I have been involved in theological discussions wherein I made a distinction between sin committed intentionally with forethought and malice on the one hand and sin committed out of impulse, habit, or even ignorance on the other hand. I judged sin committed in true ignorance to be of lesser severity. This distinction may not be entirely without merit, but it is a dangerous one because both disqualify us from survival in the presence of God. The truth is, the sin I do in ignorance or that I might immediately take back is thoroughly sufficient for condemnation.
Even the slightest impurity is a deal-breaker. Anything less than 100% death to self is sin. Anything less than all the sacrifice and devotion I can give to God in every moment is sin. It can even be reasonably argued that everything we do is sin (or, at the very least, has sin in it) because we cannot do anything with perfectly selfless intent. Even the slightest self-interest at any time, under any circumstances is sin. I can be pretty good, relatively speaking. I often am pretty good. I may as well toot my own horn at this point because the ability to be that good — good enough — is impossible for me. I need someone to be perfectly righteous for me because I can’t do it. I need a savior.
This has critical implication for those who believe you can lose your salvation, though this thought is meaningful for me as well. I imagine an Arminian might ask himself daily, “Have I lived righteously today, so that I do not lose my salvation?” But, if we are sinners as I now understand it, then this question is irrelevant because the answer can never be “yes”. A better question would be, “Have I lived today in such a way that I no longer need Jesus, so that I do not lose my salvation?” This question addresses the unattainable requirement for perfection. If it were true that I could lose my salvation, then I would have lost it the very moment I received it. If salvation can be lost, then there can be no keeping it. But, praise God! I don’t need to keep my salvation. Jesus obtained salvation for me and keeps it for me. He has secured a rescue for all of us, and our rescue is secure.
There are implications also for my attitude of gratitude. I’m reminded again of Luke 7:36-50 because, once again, I see salvation as a greater gift than I have previously understood it to be. Not only have I broken the whole Law, but I am always breaking it! I am always behaving in conflict with the pure, righteous character of God, which is represented by the Law. Praise God because Jesus has fulfilled the Law on our behalf! I am a sinner. But, God has chosen to save me in spite of this truth. Not only so, but he desires to be in fellowship with me — even me! — to teach, guide, and encourage me in spite of the foul, ugly truth of my identity as one who, from birth, is in rebellion and war against God. Even though I already believe in election, this understanding helps liberate me from the idea that I must strive for enough righteousness in order for Jesus to remain in me. After all, I never could and I never will. Yet, he remains. I am a sinner. As such, I am precisely the kind of person Jesus saves. And he does. He doesn’t merely make up the difference between me and God, as if I am able to approach righteousness, but can’t quite make it all the way. Jesus doesn’t merely complete the work of righteousness that I am unable to complete. Rather, he does all the work of righteousness because I can do none of it! From my home at the greatest depths of degradation and desperation, Jesus has saved even me and brought me to the greatest heights of glory and joy! May the name of the Lord be praised forever.
Implications abound! As for my pride, haven’t I been legalistic in my attitude toward myself and toward others? Have I not been confident in my own righteousness, not realizing that, even though I do not murder, steal, or commit adultery, but do (sometimes) fast and tithe, yet I have no righteousness of my own? Though I’ve heard this passage taught several times, I think I now begin to understand. I used to think this Pharisee was mean and selfish to be so insensitive. I thanked God that I was not like him. But, he's not mean. He's just me.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." ~Luke 18:9-14