Three passages of Scripture that have helped me see the seriousness of sin are Leviticus 16:21, 2 Samuel 12:9-10, and 1 Kings 13:21, as these are translated in the New International Version. In Leviticus 16:21, God uses the word rebellion to describe the sins of the Israelites. The Hebrew word, which is usually translated as “transgression,” means rebellion against authority. So God considers our sin, be it refined or scandalous, as rebellion against His sovereign rule over His creatures.
The 2 Samuel 12:9-10 passage occurs in the prophet Nathan’s rebuke of David for committing adultery with Bathsheba and then having her husband killed in an attempt to cover up his sin. There God says through Nathan that David had despised His Word (verse 9), and even God Himself (verse 10). The word despise means to disdain or treat with contempt. So, when we sin we are in effect treating God and His Word with disdain or contempt; we are despising Him.
We cannot evade the force of the word despise, thinking it fits the scandalous nature of David’s crimes but doesn’t apply to us. The same God who said, “You shall not murder” or “You shall not commit adultery” also said, “You shall not covet” (Exodus 20:13-14, 17). It is not the seriousness of the sin as we view it, but the infinite majesty and sovereignty of the God who gave the commands, that make our sin a despising of God and His Word. Even as I write these words I bow my head in shame to realize how lightly I have treated some sins that God regards as rebellion and a despising of Him.
The third word, which occurs in I Kings 13:21, is defy: “You have defied the word of the Lord.” The word disobeyed, used in this instance in most Bible translations, doesn’t capture the intense force of this word, probably because we are so used to the concept of disobedience. But we all recognize that the word defy escalates the seriousness of disobedience. It is a direct challenge to authority.
That God would use such a word in this instance is all the more striking because the prophet who defied God didn’t commit a scandalous sin. He simply did what God had specifically told him not to do—to eat or drink in the land of Samaria or return by the way he came. Yet God regarded his sin not as mere disobedience on the level we associate with that word but as defiance. Again, the seriousness of sin is not simply measured by its consequences, but by the authority of the One who gives the command.
So these three words—rebellion, despise, and defy—are all synonyms for sin that can help us begin to grasp the seriousness of all sin, even our so-called refined sins. And we are not through yet.
As we continue to probe the sinfulness of our hearts, we come to self-centeredness; selfish ambition; the love of position, power, or praise; an independent spirit; and the tendency to manipulate events or other people for our own ends. Then there is indifference to the eternal or temporal welfare of those around us, and finally the cancerous sin of materialism.
I know that we get a lot of guilt laid on us in the United States about materialism, and I have no desire to lay guilt on someone just because he or she lives in a better house and eats better food than people in the less developed countries. But I recently heard a statistic that both alarmed and saddened me: Only 4 percent of evangelicals in the United States give a tithe (10 percent) of their income to God’s work.
Even though some Christians question the applicability of the tithe concept in the New Testament era, this is still a shameful statistic. It means the overwhelming majority of professing Christians in the most affluent nation in history are spending most of their income on themselves.
On the other hand, those of us who do give 10 percent or more of our income to God’s work can become proud and self-righteous about it as we look around and see others who are not as generous. In that case, all we are doing is exchanging one sin for another—the sin of materialism and selfishness for the sin of self-righteous pride.
We could mention a score of other sins—those of the mind and heart that no one else knows about except God. But we have not even mentioned our failures to exhibit the positive traits of Christian character, such as love, gentleness, kindness, patience, and humility We are not only to put off the traits of the old self, we are also to put on the traits of the new self (see Ephesians 4:22-24).