WARNING: 3 Levels of Sin – 3 Levels of Restoration
Patsy Rae Dawson

The Bible lists three levels of sin and three ways Christians are to work at restoring sinners. Sin naturally follows a predictable path that progresses one step at a time from just a slip to becoming more involved in bad conduct to becoming so steeped in evil that the person may become extremely dangerous. As the conduct gets worse, Christians need to increase their pressure on the sinner.

Paul told the Galatians:

Gal. 6:1: “Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.”

To help Christians fulfill this command, Jude urged his readers to recognize the different levels of sin and to take the appropriate action for each. First, notice the levels of sin in red:

Jude 22-23: “And have mercy on some who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.”

Now look at the Christians changing responsibilities toward each level in green:

Jude 22-23: “And have mercy on some who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.”

Following is a brief overview of these three levels of walking in sin and the Christians changing duties toward each. This is not intended to be an exhaustive study.

First Level: Have Mercy on Some Who Are Doubting

“Mercy” means “to be gracious; to have mercy; to console; to succor one afflicted or seeking aid; to bring help to the wretched” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 203).

“Doubting” means “2. to separate one’s self in a hostile spirit, to oppose, strive with, dispute, contend; 3. to be at variance with one’s self, hesitate, doubt” (Thayer, p. 138).

The doubting person is described in Jas. 1:6-8 as “like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind…being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

The person who doubts is at variance with himself; he has doubts about what is going on. He may be a new convert who has only learned enough to be baptized. Now he need to work at maturing and learning how to live as a Christian.

Or this may be someone who has just gotten married and discovered that he or she doesn’t know all the answers. As this person tries to figure out how to get along in an intimate environment with another human, mistakes will be made. He may try different remedies with mixed results.

A doubting person often has a good attitude that makes it easy to teach him God’s will. He’s eager to bring about changes in his life and will listen if the teacher can present life lessons from the Bible. However, if the teacher only relates personal experiences without backing them up with scriptures, this person may contend with the instructor and not accept worldly wisdom.

Second Level: Save Others, Snatching Them Out of the Fire

“Save” means “to save, to keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction” (Thayer, p. 610).

“Snatching” means “to seize, carry off by force, to seize on, claim for one’s self eagerly, to snatch out or away” (Thayer, p. 74).

The idea is someone touching a live wire. The electricity can seize the person and hold him in its clutches. Rescuing a trapped person may require drastic measures such as grabbing a long wooden pole and whacking him hard enough to knock him away from the current.

Obviously, this person is more deeply involved in sin and headed towards becoming enslaved to it. Paul spoke of the power of sin to grab a person and enslave him:

Titus 3:3: “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our lie in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.”

People who play with fire require a serious jolt to knock them away from the lure of sin, to catch their attention, to convince them that what they are doing is bad, and try to save them in this way.

This second level of sin requires more drastic measures than are needed for the person who simply doesn’t know. They may need to be relieved of duties in the congregation until they can get their lives in order. Click here to see suggestions on how elders and preachers can help knock such people away from sin.

People at this level of sin are probably engaging in verbal abuse to deflect attention away from their activities. If not committing cluster sins, they are flirting with them. Click here to see God’s list of cluster sins.

A spouse will have a harder time teaching this mate how to fight fair, but he/she needs to stay with it to snatch the one out of the fire and to protect the children from the bad influence. The “How to Fight Fair and Face Anger” rules often work well with this second level of sin. However, how long it has gone on determines how long it may take to make lasting changes. A person at the second level may never give up his faulty ways of treating others, but the spouse can protect him or herself from the personal damage that comes from living with this person.

Often when the level of discord in the home has reached this second level, these marriages can be turned around and become wonderful tastes of heaven. However, it requires persistence and hard work. If peer pressure can be brought to bear, results are usually quicker.

Most spiritual battles take place in the home, not from persecution from without. Read “Some Battles Are Worth Fighting” in the essay Adultery & Sexual Addiction: A Plan for Healing the Soul and the Marriage. Then read the example of how a wife dealt with verbal abuse at this second level, “The Verbal Abuse in This House Is Gone! It’s Just Gone!”

Third Level: Mercy with Fear, Hating the Polluted Garment

“Fear” means “fear, dread, terror” (Thayer, p. 656).

“Hating” means “to hate, pursue with hatred, detest” (Thayer, p. 415).

“Garment” means “a tunic, an undergarment, usually worn next to the skin” (Thayer, p. 669).

“Polluted” means “to defile, spot, (a fault, moral blemish)” (Thayer, p. 584).

This third level represents total enslavement to sin, and is usually accompanied by many cluster sins. For example, once a spouse crosses the line into hitting the mate, everything changes. If he’s not stopped, eventually he can reach a level where he no longer hits his wife because he’s angry; now he enjoys it. Before she has done or said one thing to set him off, he looks forward to coming home and beating her up. Violence against women is not about the woman not being submissive, it’s about unscriptural and unreasonable exercise of power over another person. This third stage can present extreme danger with the threat of the spouse being killed.

NOTE: The “How to Fight Fair and Face Anger” rules are not designed for dealing with a spouse at this level. Please see the Survey on Spouse Abuse and Domestic Violence Among Christians for help in determining at which level the sin has progressed to. This survey was adapted from material from two women’s shelters.

WARNING! At all times, a person should trust his or her gut instincts and seek protection from violence. A person can easily dismiss foreboding feelings that urge them to seek safety. Please trust your gut instincts. Please see this warning and contact the national hotline for abuse for help.

