While it is not always pleasant to think about, it is hard to go through a day without sinning. Even if you managed it, there would be the danger of becoming proud of what you accomplished, despite the fact that it is not that extraordinary. When people talk about having a sin nature, it simply means that we are prone to sin. Perhaps not prone to murder, but we are prone to making decisions or performing actions that simply do not always glorify God or demonstrate our faith.
We know about big sins: murder, adultery, grand-theft auto. We also know about little sins: gossip, white lies, illegal downloads. But, is this really the way it works? Intellectually we know that this is not the way that God sees sin. This is the way that the Legal System sees crime, but we know that sin is sin. There are degrees to the consequences, but there are no degrees of sin.
The story of Achan in Joshua 7 is a great example of how something little was actually much bigger. As the people of Israel entered the promised land, God had commanded that they not take certain things as plunder. Things like gold and silver were to be put in the treasury, and the rest was to be burned. Part of this was to allow God to provide and a bigger part was that the things that could be plundered often had a religious significance in the other religions. This makes sense, but can you imagine how hard it would be to walk out of a city in which they had just won a tremendous victory and not pick up a necklace or some new pants?
This temptation proved too much for Achan who decided to take a few souveniers for himself. It probably seemed like a little thing. He just wanted a new robe and some spending money, though it is telling that he buries his ill-gotten goods under his tent. The effect of his sin is that the people of Israel lose a battle they should have won and a significant amount of momentum in their efforts to realize what God has in store for them.
And that might be the biggest problem with “little” sins. We lose momentum. We’re plugging along in our faith journey and suddenly we choose take a step back. Maybe it is a little step back, but it is still keeping us from getting to where we want to go. I think that the key is to remember that a life of “little” sins is still a life that, without Jesus’ death, would have kept us from God. It is also important to remember that if we become comfortable with the “little” sins, bigger ones may not be too far off. Achan was stoned by the whole nation as an example that the “little” sins can throw the whole plan off. Maybe we need to really reconsider if categorizing sins is really as valid as we would like for it to be.