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imagesThis question comes up quite frequently. “It doesn’t seem fair that a little lie receives the same punishment with God as murder. Murder is much worse, yet God says the punishment for lies and other ‘small’ sins deserve hell too. How is this just?”

The most common explanation for this question emphasizes God’s eternal / infinite nature. “One sin against an infinite God deserves an infinite punishment. The punishment for our one sin therefore requires eternal damnation because of God’s infinite nature.” I understand the logic of this reasoning, however it has zero biblical support. Yeah, zero. Not one biblical line of evidence. But why?

The reason? This line of reasoning goes against God’s explanation of our sinfulness and His punishment.

First, there is a problem with the question. The question views sin and quantitative — as if we can count up our transgressions. The question almost assumes human nature is neutral consisting of both positive righteous and negative sinful actions. But there is no tally sheet. We need to understand sin is qualitative. Even if a person could fully obey the law, he would still be worthy of hell. What? Why? Because humans are, by nature sinful. And our sinful nature deserves hell.

Second, God testifies regarding our nature, “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Eph 2:3). Our natural disposition faces God’s wrath because of our nature. In reality, there are no righteous actions, every action from an unbeliever affronts the Lord. There are just actions keeping us out of prison. [1]

Unknown-2If we understand the argument in Hebrews 9, this comes out by understanding the difference in OT and Christ’s sacrifice(s). OT sacrifices were sufficient for providing temporary atonement for sins. But they could never “take away sin.” Christ’s sacrifice, however, “takes away sin.” (Heb 9:26). OT sacrifices merely covered them, they did not remove sin. Through Christ, He removes our sin nature replacing it with a regenerated heart, making people who worship in Spirit and truth.

Third, God declared humans as sinful and sentenced us to the death penalty. Simply put, the penalty for being a sinner is eternal death. That is God’s justice and judgment. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). The plight of humanity is death because the wages of our sinfulness is death. Paul does not have in mind a tally sheet. This is not like our modern justice system sending people to prison to pay their debt to society. We are sinful to our core, every action is sinful, every thought, our entire state and nature are sinful. Paul speaks about what humans and Christ produce. Humans, by nature, are destined for death. Adam brought death into the world. To be human is to have the death penalty. But the good news is Christ produces eternal life.

images-1So, how does the one lie fit into this equation? Simple, the one lie proves God correct regarding our nature. The one lie isn’t being punished with death prison time. The one lie proves our sinful nature and validates our death sentence. We are not neutral beings who fall into sin and become sinners. This is a twisted view of sin. We are unrighteous beings who validate this assessment with our sins. The law revealed and defined Israel’s sinfulness and taught them they need a Savior. It was their tutor to lead them to Christ (Galatians 3:23-24).

Consider Erickson’s definition of sin,

A common element running through all of these varied ways of characterizing sin is the idea that the sinner has failed to fulfill God’s law….Yet sin is not merely wrong acts and thoughts, but sinfulness as well, an inherent inner disposition inclining us to wrong acts and thoughts. We are not simply sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. We offer, then, this definition of sin: “Sin is any lack of conformity, active or passive, to the moral law of God. This may be a matter of act, of thought, or of inner disposition or state (595-96).

Therefore, when addressing the question at hand, I believe the best answer points out the error of the question and addresses the true nature of sin. This leads to an accurate understanding of Christ’s death and thus the Good News. His death does not remove a bunch of sinful tally marks, it blots out our transgression, and makes us a completely different nature. Christ suffered our death penalty on our behalf, removing our sinful nature, so that we can be born again to a living hope. A believer’s nature changes from sinful to righteous. He gives us a nature not our own, uniting us into His family, making us His child, indwelling us with His Spirit so that we can truly cry out, “Abba, Father.”