Healing the Trauma of Domestic Violence: A Workbook for Women by Edward S. Kubany, Mari A. McCaig, and Janet R. Laconsay states:

Research by Neil Jacobson and colleagues confirms that battered women do not have the power to stop the abuse. They studied communication styles in couples with a violent husband. The abusive husbands acknowledged that once violence begins there is nothing the wife can do to stop it. Even strategies such as withdrawal do not suppress the violence or its escalation. (Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 62:982-988, quoted in Workbook, p. 90.)

When sins of adultery reach this third level, even counselors need to fear for their spiritual safety. The last class in Challenges in Marriage gives more details about how counselors can protect themselves. It is not unusual for when a sinner has developed “eyes full of adultery,” for that person to turn the lust toward the counselor. Many a strong Christian has strayed from his or her marriage vows to succumb to the seductive talents of an accomplished adulterer.

People at the third level are usually very skillful at lying and deceit. Masters of weasel words, they use just enough truth so that if they’re questioned, they can emphasize the truth and deflect the question away from their sin. Inexperienced Christians are easily deceived when working with people at level three. So one fear is of being deceived, being taken in by the sin.

In hating the polluted garment, it is not hating the person, but the sin. It requires keeping a wholesome appreciation for how destructive sin is, not only for the future of the soul, but for destroying lives right now.

The English translation doesn’t reveal that the word “garment” refers to an undergarment usually worn next to the skin. The idea is like a woman working in the kitchen wearing an apron. She expects to get a few spots on the apron and doesn’t think too much about that. Yet if the spots not only get on the apron, but also on her blouse, and then go all the way through to her slip, something serious is going on in that kitchen. That is the idea here. This person is so stained with sin that even the undergarments are dirty. This is a high level dangerous walking in sin.

The Three Levels of Sin

Dealing with someone in the third level is much different than dealing with someone in the first level who is just ignorant or slipped. A doubting person is ready to correct the mistake as soon as it is pointed out. Someone who plays with fire requires more vigorous attention-getting methods to knock him or her free of the sin to enjoy a good life and marriage. While these verses offer hope for the third level, helping such a person requires paying attention to personal and spiritual dangers.

Thus, these verses expose three levels of involvement in sin and three ways to deal with them. When a person becomes enslaved to sin–the sin controls him or her. In level one or two, the person may give in to anger once in a while. This is very different from the third level where the cycle of verbal abuse or violence continually grows shorter. What works with a person at the beginning of developing a temper will not work with the person who is actively involved in rage. In fact, what works for the first and second levels might put a person’s life in danger if they use it for the third level. Adultery can also follow cycles of repentance, loving the mate, only to stray again, with the cycles also becoming shorter.

However, if a person at the first level, who only gets angry twice a year, is treated like the person who is consumed with anger, then that’s excessive. That’s mistreating the man on the first level. Likewise, someone in level two who has committed the first act of adultery is different than the person who’s eyes are now full of adultery. Studying and learning God’s beautiful teachings regarding the special language of love between mates helps the in-the-fire person focus on the marriage and building healthy attitudes. Christians need to treat these three categories of people differently.

In thinking about having mercy with fear on some and hating the polluted garment on others, nearly forty years ago when my husband first started preaching, we counseled a young couple. The husband later confessed that he became a Christian just to win his wife. The man was actively involved in drugs and was trying to get his wife started on drugs.

This young woman’s father was an elder in a church in the south. He flew to town to see if he could save his daughter, to snatch her out of the fire. This husband and wife, her father, another woman with a lot of counseling experience, and my husband and myself sat in our living room to talk to this young couple. We listened to the young man talk about how he was going to get his life straightened out, and “I’m going to do this” and “I’m going to do that.”

We all thought, “That sounds good. That sounds like he’s going to be okay.” The couple left, the elder left, and we sat there feeling good that we’d accomplished something with the meeting.

The older woman began to talk about how frustrated and upset she was. She had experience in dealing with people on drugs that we had not had. She said, “I’ve never seen a pot-head yet who didn’t say the things he said.” We were deceived by our naivete and inexperience by the young husband knowing how to say all the right things. This older woman was the only one who realized what was happening. She felt powerless to do anything because the elder and the preacher and his wife needed to be educated about the way of drug addicts before the problem could be addressed.

Thus, Jude lists three levels of sin that follow how a person progresses from just a slip to becoming more involved in bad conduct to becoming so steeped in evil that he may become extremely dangerous. Then Jude instructs Christians to observe these levels and to work at restoring the sinners according to their sin. Obviously, sin is easier to deal with when it is just beginning than when it starts enslaving the individual. The more teaching we can do to warn about playing with fire, the more pollution we can stamp out in our spiritual families and world.

NOTE: This short essay is the beginning of the class “The Profile of the Habitual Sinner” in the Challenges in Marriage series. The lesson traces the development of various sins from the first slip to eventual enslavement to the sin.

For More Information Read

The Marriage: A Taste of Heaven series by Patsy Rae Dawson, an awarding-winning author and minister’s wife, Vol. I: God’s People Appreciate Marriage and Vol. II: God’s People Make the Best Lovers, presents the most in-depth treatment of marriage and sexual love available. You can get them from PatsyRaeDawson.com.

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Adultery & Sexual Addiction: A Plan for Healing the Soul and the Marriage: Sexual sin is rapidly becoming the number-one marriage problem facing Christians, but God offers a three-part formula for overcoming it.

The Victims of Victorian Morals: Chapter 3 in Vol. II: God’s People Make the Best Lovers shows how Victorian morals continue to victimize sexual love and to cheat countless couples out of the truly happy relationship God desires.

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