What Are the Greater Sins?

In one of the most dramatic scenes in all of the Bible, Pilate the political leader and Jesus Christ are face-to-face. Having been falsely accused and wrongly arrested, Jesus was in custody and treated like a criminal. As the men spoke, Jesus makes this curious comment in John 19:11, “Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”

What in the world does Jesus mean by this?

On one hand, all sin is equally sin. When caught in sin, sinners are apt to excuse themselves by comparing themselves to someone else whose behavior is worse. The goal, of course, is to make ourselves look better. But, God does not see a spectrum of people from good to bad. Instead, God has two categories of people – perfect and imperfect, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). This is because obedience to God’s Law is not graded on a curve but rather a pass/fail scale where perfection is a passing grade and anything else is a failing grade: “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” (James 2:10). One example is Jesus’ teaching that people cannot excuse lust because it is not as bad as adultery (Matthew 5:27-28).

On the other hand, sins have degrees of severity as Jesus told Pilate. Some sins have greater consequences than others. This is why the Bible speaks of the sin that leads to death (1 John 5:16-18), more severe judgment (Luke 12:48-48), stricter judgment for teachers (James 3;1), greater punishment (Matthew 11:20-24), greater consequences for intentional sin than unintentional sin (Leviticus 4:1–35; 5:15–19; Num. 15:22–30; Ezek. 45:20; Luke 12:48), greater punishment for child abusers (Matthew 18:6), greater punishment for a man who does not feed his family than for an infidel (1 Timothy 5:8), and twice the judgment for self-righteous religious people than for “sinners” (Matthew 10:15; 23:15). This principle makes practical sense. For example, it would be a sin for one man to lust after another man’s wife but the damage would be far greater if he actually seduced her and committed adultery with her. All parents would prefer that their neighbor simply covet their child rather than actually kidnap her.

Returning to Jesus’ conversation, although Pilate is responsible before God for his participation in the murder of Jesus, others shared greater guilt. Why? Because the religious leaders who knew the Bible and did not accept the Lord had no excuse for their sin since the more you know, the more you are held accountable.

On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being no Bible knowledge, and 10 being a mature Christian, how much do you know? How much more responsible does that make you for the decisions you make and life you live?

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