Every sin is serious, even the ones that look respectable.
But that doesn’t mean some sins don’t deserve more attention than others.
In fact, when the Bible rattles off a series of sins, it tends to mention many of the same ones. And while we don’t want to do ethics by list making, it is instructive to note what sins are mentioned, how often, and in what place.
Here are the eight vice lists in the New Testament:
Mark 7:21-22 “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness . . .”
Romans 1:28-32 “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”
Romans 13:13 “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.”
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
Galatians 5:19-21 “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as a warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Colossians 3:5-9 “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another . . .”
1 Timothy 1:9-10 “. . . the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine . . .”
Revelation 21:8 “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
So what can we learn from these vice lists? Actually, quite a lot.
1. The New Testament denounces a wide variety of sins. There are dozens of evil practices mentioned just in these eight passages–plenty of examples to offend and convict us all. Within this long list of sins, several main categories of vice emerge. There are sins in relationship to the body (e.g., sexual immorality, orgies, sensuality, drunkenness), sins in relationship to one another (e.g., strife, lying, murder, slander), sins in relationship to God (e.g., idolatry, sorcery, lawlessness, disobedience), and sins in relationship to the heart (e.g. covetousness, jealousy, anger, pride). Every category is common. Every category matters. And every category is offensive to God.
2. The Ten Commandments still loom large over New Testament ethics. You could make a case that all these passages are shaped by the Decalogue, but clearly the lists in Mark 7 (content), 1 Corinthians 6(content), Colossians 3 (content), and 1 Timothy 1 (content and order), reflect Ten Commandment language and priorities.
3. It’s hard to find a sin more frequently, more uniformly, and more strenuously condemned than sexual sin. If we include the discussion of “exchang[ing] natural relations for those contrary to nature” in Romans 1:26-27, all eight lists mention sexual immorality. Moreover, in seven of the eight lists there are multiple references to sexual immorality (in general terms or in specific examples), and more often than not sexual immorality heads the list (Rom. 13; 1 Cor. 6; Gal. 5; Col. 3; Mark 7; and Rom. 1 depending on where you start each list). Sexual sin is never considered a matter of indifference or an agree-to-disagree issue.
4. Sin is always serious. Of course, when each list is taken in context, we understand that there is forgiveness and hope for those who repent and turn from these sins. Let’s not forget that the bad news of sin always shows up in letters and stories filled with lots of good news of grace. Nevertheless, we must not undersell the Bible’s warnings about sin. The vices mentioned in these eight lists are the sort of things that keep you from the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6; Gal. 5) and send you to the lake of fire (Rev. 21). We coddle these sins–in ourselves or in others–at great peril.
Which means: if we as Christian laypeople, Christian pastors, and Christian churches never talk about sexual sin, only talk about sexual sin, ignore what the Ten Commandments say about sin, or refuse to warn people of the dire consequences of sin, we are doing something wrong.