Top Five

Think of the five worst disasters you have ever made in your life.  The Top Five.

Not accidents, and not something that was done to you, but the worst disasters that you yourself ravaged in your life.

The worst.  The secrets. The ones you don’t talk about.

The ones you might (or would) consider committing suicide over if news of them became viral on the internet.

We all have them.  We might not admit to them (even to ourselves).  But we remember.

We may have tried to make excuses for them (blaming them on our childhood, other people’s evils, or chemical malfunctions of our brain).  But in the end, in our heart, we know we are responsible.

Question: What do you do with your five worst sins?  (And what do I do with mine??)

Do you try to bury them?  Refuse to think about them?  Distract yourself?  Self-medicate?  Go to a psychologist?  Become so busy you can barely remember them?  Punish yourself?  Try to make up for what you’ve done with ‘good things’?  Try to make things right?

Or do you play the blame game (it’s not my fault . . if you only knew the reason why . . it’s complicated . . I might have been partly at fault but I did what I did because someone else . . if I’d been on the right medication . . if I’d had time to . . if I hadn’t been provoked . .)?

Now imagine something terrifying.  Imagine that the Highest Being in the universe, the Judge of all existence, the All-Knowing All-Wise All-Discerning GOD of All Truth . . knows your sin.

He doesn’t just know it casually.  He doesn’t just know it from afar.  He intimately, personally knows your sin.  He is fully aware of it, but not just aware, but fully capable of understanding why you did what you did, and totally able to judge you for the evil that was in your heart despite any circumstances or people you think led up to your sin.

He is fully able to separate out what everyone else did, and find only and exactly your fault and the precise debt that you owe, and hold you absolutely responsible for that portion which is unpaid, unpunished, and completely inexcusable.

Now imagine that, because He is fully just, absolutely perfect, totally fair, and in the highest position of authority in the universe–and beyond–He has every right, responsibility, and capability to judge you for your sin.

The question is, What do you think He will have you pay?

Do you think that, for those worst sins you’ve listed in your mind, money could pay them off?  Could you pay enough, if you were a billionaire, to make things right with the people you harmed (assuming they are still living)?  Could you do enough ‘good things’ for that person (again, assuming they are still living) that you could make full restoration of what you’ve done?

Hmm. It might be possible.  Maybe you could make full restoration with the person you harmed the most.  But what about all the people you have ever harmed?  Do you know all their names?  Do you know where they live?  Can you make all the things you have ever done wrong, right?  Could you figure out how?  Are all the people still alive?  Would all of them let you?  Would they all accept what you are doing as payment?

What if you could?  Just imagine, just suppose that you could.  Somehow, you could cross off not just the five worst sins you’ve done, but every sin, ever that you’ve committed against anyone ever in the world.

Are the Top Five sins erased?  Is the record forgotten?

In your efforts to make things right, you may feel like you’ve made some progress–and really, you have–but you have not covered the infinite distance toward restoring your relationship with God.

When David said,

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. (Psalm 51:4, NIV)

–He wasn’t kidding.

What had David done?  Well, in his Top Five sins he’d taken another man’s wife (a man who served him) and then killed that man to cover up her pregnancy.

So what was David saying?  Was he saying that he hadn’t done anything wrong against the man he killed?  Was he saying he didn’t have any apologies to make to the family whose son, brother, etc., he’d murdered?


He was saying that, while the harm he’d done against this man (and his wife) was repulsive and vile, it wasn’t a sin.  Sin is an act against someone who is unsinful.

A sinful man doesn’t have the capacity to be sinned against.

One way to look at this is, picture a whole bunch of pigs in a pig pen, filthy and soaked with mud.  If one pig splashes mud on another pig, he can say, “I’m sorry, I splashed mud on you,” and he can even say, “Let me try to get the mud off of you I splashed on you,” but he cannot say, “I made you dirty.”  All the pigs in the pig pen were already dirty from their own wallowing in mud before any other pig starting splashing mud on them.

We are all filthy with sin.  So while the Bible encourages and commands us to treat each other as we want to be treated and to make restoration as God prompts us, we cannot sin against each other in this sense.  All of us are unholy.  To sin is an act against a holy being.  So we don’t sin against each other.

So the Top Five sins you’ve committed?  They aren’t sins to the people you did them to as rightly judged by them (or by anyone else).  That doesn’t mean you didn’t harm them, or that it wasn’t wrong, or that they can’t acknowledge it was wrong, or that an earthly judge doesn’t have the right to convict you for the wrong you did.  But it does mean no one on earth can judge what you did as sin against THEM since no one on earth is capable of judging your sin (since we are all SINners).

