Yesterday I posted the first two ways some sins are worse than others from the Westminster Larger Catechism. Here are the last two with some concluding remarks. The question being answered is what makes some sins worse than others.
3. From the nature and quality of the offense: if it be against the express letter of the law, break many commandments, contain in it many sins: if not only conceived in the heart, but breaks forth in words and actions, scandalize others, and admit of no reparation; if against means, mercies, judgments, light of nature, conviction of conscience, public or private admonition, censures of the church, civil punishments; and our prayers, purposes, promises, vows, covenants, and engagements to God or men: if done deliberately, willfully, presumptuously, impudently, boastingly, maliciously, frequently, obstinately, with delight, continuance, or relapsing after repentance.
A sin can be aggravated if the quality of the sin is greater. The list here is long. Let’s focus on a couple of things. First, breaking the clear teaching of Scripture is a greater sin than a less clear teaching of Scripture. Adultery is worse than masturbation, though masturbation is a sin. One is clearly taught in Scripture the other is not as clear. Cursing God is worse that a regular profanity such as “s**t.”
Second, if there are numerous agencies, such as parents, church, government, our own conscience, or friends that have shown us how an action is against Scripture and yet we sin anyway, this makes the sin worse. This isn’t complicated. If a new Christian is in a mostly pagan situation with just a few Christian friends who are young in the faith and sins that is different from a man who was raised a Christian, is surrounded by mature Christians, has pastors and elders encouraging him to do right and sins.
Finally whenever sin is boasted in or committed with delight that makes it worse. Here is one of the reasons why sodomy today is worse than sodomy in the past. Homosexuality has always existed. But today it is celebrated and rejoiced in even by those who claim Christ. This is done despite the fact that it is against conscience, Scripture, nature, and the consensus of the church through the ages. That means many homosexuals today do not just commit the sin, but make it worse by boasting in it.
But sodomy is low hanging fruit. How many Christians delight in “getting other Christians?” How many Christians delight in their pride, that they are not like other people or even other Christians? How many Christians delight in the fact that they submit to no man, when Scripture calls them to submit to elders? How many Christians gossip behind the backs of others with a secret delight? If you think this doesn’t apply to you and only applies to sodomites and frat boys who love sleeping with a different woman each weekend you are wrong. We all have our pet sins that we let go. What are the sins you secretly delight in?
4. From circumstances of time and place: if on the Lord’s day, or other times of divine worship; or immediately before or after these, or other helps to prevent or remedy such miscarriages: if in public, or in the presence of others, who are thereby likely to be provoked or defiled.
Fourth, sins can be made worse when we commit them at particular times or places. The first thing mentioned by the WLC is when a sin is committed before or after worship. Why is yelling at your children driving home from church worse than yelling at them on Thursday after shopping? At first, this seemed odd to me. But it makes sense. One of the themes running throughout these questions is that the closer contact one has with the gospel, the church, and the teachings of the Bible the more heinous it makes the sin. Therefore if you walk into church, sing praises to God, fellowship with his people, hear his word, and then walk out and sin it aggravates the sin because it is against an immediate grace.
The second thing mentioned is when a person sins in public or in front of those likely to be led astray. Again a father leads his children. Therefore when a father complains in front of his children is more heinous than if he complained in private. A minister preaching heresy from the pulpit is worse than thinking about heresy in his office. A wife who disrespects her husband in to her friends is worse than one who just has disrespectful thoughts.
To summarize the teaching. Sins can be made worse:
- If the person sinning is in a position of authority, power, or has particular gifts.
- If the person sinned against is God himself, a human in authority, a weak brother, or someone who is a close relationship.
- If the sin is clear violation of Scripture, has been condemned by many Christians, or is rejoiced in.
- If the sin is preceded or followed closely by an act of worship or is done in public.
First, just because one sin is worse, does not make the lesser sin not a sin. A political leader committing adultery is worse than an auto mechanic committing adultery. But it is still adultery in both cases. Both men are guilty. In other words, this list should not be taken as justifying lesser sins. No sin is good, but some are worse than others.
Second, this list is helpful in challenging situations of sin in the church or even among children. How hard you come down on someone will often be dictated not just by the sin, but also the context of the sin. How long has the person been a Christian? Have they been taught the ways of God? Were they warned? Is this a besetting sin that the person is fighting against or is it something they indulge without much concern?
Third, all of us ministers, elders, and deacons need to read these two WLC questions carefully. There is a reason our falls are the source of great scandal in the church. There is a reason our failure to study theology leads our people astray. There is a reason our family life is so important to our ministry. Feel the weight brothers. Our sins hurt more people and cause more damage than the sins of others. Do not take the task on lightly.
Finally, as you read the list apply it to yourself and not to your neighbor. One of the greatest problems I have as a pastor is people who think sermons and posts like these are for everyone else, but not for them. This post is for you. What do you do to aggravate or make your sins worse?