Are All Commandments Equal?
Some ten years ago, I wrote a short story called Entrance to the Light. The story was about a group of people on a bus that crashes. After they die (not a Biblically sound premise by the way), they see God and understand their sin, repenting and receiving salvation. Again, you actually have to repent before you die, but my message was more about the last person in the story. He was a liar. The killer and the adulterer had been admitted because of their repentance, but the liar was denied because he never repented. The point was that unrepentant sinners go to Hell.
This is true. Whatever your sin, no matter how bad or how small, if you do not repent of your sins and (according to my faith) turn to Christ, you will go to Hell. There is no sin you can commit that is so “minor” that a perfect and holy God will simply let it pass. Christ died so that whoever believed in Him and followed Him would have salvation. He did not die so that we could go on living our sinful lives however we wanted because He picked up the bill (a very broad paraphrase of Romans 6:2).
However, while every unrepentant sin results in damnation, not every sin is equal in God’s eyes. The first five books of the Bible have several names. The Pentateuch simply identifies them as the first five books of the Bible. They are sometimes called the Laws of Moses or even (since Moses was God’s chosen spokesman) called “The Law.”
Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy have the most extensive list in terms of the Old Testament. The sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7 expands on a number of those laws. Galatians has more information.
First, not all of those laws from the Pentateuch are in effect. Christ declared all foods clean, so humans can really eat pretty much any animal they want (Mark 7:19-23). Christ declared that the sabbath was for man, not man for the sabbath (Mark 2:27). There is no Christian requirement for a day of rest. With each representative (even Adam) there was a covenant, a promise made by God to His chosen representative. Christ brings a new (and the best) covenant, and through him we have an updated list of commands. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments (John 14:15).”
So again, Christ did not die on the cross to allow us humans to live however we want and still go to Heaven. Instead, we show our love for Him by keeping His commandments.
But if we analyze the history of each covenant, we see God responding differently to some sins than others while people are on the earth. Some sins He is (or even has been) far more patient with than others. Some sins required physical punishment or even the death penalty.
We know we should strive to be perfect because God is perfect (Matthew 5:48), but we can not attain that perfection while we are still in the cursed flesh we inherited all the way from Adam. Ultimately, the combination of salvation and eternal life is a free gift of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).
What all of this brings us to is the realization that there are some sins that are far more egregious than others. And here is where my limited knowledge becomes a source of frustration. From the day I wrote that short story to today, I’ve been far more concerned with the most important concept of Christianity. I was aware of the sin in my life, and horrified that my sin would lead to damnation. I wasn’t worried about the severity of that sin. I hated its presence in my life, and so I tried and tried to eradicate it, afraid that any sin, no matter how small, still led to Hell.
That mindset would be true if we were still bound by The Law, but we aren’t. The Law brings death, Christ and grace bring life (2 Corinthians 3:6).
So my mindset has shifted, as any who walk the path eventually see. We are unfinished works.
In Salvation, we became new (2 Corinthians 5:17).
But while we are new creations of Grace, we are not yet complete and perfect works. God is working in us (Philippians 2:13).
When confronting sin, the temptation is to respond to all sin in the same manner. If Christians respond to all sin the same, we’re missing some critical points.
First, with the exception of repentance vs refusal to repent, God Himself did not treat all sin the same. If God responded to all sin with immediate and permanent death, we’d all already be damned. God did not kill Adam and Eve and then start over. Do you realize he could have? I do. It boggles my mind trying to figure it out. God had the power. There certainly wasn’t a lack of dirt to form a new man. But rather than destroy what he had already made and made well (Genesis 1:31), he redeemed man through Christ. When God gave Moses the Law, it came with various punishments for various crimes. Some theft required monetary replacement while some other crimes required stoning.
Second, if we treat every sin the same way and lash out at it in the same way, that anger (even if it’s Biblically righteous) will just come off as noise. Think about the guy at work who’s always mad about his company. After a while, don’t or wouldn’t you eventually get to a point where you see him or her and think, “Oh, here he comes again. What’s he pissed about this time?” When we elevate all sin to an extreme, we leave ourselves shouting and lamenting, and we just become noise.
Third, treating all sin the same requires either elevating one sin to a status God didn’t give it, or degrading another sin below how abominable it is in God’s eyes.
This means we must seek out and work on all the sin in our own lives, paying close attention to those which might be bigger problems than others. This is a blessing. God is more patient with some sins than others. This allows me to focus on the issues in my growth that are more important first. Then, I can begin to work on the smaller issues.
I’m still not permitted to continue in my smaller sin just because it is smaller. Neither am I permitted to covet or practice one sin just because I’ve turned away from a more egregious sin. It simply gives precedent to the issues that are more important.
This means we have to be more diligent to the bigger things. This means we have to focus far more on some issues. If we allow lesser issues to overtake larger ones, we’ll inevitably fall into those issues and be lost. My pastor at church says, “If you make the little things big, you inevitably make the big things small.” The big things must always be the big things. We don’t ignore the little things. We just don’t let the little things become more important than they should be.
So what are the big things? This is my failure. I am, regrettably, among those who looked at all sin the same. So I frankly don’t know the answer with confidence. However, the word of God (as always) provides some insight.
