We Hate Extreme Sins, But Do We Hate Sin?
“Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.”
Often it isn’t until oppression becomes extreme that we see the sins that were always there. And that is what we should realize that it is not merely these extreme sins that should have our attention, but these should draw our attention to what has always been there. Beneath the extreme, obvious sins where we see observable harm to people, there is always sin that has existed and been committed over and over in unobservable ways. It exists in the eyes, the mind, intentions, the reasoning, and desires long before it is fully “manifested”. That is the sin we should be judging and hating, and it took extreme evil to get us to notice it.
Often it’s not until men and women are literally sacrificing their children to idols that people really see the extent of idolatry, but is this extreme the only point? Isn’t the nature of sin much more than this? Is it not the whole vine of sin in the heart, all the way down to its seed? This hatred of God and utter disregard for Him?
Often it is not until men practically chain their wives in cages that we acknowledge the abuse and sexism in their marriage, but is this extreme form the whole sin? Does not this vine trace all the way back to before their marriage vows, the devilish pride and untouchable self-centeredness and lusts of the flesh glistening in his eyes then? Why did we not hate his sin then? Why was it unacceptable to discern and address these things while they were in the heart, and further—why do we judge one another as false or divisive for doing so?
It wasn’t until the slave industry was filled a mile high with blood, violence, and the most unspeakable cruelty that people finally noticed the sin within it. But were these extreme sins the only evils of slavery? Was it not the deep seeds of pride, contempt, inequality, and utter heartlessness? Was it not ideas about one's society, culture, education, and so on? Why did we not blink at those sins, why did we not rebuke them?
Why does it take blood for us to finally act?
And when we do act, why is it that we only think the extremes are the issue? Oh, only when that pastor stole money from his congregation was he faulted, but never for his years of pride, brutality, and inequality. Or only when a multitude of cases of abuse surface do we mourn, but why did we not hate the sinful heart in such a person that clearly existed all along, strutting about around us day after day? Why could we not discern pieces of such sin? Why did we not address them? This is the judgment against us! That we don’t blink at such sins year in and year out. We only hate the darkest fruits of sin, not its whole nature, the seed, vine, branch, and leaves.
When a person finally commits the act of murder there is the whole heart of sin, hatred, wrath, and disregard of human life that all culminated in the heart for a person to finally do such an act. But the natural person sees only the murder, the extreme outward act, and not the entire nature in a person that commits that murder. This is much of what Christ reveals about hatred, that the nature of hatred is the true nature of murder in the heart—even if we never kill someone (Matt 5:21-22, 1 John 3:15). That evil is lived out in our nature, and not merely externally.
If we merely correct a few external actions and not the sin nature within, then our religion, or our faith, is dead (James 2:14-17). It is only in correcting this nature that we live out true religion. “Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?” (James 2:20) The great point at the center of James 2 is that our faith, our religion, must actually do good. It must actually hate evil and love good, and walk in this. So this means that when we as believers fail to take issue with the nature of sin around us, it reveals the flaws in our faith, our religion, revealing deadness in us.
Our failure to discern and act, however, goes further than revealing deadness in our own religion, because the very same ideals we hold that keep us from acting against sin drive us to act in different ways. We not only fail ourselves, but we judge others who do see these sins; we speak out about how they are being divisive, disloyal, etc, and are only too willing to reject their efforts. We can’t act until sin has murdered a thousand sheep instead of the moment it attacks just one—and we also won’t allow others to act. So not only is our religion not doing good, we are enabling further evils and actively resisting good.
The state of the church today is that we commit no “murder”, no “adultery”, and imagine we’re doing well, but we have the external while failing to truly unravel the whole nature of sin itself. As said both above and by Jesus in Matthew 5, murder is more than just the killing of a person—murder is the hatred, covetousness, and disregard for human life that is thriving in the heart. It is the nature of sin without need of any “extreme” action (murder, adultery). And it is this nature of sin that we are supposed to be conquering! And yet how much selfishness, inequality, lovelessness, pride, ambition, and self, self, self is never checked in the church? We’ve actually gone and made these principles to live by! Oh, we certainly hate some forms of sin, this is true. But not all, and we refuse to see how this deep prejudice and refusal to hate all sin is one of the greatest hindrances to the reception of the Gospel today (James 2:1)!
