Yesterday, I discussed the huge difference between having a lustful thought, and living in an adulterous relationship. Both are sin, but one is a life-style and the other a momentary lapse of focusing upon the carnal, instead of upon the spiritual. Jesus said there were degrees of sin when He taught His disciples. In Matthew 5:21-22, He gave them examples of levels of sin as murder, unfounded anger, saying "Raca" to a brother, and calling someone a fool. Notice the consequences of committing these acts vary as well. They are not equal.
All sin committed by a Christian, regardless of the seriousness, is wrong for several reasons. All sins are responsible for the death of Jesus on the cross; Jesus died once for all (Heb. 10:1-10). All sins need to be confessed to God in order to reestablish fellowship with Him (1 Jn. 1:5-10). All sins have the potential of ruining our witness for Christ. It is amazing, but unbelievers seem to know how a true Christian should act and talk; they will often recognize our hypocrisy before we do. There is nothing more embarrassing in this life than to be called a hypocrite and be corrected for sin by an unbeliever!
Just as there are levels or degrees of sin, there are levels of value to the works a Christian does. Some things we do for the Lord are considered very valuable, and when they are tested at the Judgment Seat of Christ, they will not be consumed by fire (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10). Rewards will vary depending on the things done for Him (1 Cor. 3:9-15). Those works which we do out of love for, and in obedience to Christ, are described as "gold, silver, and precious stones." But the works a Christian does which are for the wrong reasons, are described as "wood, hay, and stubble." The latter will be consumed in the fire of the judgment, but thank God the believer will still be saved!
There is other evidence that faithfulness to Christ varies in value. The reward for specific behaviors results in our receiving specific "crowns." It is because Christ wore a crown of thorns (Matt. 27:29), that we have been given an opportunity to earn valuable crowns. We can "earn" the incorruptible crown (1 Cor. 9:25), the crown of rejoicing (1 Thes. 2:19), the crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:8), the crown of life (Jam. 1:12), and the crown of glory (1 Pet. 5:4). Should we be counted as faithful enough to gain all five, we should never think we are all that special; the woman pictured as giving birth to the Christ child in the vision of John, will apparently wear twelve crowns (Rev. 12:1-5).
If one were to make a list of sins from the greatest to the least, and continue it by adding works for Christ from least to the greatest, the continuum would reveal an amazing fact. It is not just those things we consider to be sin that displease God, works done for the wrong motive do as well. Church attendance, giving, witnessing, Bible study, etc. can all be done with the wrong motive (2 Cor. 9:7; Phil 1:16; etc.). We need to be careful that our "good works" are really good; it would be a shame to lose our reward.