to any challenge that might come his way (Luke 22:31-34,54-62.)

We as God’s children never have to give in to temptation, for God will “make the way of escape” (1 Corinthians 10:13 nkjv), but we must be conscious of our vulnerability. Jesus therefore emphasized the need for humble dependence on God. He called us to recognize our human frailty and to acknowledge that we on our own are no match for our triple foe: the world, the flesh, and the devil.

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