What does it say of us when we can stand beside people filled with such sins and never be bothered by them? That we write them off, ignore, and even defend them? How sad that today there is such spiritual confusion, such backwards obligations in the very church of Christ, that people imagine doing this to be loyalty, love, forgiveness, and even righteousness! There is an epidemic of this kind of spiritual confusion in the church, and yet where is there preaching against this? (And where there is such preaching against this sin, where is the ability to do so without joining in friendship with the ideas of the world?) Where is there preaching about abuse, inequality, ambition, conceit, and all forms of self? Are these things not equal sins to any other? Oh sure, we give lip service to these, but we’re not half as concerned over these as, say, homosexuality or abortion. Yes, homosexuality and abortion are readily condemned from the pulpit, while hardly a word is spoken to rebuke the spiritual pride, lack of compassion, abuse, disrespect, lack of intentional prayer, cursing of God in the heart, and other sins that thrive in our congregations. And this kind of bias and tolerance of sin is really taking its toll on the church. Our works in God are not complete (Rev 3:2).
When crises or scandals are revealed in churches the whole church runs around declaring, “We care, we care!” When, in fact, the very crisis in your midst is revealing that you never did. You didn’t care when all these sins were in their infancy, when they steadily increased, and even when they were full grown, so you didn’t care. You say, “We didn’t know!” And to some extent that may be true, but it is also true that you didn’t care to know. Crises reveal our prejudices and selfishness, and our deep ignorance of the will of God. When such events like this happen where a whole church is shamed, it is God’s judgment at them for sins. Not of one sad incident, but of a whole network of beliefs, thoughts, private false judgments, words, and actions. And using God’s rebuke to trace that network, to uproot such a nature of sin in our midst and repent of it, is our duty (Rev 3:19). But what good is all of this when we refuse to blush, when we say all these events are only because of man and not God? The Lord is treating us like His churches in Revelation 2 and 3, revealing our flaws and incompleteness, and giving us opportunity to repent—however humiliating this is, isn’t the glory of God and holiness worth it? But oh how much we waste the rebukes of God.
Are we such people that we will only hate sin when it is at the utter extreme and not before? And perhaps not even then? Then what good is our religion (James 2:16)? What good is our religion if it doesn’t ferret out every sin, every type of self, every arrogance, inequality, cruelty, oppression, and injustice; every form of godlessness, lawlessness, and unrighteousness? How can we profess to be of the Light when we do not hate every form of darkness? If we can only hate certain sins and not all sins, what does this say of our religion? Are we trustworthy or untrustworthy, righteous or biased (James 2:9)? We should actually hate sin, not just hate when it’s most tragic.
Our responsibility as Christians is often much larger than we want it to be, and failing to prepare ourselves to rightly deal with real sins brings the church into contempt. Our generation needs to be trained in how to discern sin and to know what our responsibility before God truly is once we do discern it. It’s very important that we realize false morals and ideas about what is good are one of the greatest hindrances to us dealing with real sin correctly. These ideas are rooted in confusing grace with lawlessness, and imagining that it’s “love” to allow people to not have to account for their sin. As well, our prejudices—against people’s groups, making certain sins worse than others, while considering other sins blameless—greatly blind us to rightly dealing with sin.
Some questions worth asking ourselves to help us see if we are taking up that responsibility rightly or not are:
Do I think it is my job to defend people in sin? If yes, at what point is there a limit to this? When that limit is hit, what actions should I take?
What actions does a person have the right to take in the face of other people’s sins?
If leaders and others won’t listen, what sort of actions am I accountable before God to take?
If another person is resisting sin in others, that I might not yet perceive, what would their behavior look like, including imperfect behavior?
What is the purpose of patience and love in the face of someone else’s sins?
Is my patience only mindful of a person repenting, or do I also understand what I am responsible for if a person does not repent?—am I prepared for every circumstance or only an “ideal” circumstance?
Are my morals built for the world I truly live in, or are they designed for an idealistic/perfect world?
Do I understand how I can wrong others just as much with false morals as with evil intentions?—is this even a concern in my mind when I think about how to love others?
God, humble us as we hear your Word and seek to truly do it.
June 7, 2022