But who did you sin against?  (You know where this is going.)

You sinned against GOD.

God is holy and can rightly judge that you have sinned against Him by sinning against the people He created in His image.  But that doesn’t mean the only sins you are accountable for are those you’ve done against others.  Any sins you’ve committed against God (like not worshiping Him alone, serving anything else rather than Him, cursing Him with your language towards Him, etc.), He also rightly judges.

When we actually realize this, the list of things we think are on our Sin List greatly expands.  The list includes anything and everything we have done in insurrection of–and therefore rebellion towards–God.


Can you imagine standing before God on holy Judgment Day and just dealing with your Top Five sins?  Just think of those.  Question: How will you deal with them?  (And HOW WILL I??)

Will you give God an excuse?

Do you think He’ll believe it, since He knows you better than you know yourself?

Will you try to buy Him off by citing good works?

He’s a fair Judge and can’t be bribed.

Will you cite quotes from your favorite psychologist or bring with you medical books and magazines that explain your behavior as chemical malfunctions the brains?

You’ll have no such luck.  God knows exactly what you are responsible for, and He holds you responsible for exactly that.  God made you–you don’t have to explain your brain’s design to Him.  Further, He knows that you are responsible for the reason your brain doesn’t work right (if calling the disposition towards sin nature means not working right–as well as any genuine issues you have).  Yes, even the genuine issues we have, we are responsible for because they are a part of the curse we justly received when we invoked GOD’s judgement upon ourselves by our sins!  You and I are responsible because you, like me, like everyone else, actively chose rebellion against God in the Garden of Eden and every day of our lives since we have been born.

You chose when you were two years old to pull the hair of your little sister; you chose when you were in college to burn music illegally; you chose when you became a parent to lose control and scream at your kids; you chose when you were a senior to take that extravagant vacation instead of giving money to the poor.

Whatever sins they are, your whole life, there are sins–SINS and SINS–and even if you could be so fortunate as to only be held responsible for the Top Five, it wouldn’t matter.  You’d still be infinitely condemned.

Think of your Top Five as sins that Scripture places like rungs of condemnation on a ladder. Rungs on a ladder that cannot be removed.
Where does this ladder lead you? You might be surprised.

So you may be thinking, This is the most depressing blogs I’ve ever read and the worst news I’ve heard in my life.

And that is absolutely true, if you’ve never read the Bible.  But if you have read the Bible, do you realize that the condemnation cited in the Bible towards sinners is FAR WORSE than anything I could possibly conjure up here?

The theme of condemnation appears OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER and in case you didn’t get the message, it is from Genesis to Revelation.  Condemnation for sin!  Condemnation for sin!!  Condemnation for sin!!!

Whole groups of people destroyed for their sin lust.  God takes sin so seriously that, when He ordered annihilation of a people and all their animals and property as a perfectly fair penalty for their sin, and Achan the warrior took a few things to save back, not just he had to be annihilated, but his whole family.  He had placed his whole family under the annihilation curse because God takes sin that seriously.  (You can read the historical account in the book of Joshua, chapters 6-7 especially.)

You can be angry about God’s judgment.

You can stomp on the floor.  You can shake your fist at God.  You can say you don’t believe in Him because you don’t like His fair justice.

Or you can recognize that God’s standard of holiness is nothing like our self-made standard of what’s acceptable.  Sin against God has the worst penalty because it is the worst travesty in the universe.

You cannot sin against God and live with Him forever . . Period! . . unless . .

You grasp hold of the ladder of condemnation Scripture gives for your sins . . and see that, at the top, is the stunningly beautiful plan of redemption.

God in His mercy doesn’t speak of condemnation in Scripture for the purpose of His delight in punishing you.  Rather, what does He say?

Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’ (Ezekiel 33:11, NIV)

The ladder of condemnation that Scripture reveals is an upward ladder, not a downward one, and at the top is the extraordinary NO CONDEMNATION of the cross!

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.(Romans 8:1-2, NIV)

The cross is at the top of your ladder of condemnation!

As you climb you may hardly make it to the first rung before you can scarcely bear to see your sin any longer.  Just a glimpse at your Top Five sins can utterly destroy you.  (‘Just’ your worst sin–or ‘just’ any sin–can.)