The most important: Christ Himself gave us the two most important laws. These are the commandments we must ensure we’re following every day, all day, not matter what. If we’re not doing these two things, we’re already lost. But these laws are not simple tasks. It’s not like, “Mow the lawn, and make your bed.”
Indeed, these laws are about our hearts, and what we seek with them.
“And He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39).’”
There we have, straight from our Savior, the two things we must never fail to do. I’m of the opinion that if anyone can simply follow those two commandments, all would be well. God, our loving, merciful heavenly Father, knows our hearts. He is patient with us. His discipline is done in patience and love, to make us more like His son.
Next chapter we will look at those two commandments more closely, but I first wanted to provide an overview on what I found in the Bible as the more important commandments and more egregious sins.
Since we’ve already looked at the most important commandments, let’s look at egregious sins. Did you know that God expressed seven sins He hates in particular? As people continue to protest, debate, argue, and philosophize what things are worse than others, God kindly gave us a list.
See Proverbs 6:16-19:
“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breaths out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”
We will study those in particular in future chapters as well.
You see, I don’t have an exact count on all the commandments from God. Sure, there are the ten commandments, which we will look at as well. But if you just read Leviticus and Deuteronomy, you’ll see just how extensive The Law really is. Read the rest of the Bible and study Matthew 5-7 and Galatians, and you’ll see the Law is hopelessly extensive. We can’t follow it perfectly. Even if we were in some way able to start following every law perfectly from the moment we read it, we can’t go back and erase what we did in ignorance. This is, again, why the grace offered us through Jesus Christ is ultimately the only rational method of salvation. No human I’ve ever knowns has earnestly said, “I’m perfect. I’ve never done anything wrong in my whole life.” I’ve never even met someone who’s said, “Well I wasn’t born perfect, but since I’ve ready the Bible, I’ve never done a single thing wrong.”
So if we’re all ready to acknowledge our imperfection, what way is there to be reconciled to a perfect and Holy God? The only possible reconciliation we can have is if someone who was able to be perfect and did live a perfect life paid the price required so that His righteousness could be credited to us (Romans 4:5).
How can I proclaim to be perfect if I can’t even offer to you the extensive list of commandments that must be followed? I can’t even provide you the number.
It’s horrifying. I’m supposed to honor a perfect God by following His commands, and I don’t even know what they are! Wait. Be patient. Remember, some things are far more important. God has revealed to us the things that matter most. As we grow, we will see more and more how we might honor God in what we do.
Does that mean anything outside of the nineteen (seven abominations, two great commandments and ten commandments) things I articulated here are simply “fair game?” No! Just because theft isn’t inherently listed there doesn’t mean theft isn’t wrong. In fact, I urge you to remember that one of the abominable sins is feet that make haste to run to evil. That one abomination accounts for any who rush off to a sin just because it’s not one of these listed.
Also, if you’re using this book to structure your life, I’ve failed and even sinned against God. This isn’t the book you’re supposed to use to base your life on. The Bible is. This book is nothing more than one Christian pondering the only book that really matters. If more people just read and studied the Bible more every day, working to apply it in their lives, the world would be well.
How can I make such a blanket statement? I’ve already gone through the logic diagram. If you don’t actually believe in a God, nothing I say really has any importance to you anyway.
The more valuable question is, “Why do I believe that statement above is true?”
Well just go look at those nineteen things. Are they really so bad? I challenge you to think about a world where everyone treats each other as themselves. Where would police brutality go if every police officer treated a suspect the way they would be treated? Where would racism go if every white person treated every black person like, you guessed it, themselves, people? Where would we be if no one ever wanted to shed innocent blood or make haste to do evil?
I dare say even if you didn’t believe in God and simply avoided those seven abominations, the nature of your salvation may still be a point of dispute for some (not for those who are Christian), but the condition of this planet would still be much better. To rephrase, the world would be a better place regardless of who goes to Heaven or Hell. Here I must digress and point out that no matter how great this world could be, it would pale in comparison to Heaven. No matter how bad this wold could be, it would pale in comparison to Hell.
Yes, the first commandment still demands a whole-hearted love to God, the God of Abraham, Jacob, and Isaac .Remember I’ve already acknowledged you either agree with that, or you don’t. This is a Christian belief. But God is patient. He’s shown His willingness to let humanity go where it truly wants to go (a paraphrase of Romans 1:24-25). This means though that we can turn away, but we can turn toward Him as well. On this world, we can hold fast to these principles and enjoy a more peaceful earthly existence.
This is a wold that could be. We could live in a world where everyone follows these commands regardless of where their hearts lie, and the world would be a better place. We wouldn’t look upon one another with haughty eyes and judgement. We’d simply live, and God would judge. We would judge ourselves and others according to the same standards, which is so much better than any system we have now.
In future chapters, we’ll study this list more carefully.
For our panel: What is the actual, comprehensive list of commandments a Post Pentecostal Christian should seek to follow? Are there other, more important commands or more egregious sins I failed to mention? How does one apply these commands in one’s own life? Does the committing of any of those sins immediately condemn a person? Are there truly any unforgivable sins?