The Utter Horror of the Smallest Sins

You’ve probably heard it said that all sin is the same. There are some who argue that there is really no such thing as big sins or little sins, no distinction between acts of depravity and mere peccadillos. That charge is easily answered— the Bible often distinguishes between various gradations of sin, so that some are regarded as more serious than others. The Old Testament law, after all, laid out very different punishments for different sins. Later, Jesus distinguished between adultery and a lustful glance, or between anger and murder. But that’s not to say that little sins are meaningless and that they don’t display human depravity in a special way. Little sins reveal that we are willing to rebel against God in even the smallest matters.

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Let me draw an analogy from parenting. As parents, we sometimes ask our kids to take on big tasks and we sometimes ask them to complete little chores. My experience of parenting tells me that kids are as likely to express rebellion in the small things as the big ones. I’d sort of understand if my child complained when I asked him to paint the entire house. Yet asking him to take out the trash, a minor task that will take no more than two minutes, is still likely to elicit rolling eyes, and grumbling words. There’s really no good reason to complain against something so minor, is there? He does it only to make the point that he doesn’t want to obey. This response against so small a request proves that he’s in a state of rebellion against his parents. And that rebellion reaches to the fullest extent. There is no matter too small for him to rebel against.

The Bible assures us that as human beings we are all in a state of rebellion against God. Even we who have been saved by grace through faith find ourselves torn between competing loyalties; though committed to God we are also still committed to the flesh. We submit to God but still rebel against God. We are both saints and sinners. Our sinfulness is expressed not only in our desire to break God’s greatest rules but in our willingness to break even his smallest ones. And this is the utter horror of the smallest sins. They prove our hearts are so desperately wicked that there’s no area of life in which we won’t express our rebellion against God.

Our discussion of big sins and little sins tends to revolve around the fact that not all sins are the same and that some are bigger than others. This is true and it’s a worthwhile discussion to have, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that small sins reveal the sheer extent of our rebellion against God in a way that even big sins do not. They show that no matter is too small to miss the opportunity to grumble against God.

(Thanks goes to my friend Amy for spending a morning typing for me, including this article.)