Satan downplays the seriousness of sin so that we think it poses no danger to our soul. “But it's such a harmless sin," he tells us,
“It's so small. No one will be hurt. It's just a little pride, a little worldliness, a little compromise, a little sexual immorality. Only you and God will know, and God understands. There will be no victims and no negative fallout. You may engage in this sin (carefully, of course) without harming your soul.”
This is a lie. Despite its appeal to your flesh, you must rject this temptation as a falsehood straight from Hell. All sin is a vandalizing of God's world; all sin is a criminal violation God's authority. Sin both offends and betrays God. As Cornelius Plantinga explains:
"Sin is not only the breaking of law but also the breaking of covenant with one's Savior. Sin is the smearing of the relationship, the grieving of one's divine parent and benefactor, a betrayal of the partner to whom one is joined by holy bond." (Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary, of Sin, p. 12)
This is why the Bible never suggests that so-called small sins are insignificant. Every sin is big. Of course, some sins carry more obvious consequences, and some sins hurt more bystanders than other sins. But even the smallest sin is an act of treason against the Creator. Sin is a personal affront to God: Deliberate sin is the equivalent of slapping God in the face. This is why Adam plunged the human race into misery and was banished from Eden for what we would likely consider a small sin. Adam didn't murder or commit adultery; he ate a piece of fruit! This was a massively serious sin, however, because it (like all sin) was a defiant rejection of God's legitimate authority.
Is not resisting so-called small sins a better test of true love for God than avoiding what we regard as big sins? The earthly consequences of big sins are frequently so frightful that even non-Christians refrain from them. Because of the threat of legal punishment or the prospect of public scorn, even unbelievers often frown on adultery, condemn murder, and disapprove of theft. But in small sins, the issue of obedience or disobedience is more clearly a matter of principle. When the consequences of sin are less apparent, do you still obey God? Do you obey God simply because He is God? Do you avoid sin only because of its painful earthly consequences, or rather because you love your Creator?
Sin corrupts our thinking so that we do not see how "small sins" damage our souls. Due to sin's very nature (and not its smallness or bigness), it distorts our character and perverts our abilities. Small sins are like small amounts of the HIV virus: They weaken our spiritual immune system, compromise our overall spiritual health, increase our vulnerability to other sins, and insure that we will grow only more ill in the future. Small sins numb our consciences. They nurture soul-level corruption and lead to other sins. Brooks is right: in the end, there is more misery in the smallest sin than in the most severe hardship.
Small sins also often lead to big sins. We frequently entertain small sins when we feel empty, lonely, depressed, or angry. We want our spirits to improve-we want a “mood enhancer” – so we indulge in a sin in hopes that it will make us happy. Often it does; there is usually a momentary thrill when we do something forbidden, and sin is often pleasurable (at least initially). Our little sin seemingly has the desired effect of injecting excitement into our lives.
However, this sin-induced mood enhancement wears off. Only the Lord Jesus Christ can create sustained fulfillment and contentment in our souls. And ao qe soon find ourselves back where we started: Empty, lonely, depressed, or angry. But now, the little sin that electrified us last month no longer carries the same thrill that it had before. It is no longer exotic, because we have explored it. Indulging in our little sin has normalized that sin to us.
At this critical moment, temptation does not say to us, “The old course of action-finding pleasure in sin-failed.” Instead, the Tempter says, “Finding pleasure in sin is the right course of action; just do more sin." To enhance our mood now, we must graduate from our little sin to a bigger and more exciting one. In time, however, we will become bored with this bigger sin as well ... and will need an even bigger one to obtain the same mood-enhancing effect.
This is the classic process of addiction which alcoholics and drug addicts know it all too well. The longest running addiction on planet earth is the addiction to sin. When we say that we are sinners, we mean that are sin addicts; Christians are recovering sin addicts who suffer relapses. As with the alcoholic, so with the sin-oholic; he hopes to find in his vice the satisfaction that only God gives. A little sin is to the sinner what a little whiskey is to the alcoholic: A doorway to self-destruction.
Both sinner and alcoholic desperately need to resist temptations in order to be healthy. “It is the blessing of the Lord that makes rich," says Proverbs 10:22,"and He adds no sorrow to it.” God gives spiritual highs that come with neither hangovers nor destructive addictions.
Previous posts in this series:
Robert Spinney (PhD, Vanderbilt) is professor of History at Patrick Henry College, where he teaches American history and historiography. He is the author of City of Big Shoulders: A History of Chicago and World War II in Nashville: Transformation of the Homefront, as well as an American history textbook and numerous ministry-related booklets. Dr. Spinney formerly served as a pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Hartsville, TN, and at Winchester Baptist Church in Winchester, VA.