Just as looking through a telescope the wrong way makes big things seem small, so we often look at our sins in this manner. One way we minimize sin is to place more importance upon the act of our sin rather than the one offended by our sin.
Let’s say I painted a picture of you and displayed it publicly. If someone came along and drew a mustache on my painting of you, that would only be a slight offense because I am no artist. Believe me, the painting would not look like you anyway. Perhaps the mustache would even be an improvement! Now let’s say someone was able to get through all the security of the Louvre art museum in Paris, lift the bulletproof and light-proof glass, and draw a mustache on the Mona Lisa. An outcry would rise the world over. Why? A master artist and his work would have been insulted. Though it is the same act, the consequences are much greater.
So it is with our sins. We must learn to think not so much of just the act of sin but whom the act is against. When we sin against God, we sin against the One who is infinite and eternal, the very Artist who created us. Any act of sin is infinite in magnitude because God is; any act of sin is eternal in consequence because God is. Augustine in his Confessions spent pages mourning the act of taking some pears from his neighbor’s tree. Stealing a few pears can seem slight until one remembers that ultimately the thievery is not only against the neighbor but against the One who gave the neighbor the pears in the first place; indeed, it is against the same One from whom our father Adam stole fruit and brought death to the world. Every sin is against God. Anselm said in Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man) what is true of too many, “You have not as yet estimated the great burden of sin.”
Yet that is not all for the Christian to consider. When a Christian sins against another, how serious is the nature of the sin. The Puritan William Gurnall said:
“A sin acted in the temple was greater than if the same had been by a Jew committed in his private dwelling, because the temple was a consecrated place. The saint is a consecrated person, and by the acts of unrighteousness he profanes God’s temple; the sin of another is theft, because he robs God of His glory; but the sin of the saint is sacrilege, because he robs God of that which is devoted to Him in an especial manner.”
The church is the temple of God. It is God’s art museum, with His creative, redemptive power on display in every member. When we bless a fellow believer, even the smallest act to the least believer, we remember that Jesus said “you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40). Is not the same true of the smallest act of sin to the least believer?
This then is where forgiveness comes in. If we can learn to see our own sin properly, we will be properly humbled and seek more earnestly the Lord’s forgiveness that He purchased for us at Calvary. Then in turn, when someone sins against us, we who have been forgiven for so much will be more heart-ready to forgive them in like manner. That’s why Paul told the Colossians, “As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13). Extending forgiveness makes your life a stage where the grace of God in Christ is displayed. Some of the sweetest experiences in my Christian life have been seeing reconciliation between brothers in Christ, the great drama of Calvary being remembered in the smaller yet significant venues of His people’s lives. That is truly a beautiful work to see.