When is failure bad enough to require God’s forgiveness? I have felt that small sins were less grievous than big sins and adhered to the belief that a simple failure had more nobility than humiliation.
Don't get me wrong. There are varying degrees of consequence to sin.
However, to place failure and humiliation side-by-side and attempt to place value on either is to miss the point of both. There is no value in failure and there is no honor in humiliation. To believe otherwise is to establish personal worth via performance. While others might be impressed, God is not!
On one of my recent walks, I left the house suffering humiliation from a larger than average sin and wondering how I could return myself to Father's good graces. Even though I know better theologically—a man can’t change God’s opinion of him through performance, either good or bad—I still felt an internal separation anxiety due to the humiliation of the sin I committed.
How great does our failure have to be before it becomes humiliation? I wondered.
Do you recall Luke’s story of Jesus eating with Simon the Pharisee, no doubt a wealthy, respected, and morally upright man (7:36 ff)?
During dinner, which was likely observed by an envious cadre of who’s who and religious leaders, a prostitute entered the room. The atmosphere was heavy anticipating what would happen next. Would Simon throw the woman out? What would Christ do?
Humiliated by her shame and many failures, this woman of the night anointed Jesus’ feet with costly perfume and her own tears. In a normally sensuous act, she let her hair down and used it as a towel to dry Christ’s feet. Her humiliation left her vulnerable.
In this dining room surrounded by the powerful and the religious, the abject humiliation of this woman’s immorality is contrasted against the noteworthy morality of Simon and the absolute morality of Christ. Simon reclines coolly waiting and thinking, If Jesus is really the Christ, he will recognize this woman is a whore and distance himself.
As the woman continues, Jesus says, “Simon, there were two debtors. One owed a vast sum and one a pittance, but neither was able to repay their lender. So the lender forgave both men of their debt. Which of the two men will love the lender more?”
With initial silence just for emphasis, Simon then declares, “The one who owed the most will love the most.” And with this answer Jesus’ spiritual trap is set.
“Simon, when I entered your home you failed to greet me properly. You did not kiss me, you did not anoint my head with oil, and you gave me no water to wash the dust from my feet. This woman has anointed my feet with perfume. She has washed them with her tears and has not stopped kissing them since she fell at them in humiliation.” And now Jesus closes the net. “Simon, the man who is forgiven a great deal, loves a great deal. The man who is forgiven only a little, loves only a little.”
Simon’s “small” failures, compared to the gross sins of the prostitute, blinded him to his own need. He believed his overall goodness, compared to the woman’s overall badness, gained him standing with God. Even his failures, such as they were, were of more value than this woman’s life of humiliating debauchery.
Who had the greatest need in the room that evening? The prostitute humiliated by sin or the Pharisee who believed even his failures were worth something to God compared to prostitution?
Simon had the greater problem!
While the woman received forgiveness, Simon discovered an intractable shortfall: He only loved God a little! In his determination to establish his own worth before God, he undermined his ability to love God greatly. Loving God a little, and looking for love in all the wrong places, are both significant failures.
Sin is falling short of Father’s ideal. While it has varying degrees of consequence, sin by failure and sin by humiliation both fall short of God’s standard.
No sin has value. There is no merit in the flesh.
There are sins—deeds of the flesh—that look bad and there are sins that look good. Both are sins and fall short of God’s standard. It is only by placing no value in the works of the flesh that our hearts are set free to love a great deal in response to the great deal of love demonstrated to us by our Father.
For the Believer it is not possible for there to be a failure greater than God's grace. If such a sin exists, then that sin is greater than God.
How tricky it is of Satan to tempt us to believe that something we do has the power to create a different perspective of us in God's mind. Our Father determined His view of us through Christ’s accomplishments on the cross!
Any standard other than this falls short of God’s grace and is by definition, sin. This is problematic, to be sure. But the greater sorrow is that this improper valuation of sin destines us to love Him less.