The Slippery Slope of Small Sins
This post was written by Harvest USA Men’s Ministry intern Ben Pearce.
“Just one more drink,” the drunkard says.
“I’ll just look for a little while,” the porn-addict explains.
“It’s just a little sin,” Satan whispers in our ear.
The road to life-shattering sin is paved by little sins. Small, daily decisions shape our desires and habits. The apostle James notes, “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14–15). James is not arguing that wrongful desire is not sin—it is. But he is stating that the lusts of our hearts do not remain in our hearts. These desires give birth to sinful acts. Christians who dwell upon sexual fantasy in their minds cannot excuse themselves by saying it’s only in their heads. Our thoughts ultimately lead to action. Each moment we dwell upon our wrongful desires, we train ourselves to see them as acceptable.
The road to life-shattering sin is paved by little sins. Small, daily decisions shape our desires and habits.
The first “little” sexual sin many of us indulge in is fantasy. This is hard to battle. As we reject one pernicious thought, another is right around the corner ready to entice our heart. Suddenly, the lies of the enemy become too sweet to reject. He who said, “You will not surely die” was a liar from the beginning (Gen. 3:3, John 8:44) and is still a liar now. Yet, although we’ve been warned, Satan’s whispering influence stirs our hearts. With full moral culpability, we all too often feast upon the banquet set before us.
As with all sin, fantasies gradually cease to satisfy, giving birth to larger sins (James 1:15). A man frequently begins by letting his gaze linger on women in public or on images in magazines and social media. His heart hardens and desire increases. Those lingering glances last just a little bit longer than they did at first. Before he knows it, he’s not satisfied with what he sees in these brief moments and seeks something more explicit. Though he may be married, he engages other women in inappropriate conversation or begins viewing explicit pornography. Conversations become flirtatious; pornography ceases to satisfy. Suddenly, a man realizes he’s committed adultery. Broken, he may cry “I never thought I would do this!” as loudly as he’d like, but he himself paved the way for his great sins.
So, what should we consider when we’re struggling with “little” sins?
- Christ Died for Small and Large Sins
John teaches us that Jesus Christ “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). When we’re told that Christ died for our sins, we’re not told that he died for our greater sins only. God’s wrath burns hot against all sin, even the most minor. Even for just a bite of forbidden fruit (Gen. 2:17) or a mouthful of forbidden honey (1 Sam. 14:43), God has warned that “the soul who sins shall die” (Ez. 18:20). While God does differentiate between small and great sins, his Son died for all sin without differentiation. Thus, as Christians, we must remember the weighty truth that every sin we commit, however small, is a sin for which our Lord Jesus Christ died.
This weighty truth cuts both ways. For the repentant Christian, his great hope and security is the reality that his sinful thoughts and desires are covered by the forgiving blood of Jesus Christ.
This hard and glorious truth should be a deterrent for us. The marred body of our Lord was wounded for even our most seemingly minor thoughts, words, and actions. The fantasies we indulged for even a fleeting moment had to be paid for by the suffering of our Lord. No sin comes without suffering.
- Take a Long View
The ongoing, unrepentant pursuit of small sins will ultimately consume us. Neither Satan nor our own flesh are satisfied with little sins; “negligible” sins are just the top of an increasingly steep slope. The Preacher of Ecclesiastes characterizes the foolish sinner in this way: “The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness, and the end of his talk is evil madness” (Eccles. 10:13). Unresisted sin gains a gradual foothold upon the soul. These advances are not easy to discern—we give in, just a little here and a little there. Before we realize it, we’ve habituated our soul to sin. Every advance weakens the will to fight until, finally, we eagerly fall to what was before unimaginable. Christian: Be alert! “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
For the repentant Christian, his great hope and security is the reality that his sinful thoughts and desires are covered by the forgiving blood of Jesus Christ.
Sin is never isolated. Our Lord says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19). Every thought and action we do not surrender to Christ today trains us for disobedience tomorrow. Every small sin we commit takes us further down the slope to the cliff of larger sins. We must prepare ourselves to resist the temptations of Satan and our flesh—to recognize when our desires deceive us, making us compromise “just a little.” Are we willing to cut sin off at its root?
- You Are Secure in Christ
If you’re trusting Jesus, sin will not win. A repentant sinner is secure, despite all his struggles with sin, because his obedience is rooted in Jesus’s obedience. Paul, who cried, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” also declared “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 7:24, 8:1). Christian, let your eternal security in Christ compel your fight against sin. Resist the slippery slope of small sins by looking to Jesus—he is our solid ground.