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Three Levels of Sin – Part 2

From cradle to grave, other people hinder our growth in every area by sinning against us.

Level Two
Sins of Abuse and Neglect:
An Individualized Experience

Building on the foundation of original sin are the sins others have committed against us. From cradle to grave, other people hinder our growth in every area by sinning against us.

Sin alters our personalities. Developmental psychologists claim that 85 percent of a child’s personality is shaped by age 6. It’s heart wrenching to think about how sin damages us the most when we are children.

Consider another case study:

Debra was an attractive professional who seemed to have it all together. She entered therapy with a bit of humor, diminishing the deeper needs that had been walled off in her heart for years. Within a few sessions, however, she told her secret. Her memories of being sexually abused by her Dad were vivid. She concluded her story by stating how she felt sorry for her father. After all, surely she must have seduced him into committing incest against her…

Every child has basic needs important to her development. During preschool years, a child thinks everything belongs to her. It’s common to hear her say, “my doll,” or “my toy.” Sadly, the same child will also take ownership of a sin someone might commit against her. In a child’s mind, the event and its shame are also “mine.”

These level-two sins can be categorized as abuse or neglect. Abuse can be described as a sin of commission. Neglect can be described as a sin of omission.

Sins of Abuse or Commission

Sins of abuse, or commission, are “event” wounds. They have a beginning and an end. They can be seen and measured. For example, Sandi’s incest was abusive. Others could have observed her trauma. Each incident had a clear beginning and a clear ending. The duration of each event could have been measured against the time it took for her mother to shop for the groceries.

Debra’s similar story illustrates how even as adults our thoughts about the sins committed against us as children can be illogical. Considerable time and patience were required before Debra learned to debate the irrationality of her shame and false sense of personal responsibility.

Sins of Neglect or Omission

Sins of neglect or omission can be easily overlooked, but these sins are perhaps even more damaging than sins of abuse. Although a person receives negative attention whenever they are abused, neglect just leaves a child ignored and devalued.

Children have legitimate needs like clean diapers and good nutrition. This sort of need is obvious, and should be met in a timely and sensitive manner. Other, less obvious, legitimate needs include wholesome touch, verbal affirmation, and protection from harm. Many of these legitimate needs remain throughout life.

Only God knows the deep wounds that can accumulate over a lifetime. Learning to detect and cleanse these level-two wounds is one of life’s most important developmental tasks. Each wound, whether small or great, diminishes our natural ability to trust other humans. Without trust, true intimacy cannot occur. When a child’s skills for building trust fail to develop within their original family, those deficiencies are carried into future relationships.

Level Three

Sins of a Depraved and Damaged Free Will:
My Responsibility for the Outcome

Pounded by level-one and level-two sins outside of our control, we often react poorly to others. Our choices reveal our limited insight, impaired trust, and fear of injury. Hungry for love, we don’t realize that we recycle past wounds as we try to build new relationships.

As a child, Allison endured her parents’ occasional outbursts of verbal rage, their unreasonably high expectations, and her father’s inappropriate touching. As a teen, she found it difficult to ask for safe boundaries with her family and others.

When Allison left home for college, she unknowingly increased her inner pain by pushing herself even harder to perform and gain social acceptance. By the time she understood that acceptance at home had meant meeting the expectations of a very broken family system, she had already developed other relationships that reminded her of the painful ones in her family.

For the next fifteen years, Allison went through cycles of attaching and detaching with her friends, family, and husband. Once she unraveled her memories and feelings about the sins committed against her, these insights helped her see the damage she was carrying into new relationships. She realized that by sinning against others in this way, she was really making herself feel “at home.”
Allison’s experience is common. We all tend to pack away those developmental hurts, dragging them from one relationship to another. Unless unpacked purposefully, we bring them with us right on into adulthood.

This is the part of life that many people fail to grasp. Sin is not some scarlet letter Christians are trying to sew on your clothing; it is the reality of our lives—our wounded, broken lives. Notice the use of the plural “our?” Christians are not immune to the devastating effects of sin. In fact, it was our ultimate realization of our sin that drove us to the arms of God. We were tired of living lives of pain and sorrow.

Level-three sins are born out of our human nature to sin (level one) and the accumulation of sins committed against us (level two). Our “free will” is devastated as a result. Spiritually speaking, our will is, in fact, dead aside from being revived in Christ.7

We all are a lot like Allison. She can only try to change herself in order to lessen the trauma of sin in her life. By finding healthier ways to respond to her family and others, she can cease to react, which only hurts others and herself.

Making Sense of Sin

Once we understand these three levels of sin and apply God’s forgiveness of them in Christ, we gain greater humility and peace. We can understand and forgive those who sinned against us. We cease judging their hearts and motives. We take away the fuel keeping our addictions burning. Greater insight into our corrupt nature brings greater appreciation for all who God is. He alone is pure and holy.

When we aren’t in the prison of our past, even our distorted desire to sin lessens. We start enjoying healthy relationships, and find that even the old hurtful ones get sprinkled with God’s grace and compassion. Now we can choose the right course of action to deal with each situation. We can even avoid old reactions that kept us from applying grace in difficult relationships. Learning to possess ourselves in Christ, we move toward real intimacy – with God, ourselves and others.

Of course, this isn’t a five-step, 40-day process. The damage done to us has accrued over our lifetime. Learning or relearning a healthy approach to life—with a proper understanding of sin—takes time. That’s why surrounding ourselves with mature Christian friends or mentors who have gone through this process is best. Many of us also benefit from the services of a professional Christian counselor to help unpack the pain of our past.

Look again at the tragedy of sin. Oswald Chambers said it well: “Sin has made the basis of things wild and not rational.… It is not being reconciled to the fact of sin that produces all the disasters of life.”

Our behaviors, thoughts, feelings, and relationships were shattered into fragments by sin. God’s power, precepts and principles can help us put all the pieces back together. Those three levels of sin brought wild devastation into our lives. But upon that background, where we can appreciate its value the most, God places the beautiful diamond of His pure love – the only remedy for sin.

Before moving onto Part Two, where you’ll learn how to re-integrate your life using The Iceberg Method of Transformation to Understanding Intimacy Disorder, take time to meditate on and write down your responses to the following questions:

  • What does it mean to me that I have inherited “original sin?” How has Level One sin wounded my attachment or relationship to God?
  • What Level Two sins have been committed against me? It may be helpful to draw a timeline of your life as you consider your wounds and reactions to those individuals who have hurt you. Also be sure to consider how these sins have wounded your attachment or relationship to others.
  • What Level Three sins have I committed against others or myself and found difficult to overcome? Consider how these sins have wounded your wholeness as a person, and, perhaps, even your self-respect.
  • With this larger understanding of sin and how it traumatizes or fragments us, it’s time to learn how to apply what you’ve learned so that you can integrate body, mind, and spirit in Christ.

Copyright © 2004 Rob Jackson. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.


7 Ephesians 2:1, 4-5; Colossians 2:13-15; 1 Corinthians 12:3

About the author

Rob Jackson is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice who specializes in intimacy disorders, including sex addiction and codependency. He also speaks nationally on a variety of topics, including intimacy with God and family.