I have to be honest.  When I came to Christ, I did not ascend the ladder of my condemnation all the way.  I held some sins in fear and hiding, fearful to climb the rungs to see all of who I really was.  There were things I left in concealment, or wallowing in excuses.  And I showed God only the sins I was comfortable with showing Him.

But what I found was that He pulled me up, from the rung I was on, to the top, and He forgave not only the sins I showed Him, but all my sins.  This is because I gave my faith to CHRIST JESUS, who is my HEAVEN at the top of my ladder!  He is the total surprise grace I would have NEVER expected to find at the top!  If it weren’t for Him, my ladder would have led down to Hell, but by His mercy He used my condemnation to show me the path HE had build from it up to Him by His work on the CROSS!  (By the way, how terrible the fall for those who see that the ladder of condemnation leads to the cross, ascend most or all the way, but never ask Jesus to pull them from the ladder onto the landing at the foot of His cross.  How much deeper the plunge into Hell!)

The last four years or so have been on the path that comes after the foot of the cross, the path that ascends into Eternal Life, and on that journey, Christ has given me gracious opportunities to glimpse at my Top Five.

Why do I say gracious?  Because I see the purpose of these glimpses is to get me to confess them and yield them over to God–and to leave them far behind on the rungs of the ladder where they belong.

The holiness of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross is a fire, and that fire BURNS DOWN and WHOLLY CONSUMES my sins on the rungs of the ladder!

My sins are no longer on rungs–that is what GOD has done for me.  I was afraid they were still there, but only when I turned to look back have I seen that they only exist as condemnation in my mind, not in the mind of God.  He has burned the ladder of condemnation down.  If I had come to Him with them long ago, I would have seen it.

The gloriousness of the burned ladder is IMPOSSIBLE to describe.  It, too, is a theme in Scripture, the third theme: worship.  From Genesis to Revelation, is the worship of a perfectly, perfectly, perfectly GLORIOUS God who forgives sins through Jesus Christ.

Look again at your list of Top Five sins.  Are you a believer?  Have you asked Jesus to come into your life and be Master of your soul?  Do you believe in Him?  If so, do you realize that that list is present in your mind, and is held triumphantly in the hand of the Accuser (Satan), but it is not on your record anymore?  Do you realize that the list Satan is holding is blood-soaked and unreadable, and that it is a BIG TRICK to keep you feeling condemned and miserable and nearly useless for the Kingdom of Christ?  May I encourage you to show that list to God?  You cannot pull it from Satan’s fist, but you can show it to God by pointing to it in Satan’s tightly clenched fist.  GOD is fully capable of pulling it from Satan’s fist.  That list is already taken care of, and one day it will be destroyed beyond God’s memory.  Hallelujah!

. . And if you are not a believer, why not?  Surely you don’t want to pay for your sins someday.  Do you realize that the full plan of salvation is not for you to somehow get rid of your sins, but that CHRIST has already done it?  Look at the condemnation your sins have brought you that Scripture reveals to you, but then believe in Him who took that condemnation away!  He will teach you–and is fully capable to do so–how to live a life of holiness before Him, with, for the rest of your life, the mercy that, every rung of sin you build, will be forever burned down by His redemption!

I am convicted, committed to, and fully convinced that I canNOT pay for my sin.  By the mercy of God, I can face my Top Five, in already knowing He has paid for them (or, if I’d rightly faced them before I became a believer, in knowing He was willing to pay for them).  And I am also convicted, committed to, and fully convinced that He has overcome my list, my whole list, even my Top Five.  My list, however great, is NOT so great that it can overcome the GREATNESS OF GOD’S SACRIFICE.


The ladder is fierce.  But my soul is already at the top of the landing, at the foot of the cross, kneeling down at the feet of Jesus.  And He has burned the ladder down.


Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)

This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel

after that time, declares the Lord.

I will put my laws in their minds

and write them on their hearts.

I will be their God,

and they will be my people.

No longer will they teach their neighbor,

or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’

because they will all know me,

from the least of them to the greatest.

For I will forgive their wickedness

and will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:10-12, NIV)


Photograph by Martin Cathrae, profile on

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

A big thank you to the Answers in Genesis Conference this past week and especially to how Todd Friel’s message on Law & Grace blessed me.

Many thanks to all the pastors and mentors who helped in showing my heart and mind to the grace of God, and to Ben, who, when I get frenzic about my sin, reminds me of Romans 8:1.


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