Carl Sandburg warned us, “Keep away from little deaths.” It sounds like good advice, but still we die a little every hour in our compromises, selfishness, anxiety, fear, wasted energies, and sin.
The great catastrophes in life do not get us. In fact, major setbacks can actually lead to self-improvement. The tiny defeats, the minor losses, the “little deaths” are the ones that get us in the end.
There are no small sins. No white lies. No petty crimes. No minor indiscretions. No harmless lapses in judgment. Every action or thought that is contrary to God’s will is deadly sin.
Some of James’s readers thought favoritism was a minor offense. It’s human nature to be partial to people who look like you and act like you, right? No, James says, “If you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” He then reminds his readers that “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (Jas. 2:9-10).
So keep away from little deaths. Take all sin seriously. We may be able to do that to some extent—avoiding little deaths—but we need more, for we are frail and unable to keep away from all of them.
There is good news. There is a great death that prevails over the thousand little deaths we die every day.
The writer of Hebrews speaks of this death that sufficiently redeems us from all our sins, great and small:
But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. (Heb. 10:12-18)
The great death of God’s Son gives us the power to keep away from the little deaths.