A QUESTION I WAS ASKED:
"I know that in God's eyes, sin is sin. But, are some sins worse than others? Are there different degrees of sin and punishments for those sins?..."



Actually I was not asked just one question but several closely related ones; here are the questions and my responses to them.


"I know that in God's eyes, sin is sin. But, are some sins worse than others? Are there different degrees of sin and punishments for those sins?
Someone asked me yesterday, 'You mean to tell me, that if you died this very minute, you wouldn't have some unconfessed sin in your life?' And will any unconfessed, unnoticed sin keep me from entering heaven?
When do our bodies become like Christ's - the moment we die? And do you believe we go straight to heaven or hell, or when Christ comes back for us in the rapture? When are our bodies are changed into righteousness like Him?
Are we perfect the minute that we die?
Some say we stay in the grave until Jesus comes if we die first. Some say we are in 'purgatory' until Jesus comes for us. What do you believe? What is the right thing to believe?"



I 'boiled down' these questions into six basic ones which it seems to me this lady is asking:

1. I know that in God's eyes, sin is always bad. But, are some sins worse than others? Are there different degrees of sin as well as punishments for those sins?

2. What would happen if a Christian died with some sins accidentally/carelessly unconfessed?

3. When do our bodies become like Christ's glorified body? When we die? Or at the Second Coming of Christ?

4. And are we finally "perfected" and made sinless the moment we die? Or not until the resurrection?

5. Do we go straight to heaven or hell immediately we die?

6. How about 'purgatory'?


QUESTION ONE:
First of all, the Bible teaches that sin is sin and it separates people from God, no matter what the sin, but we can be restored to God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:23-25). But for the sacrifice of Jesus, all sin would separate us from God for eternity (1 Timothy 2:5). However, there are clearly differences in sin according to the Bible:
a. Sins of commission (what we blatantly set out to do), and,
b. Sins of omission (when we sin by forgetting/neglecting to do things etc).
Even on Judgment Day, we are told that it will be "more tolerable" for the sodomites of Sodom and Gomorrah than for those who hear the gospel message preached and expounded but decide to reject it! See Matthew 10:14-15. To sin in complete ignorance is far less serious than to sin while having a good knowledge of the things of God (Romans 11:32-33). All sin can be forgiven except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (which some of the Pharisees committed). The Bible continually teaches that responsibility comes with knowledge, so it was a very serious matter when the religious authorities of Jesus' day (who should have been carefully looking for the appearance of the Messiah), plotted and conspired to have that very Messiah killed; those who took part in this - while actually knowing who Jesus was - committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. (Mark 3:28-30). So, to sum up this first question, all sin separates from God, but this does not mean that some sins are not especially serious; 'white lies' are wrong and untruthful but obviously far different to the one who painstakingly plots, perhaps over a long period of time, to murder, steal, kidnap or commit adultery. The most serious of all is the one who is secretly convinced that God exists but who continually plots against Christian belief for personal prestige upon this earth.


QUESTION TWO:
On the subject of carelessly/accidentally unconfessed sin, if we have repented of our previous life without God, turned our lives around and now confess Christ then we are His. We are saved, because we will be living in an attitude of hating sin. We have turned from sin. Many of us might not have confessed every single sin but this will only be through neglect and carelessness, not through rebellion towards God. We remain saved. Sin no longer has dominion over us. Does that mean that we never sin at all? Oh no, neither is that possible in this present life, but Christ is now our Master, not sin, therefore sin does not have dominion over us, even though we will certainly occasionally stumble and succomb, but then we pick ourselves up and repent. If we say that - as Christians - we never sin, the apostle John calls us liars (1 John 1:7-10).
We now live in a continual attitude of repentance, this is a clear work of the Holy Spirit of God in our lives; if you repent of sin, you repent of sin, it is not possible to 'accidentally' not repent of certain sins of the past since one repentance covers all. If we repented of every thing we did and thought and were before God came into our lives, how can anything be left out?
The apostle Paul encourages us to look upon our old person as dead - he or she died, so that we should now serve another. Carefully read all of Romans chapter 6. Let me just pick up a few verses:
'Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin....For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise, you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord'
(Romans 6:6-7,10-11, NKJV).


QUESTIONS THREE AND FOUR:
Okay, so when can the Christian expect to be perfected?
The full resurrection of body and soul will occur when Jesus Christ returns to this earth. This is the great promise which is at the very heart of the Christian Faith! If there is no teaching of resurrection, there is no Christianity being taught! Here I can only advise a careful reading of 1 Corinthians 15, the 'resurrection chapter'.
Let me just pick up a very few verses here:
'So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.......Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed - in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed'.
(1 Corinthians 15:42-43,51-52, NKJV throughout).
The lady who wrote me used the word 'rapture' - I do not use that word since it never occurs in the Bible. The Bible points to the resurrection of the dead which will occur at Christ's Second Coming as the great hope of Christians and I follow that example.
Although the Bible teaches that true believers will go to heaven at death before the resurrection of the dead occurs, this is only the soul and the Bible shows us people's souls in heaven almost sounding impatient as they long for the resurrection (Revelation 6:9-11). There is no doubt that our souls - at this point - will be freed from sin which will bring great joy, yet we will still long for the coming resurrection.


QUESTION FIVE:
So do we go directly to heaven or hell at death? In a sense, I have already started to answer this question.
The Scriptures seem to show that Christian souls go to heaven to be comforted at the point of death (notice Ecclesiastes 12:7; Luke 16:22; 2 Corinthians 5:1-8; Philippians 1:21-25; Hebrews 12:1 and Revelation 6:9-11). In the parable of Lazarus we also see the unjust, cruel man going immediately in the opposite direction! To what degree this is written as a warning and deterrent we cannot say, since the just and unjust must still stand before God at the Great Judgment which will not occur until Christ returns to earth (Revelation 20:11-12).
But the Bible certainly appears to suggest that those to be ultimately condemned go to a place of restraint and gloominess immediately at death.
But to return to the topic of the saved, some have asked what the big deal is about the resurrection if those who die in Christ go straight to heaven at death, but, as we have already seen, the full and glorious resurrection of an all-powerful body and soul is a thing those who have died in Christ over the ages are right now certainly looking forward to in heaven, and awaiting with great joy. We must also realize that the promise of the resurrection is more than the promise of heaven alone; those saved will inherit 'all things' (Revelation 21:7), this includes a purified earth (2 Peter 3:10-13), as well as heaven, plus further joys which we cannot even imagine or conceive of at the present time (Romans 8:18-23,31-39).


QUESTION SIX:
You ask about 'purgatory.' Purgatory is taught by Roman Catholicism but is not generally accepted by Protestants except for a few exceptions (C.S. Lewis believed in a form of purgatory). Once we are justified in Christ it is hard to see the point of purgatory since we know that none of us are perfect but only made perfect in the grace of Christ, in which He is able to impute His righteousness to us, though not infuse it. Roman Catholic theology sees purgatory as the place in which souls after death undergo further purifying from sin.
I am not one of those Protestants who think that Protestant reformed theology answers every question which could ever be asked and that one is left with no gray areas, because that certainly is not the case: there are difficult areas where we would love to have a few more clear Scriptures but where God - in His perfect wisdom - has decided not to give them to us, and we have to accept this. Personally, I think that we are all going to have surprises! I think, for example, that we are going to see people saved that we would never have guessed at, since we Christians tend to stress judgment and condemnation while being inclined to forget the free and overriding nature of God's mercy.
Robin A. Brace
2004.



MUSELTOF COUNTERCULT AND APOLOGETICS

UK APOLOGETICS