The Layman's Bible

Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation

The Lesser of Two Evils

There are a lot of maxims in the book of Proverbs. Since there are so many it can be easy for us to read over them and not really consider each proverb before moving on to the next. Take Proverbs 17:15 for example; it reads, “Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent- the Lord detests them both.” It’s really easy to just read it, say, “Oh yeah, that makes sense,” and move on. But is that really how we feel on the subject? Although I think everyone agrees that the guilty deserve punishment of some sort and the innocent deserve justice; at the same time we’re very quick to commend Sir William Blackstone for saying, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer” (That is to say, it is better for ten criminals to get off, then one innocent person be put in jail). In this case, we feel it is better to choose what we see as the lesser evil.

But how does God see it? According to the proverb above, he hates them both and does not assign a value to either. James reminds us that there are no fifty shades of sin for the Lord. He writes,

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker (James 2:10-11).

We sin all the time, but usually the thought runs through our mind, “Hey, it’s not murder, so it’s not that bad.” But God says that any sin is wrong. Check out what he told King Saul,

For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
And arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
He has rejected you as king (1 Samuel 15:23).

God takes idolatry pretty seriously, but even just being arrogant ranks up with it. And rebellion? Well most folk would say that rebellion is the definition of sin itself, so basically all sin has the same value. Jesus takes things up a notch, too. You think that murder is bad? Well, according to Christ, hating someone is equally as bad:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, “Raca,” is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell (Matthew 5:21-22).

And you think that your brand of immorality isn’t all that bad because at least you’re not sleeping around? Guess again, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). So it seems that no matter what you’ve been taught, as the Holy Spirit taught me: there are no greater or lesser sins.

Why does God come down so hard on sin? Honestly, it’s to help us. Peter writes,

Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:10-11).

The Bible teaches that we should be diligent in our faith and commit ourselves to good works; and sin works against such things and holds us back. God doesn’t differentiate between sins in order that we do our best all the time (as difficult as that may be). If he said, “Oh, well this sin isn’t so bad,” then we’d never stop engaging in said sin and it would be a constant hindrance for us. That’s why the Bible instead says,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us (Hebrews 12:1).

Don't waste your hand weighting out your sins.  Just drop them and you'll have an extra hand to do stuff with.

Don’t waste your hand weighting out your sins. Just drop them and you’ll have an extra hand to do stuff with.

The New Testament (where Hebrews is) was written in Greek during ancient times. In ancient Greece, runners didn’t wear anything- not even underwear! So when the writer of Hebrews tells us to take off everything in our spiritual life that hinders us (sin and bad habits), he means everything. That way, when Christ finally comes back for us, we won’t be caught with our pants down and we’ll have plenty of heavenly rewards waiting for us. Unfortunately, we don’t know when Christ is coming, so we’re supposed to be doing good all the time. Jesus notes, “But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into” (Luke 12:39). This is the same principle for the coming of the Lord; we don’t know when Jesus is coming back. If we did, we’d sin non-stop up until like a day or two before and then start getting ready for heaven. Rather though, we could die any time and the end could come at any moment, so we have to be on constant guard. Jesus continues,

The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions” (Luke 12:42-44).

Being diligent in our faith is rewarded in heaven, and if the Lord comes while you’re doing good, then surely you’ll be rewarded for that. The Bible also notes that when we’re doing our best all the time, it’s good for everyone. We read,

This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone (Titus 3:8).

When we’re on our best behavior, everyone wins.

“Ok, that’s all well and good, but let’s be reasonable for a second. Nobody is perfect.” God realizes this. In fact, Jesus was a bit leery of trusting people because the Lord knows what’s in all of our hearts. John 2:24-25 notes, “But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.” We’ve all got bad stuff inside, and if you say otherwise you’re a liar; “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). But that’s where Jesus comes in. He came and died in our stead because we are by nature unrighteous and sinful, unfit for the kingdom of heaven to which we’re called. Peter writes, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit…” (1 Peter 3:18). We’re able to approach God and eventually enter heaven through the sacrifice of Christ, who gave himself up in order that we may be declared clean.

Even so, those saved by Christ should still do their best every day. Paul writes,

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed- not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence- continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Philippians 2:12-13).

Although we can never repay the Lord for the sacrifice he made on our behalf, we should work through his grace on our lives to do our best. And although it may seem like an impossible challenge, don’t worry, because the Holy Spirit will help you to achieve all that God has called you to do (like shedding off all forms of sin from your life). You won’t always succeed, and you’ll probably slide back into old habits from time to time, but that doesn’t mean you should give up. Rather, keep at it and strive to do your best through faith. Even Paul (who wrote most of the New Testament) couldn’t seem to reach all his spiritual goals, but he didn’t give up. He records, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Philippians 3:12). Even when we stumble we should always try to do our best to be true to our God; and when we do mess up, we should be quick to repent and start over. Every day is a new day and every minute is a new minute, if you fall, get back up and try again. Besides, theoretically, a believer shouldn’t want to continue sinning because the Lord says, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). It doesn’t get much more straightforward than that. So don’t weigh your sins, because they’re all of equal value- a negative value at that. Rather, throw them off as quickly as you can and enjoy the freedom the ancient Greek runners used to enjoy as they ran their races- in your spiritual life that is; you probably should wear clothes most of the time.

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This entry was posted on March 7, 2015 by in Bible Stuff and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , .
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