A few years ago, as graduation was nearing, some seniors at the local high school decided to pull a campus prank. You know, the kind of memorable mischief that some kids find irresistible when they’re about to leave school. Well, I’m not sure exactly what these students originally planned, but what they ended up doing was a felony. They got caught. And while they were spared from criminal charges, the school suspended them and didn’t allow them to graduate that spring.
It probably won’t surprise you that some of the parents were furious with the school for punishing their little darlings. A couple of them even fired off angry editorials in the local newspaper. One father wailed, “What message are we sending our kids? That one mistake could affect the rest of their lives?”
Um…yes. Because one mistake (or, more accurately, one lawless act of rebellion) can affect your whole life. And maybe the lives of others, too.
Scripture confirms it. The Bible offers several examples in which a single act of ungodliness carried a heavy price. Consider:
- A single act of disobedience by Adam and Eve brought sin and death into the world (Genesis 3).
- A single act of disbelief kept Moses out of the Promised Land (Numbers 20:9-13).
- A single act of lust on David’s part unleashed disaster: an avalanche of additional sins trying to cover up the first one; the deaths of innocent people; shame on the nation of Israel; and a lifetime of turmoil and heartache (2 Samuel 11).
- A single act of dishonesty cost Ananias and Sapphira their lives (Acts 5).
This highlights two extremely important lessons. First, since God’s commands are meant for our good (see Deuteronomy 6:24; 1 Peter 3:10-11), it follows that any time we disregard them, we are risking hardship and grief. We may try to ease our consciences and calm our fears by saying, “It’s just one time.” But that one time may come loaded with consequences. One time can become a secret that haunts you for years. One time can be the start of an addiction. One time might be all it takes to derail a career, destroy a marriage, end a life. One time can make it just a little bit easier for you to allow a next time, and another, and another…
Second, regardless of what other consequences may or may not follow, one sin is all it takes to make a person guilty before God as a sinner. James wrote, “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (2:10). You don’t have to break every one of God’s laws to be guilty as a lawbreaker; it only takes one. And Paul states that all have sinned and are therefore guilty, deserving of God’s judgment (Romans 3:9ff).
None of this means that we should see God as some sort of vindictive bureaucrat who is eager to doom us over any minor infraction. His grace is great, and the sacrifice of Christ will cleanse us if we turn to Him. But no sin is trivial, and we can never afford to treat it that way. The cost of one sin may be immense. And the cost of every sin is the blood of Christ. One sin…is always one too many.