Why Sin Is Serious

Photo by Linton Snapper

Most of us can justify anger pretty easily. It’s bad, but not that bad. Anger isn’t murder.

Except that it is.

In Jesus’s first moral teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes the outrageous equivocation of anger with murder.

You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. (Matthew 5:21-22)

Apologists and street preachers point to this verse all the time when trying to explain to people why sin is so bad.

It’s a helpful exercise, because even as Christians, we rarely see sin for what it is. Jesus pulls back the curtain and shows us the bad and the ugly.

In the process, he makes it clear just how incredibly good his salvation is.


In the kingdom of God, most things work on a seed principle. The Word of God is like seed. Our bodies are resurrection seeds. Our presence on earth—the kingdom itself—is seed.

Sin also works on a seed principle. At first glance, equivocating anger and murder looks a little extreme. But Jesus doesn’t just see things in their current form; he sees them all the way through to their full potential—from the acorn to the full-grown tree bound up in its DNA.

That’s why all sin is so serious. Many of us may wonder why something like “telling a white lie” is so bad. In a way, it isn’t. But it’s an early expression of something—a spirit of deceit—so awful it can destroy trust and ruin an entire world.

In fact, deceit is the seed that ruined ours.

It’s not fun to think of the anger that wells up in us when we’re stuck in traffic or confronted by an annoyance or faced by a particularly aggravating loved one as the seed of murder. We don’t want to think that spirit could possibly have any place in us.

I’m not so bad, we think, especially comparatively. Yes, I spout off sometimes, but I’m not like some terrorist. I’m no Hitler.

But what if Hitler just expressed a few things in full-grown splendor that are still mostly dormant in you and me as seeds?

Horrifying, that thought. If we took it seriously it would drive us to desperation for salvation. For someone to save us. For someone to root the seeds out and give us new ones. For someone to save our lives while getting rid of any possibility that those things in us will ever grow. If I truly believed I was a ticking time bomb, I’d be desperate to find someone who could put out the fuse.

Of course, that’s what Jesus did—saved us, purified us, got the bad seeds out and replaced them with new ones. God’s solutions are always incredibly pertinent to our actual needs.

Suddenly being freed from sin sounds a lot more necessary. And a lot more amazing.

In Genesis 3 there’s an intriguing passage where God expresses the result of mankind’s fall into sin. At that point he takes away their immortality, saying that he can’t let them eat from the tree of life “lest they should live forever …”

The thought in Hebrew actually trails away. It’s too horrific to be finished. What would mankind become, if death didn’t halt the growth of the seeds inside us? If our lives weren’t bounded by the need to survive (and thus to cooperate with social mores) and instead we could just reach our full potential … in everything?

Here is the incredible truth of salvation:

Because Jesus has freed us from sin—its presence and power—we can live forever again. We CAN live a life that’s not bounded by the need to survive. We don’t have to play societal games; instead we’re free to pursue God’s vision for us.

And we CAN reach our full potential, the full potential we were designed for when God knit us together in our mothers’ wombs. We can reach our potential to love, to enjoy, to create, to fellowship, to be like God.

Romans 8 tells us that all creation groans and travails, waiting for the sons of God to be revealed. Waiting for us to become what we will be, because in Jesus that is no longer a nightmare but the saving of the world.


Meanwhile, here we are. Sin, we’re told, no longer has power over us. Which means it’s time to stop living like it does. Which means it’s time to learn how God thinks about morality and agree with it.

The Sermon on the Mount’s moral teachings—which are simple, clear, and short—are all about this.

To sum them up, it’s time to get real.

Jesus says we need to clean out our hearts. But he doesn’t say that in a vacuum. He’s already given us the kingdom, drawn near to us in our pain and sorrow, promised to shape us through our afflictions, shown us mercy, called us his children, met all our hunger and all our thirst.

We CAN get real about what we’re dealing with, and we CAN deal with it, because we’re not alone. He’s given us everything we need to come out the other side whole and healed.

And then the whole impetus for unrighteous anger vanishes away.

Because it was never about the other person anyway.


I said in an earlier post that Jesus wasn’t a social reformer, but the kind of morality he taught has more power to transform a society than any law, shaming code, or cultural expectation in the world.

If you live in the West (and in a lot of other places, now), you experience the benefits of exactly that transformation every single day. I don’t have room to go into it here, but our culture with its general ideas of human rights, respect for others even when they are different from us, and protection of the weak did not happen by accident, and it’s not historically normal.

External controls do help keep dangerous criminals off the streets and curb violent behaviors, but imagine a society full of people who:

1. Value other human beings
2. Take full responsibility for their responses to those human beings, and
3. Have cleared anger and all of its roots fully out of their hearts.

If THAT kind of morality reached critical mass, we wouldn’t need half the laws we have. We would all be safe with each other. And we would all be free.

Jesus’s kind of morality is higher and better than human moral relativism because it doesn’t just help us get along with society, it empowers us to completely transform it.

That’s what salvation is.

That’s why you can change the world.

It starts with you and me.

(This is Part 42 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)



, ,




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *