Who is worse? Putin? Nero? Pilate? Judas? Or the drunk driver who killed your beloved? Whether historically or personally, who is worse? Surely somebody else. Surely not me!
Sin is Sin
James shakes us up when he writes, “For whoever keeps the whole law, and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10). To break a chain, you only have to break one link. “There is no one righteous… all have sinned (Rom. 3:10, 23). Jesus rebuked those who thought that certain people were worse sinners than they were. “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all perish” (Luke 13:2-3). Whether our sins be “big” or “small,” God “commands that all people everywhere should repent” (Acts 17:30).
When the Jesus-killers asked what they should do, the first word out of Peter’s mouth was “repent” (Acts 2:38). Can there be any sin worse than murdering the Son of God? Yet they were offered the option of repentance. Whatever the sin, “unless you repent, you will all perish.” I conclude that the worse sin is the sin that is not repented of. No repentance, no forgiveness.
What is Repentance?
Repentance is threefold.
First is godly sorrow. “Godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation… But the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10). Two men are doing time in prison. One is sorry he sinned against God. The other is just sorry he got caught. The first is on his way to repentance. The second is not. Think of Peter, whose bitter tears led to repentance. In contrast, Judas’ remorse led to suicide.
Second is a change of mind. This is the actual meaning of the word “repentance.” A person who constantly lies decides to quit. They were going east and decide to go west.
Third is the fruit of repentance. John told the clergy, “Produce fruit worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:8). If repentance is real, it will produce a change of life. These three steps could be described as a change of heart, a change of mind, and a change of actions.
Total Repentance. But we must dig deeper. It is good to repent of one or two sins, but God calls for total repentance – repentance of living our own way instead of His way. Most texts that speak of repentance assume a complete repentance, as in, “they should repent and turn to God” (Acts 26:20). Repenting of most of my sins but hanging on to others will not do. God pleaded with Israel to “thoroughly [completely, totally] amend your ways and your doings” (Jer. 7:5). Jesus demands all or nothing. That’s why becoming a Christian is called a new birth (John 3:1-7; 1 Peter 1:23; 2:2). It is starting a new life.
Repent or Perish
A person must totally repent and be born anew of the water and the Spirit (John 3:3-5). After that, repentance for individual sins must become a way of life. Whatever the sin, however little it may seem, its consequence is far worse – if there is no repentance.