The Hierarchy Of Clean (A Mustard Seed Musing)

I like being clean. It’s not that I mind being dirty, like sweaty from a good workout at the gym or covered with dirt, grass, and leaves from raking the yard or working in the garden. But when I’m supposed to be clean, I want to be clean.

A few years ago, I was struck by the way that I subcategorized my own cleanliness.

There’s “mission trip clean.” If you’ve ever been on a no-frills mission trip, then you probably know what I mean. There are dozens of you, sleeping on the floor, usually in a room not intended for sleeping. You shower in a communal setting, often without the usual attributes of home like good lighting, regularly hot water, or even your good razor. But compared to the work you’re doing throughout the days of the mission trip, after a shower, you go to bed “mission trip clean.”

Lately, I’ve added the middle range, “hotel clean.” That’s the one where you try to ignore that the cleaning staff did their best, but you still found someone else’s hair in the drain, or in the sheets; it’s when you try to not figure out what the stains are from, or the oily feel of the remote. But still, you go to bed having a shower (usually with hot water), and the normal first-world amenities.

And then there’s “clean.” You have your house ready for your own expectations, with your favorite shampoo, good razor, optimal drying times, and sheets to your specifications. It’s the way you relax more often than not.

Unfortunately, this hierarchy of clean is too often applied to sin by insiders of the church. Depending upon your church and its social systemic beliefs, you may have experienced this or not. Here are some examples:

-In college, one of the campus ministries I participated with put “drinking alcohol” at the top of a rather long list of things that Christians shouldn’t, even couldn’t, do. If you were seen drunk on Saturday night, then you weren’t a Christian.

-In grad school, some of my peers put “extramarital sex” at the top of list. Ironically, some of them had participated in this before, but having repented of it, they were now able to point fingers at those who were found ‘guilty.’

-In churches I have been over the last ten years, those who were “gay” or “judgmental” or “addicted to [….]” or “deviant” were deemed the worst.

Now, whether you think one or any of these is actually a sin or not, here’s my point: there’s no hierarchy in my understanding of sin. No one can point at another person and say, “their sin is worse than mine.” Whenever we get to that point, we’re forgetting our sin and focusing on theirs. If theirs looks worse to us, then we’ve forgotten what we’ve done to the point where we’re blinded to our own.

Sin is something that breaks in or fragments our relationship with God. Romans 8:38-39 (The Message) states Paul’s opinion about God’s love: “I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.” Sin can’t cause God to stop loving us but it can mess up the relationship.

And while I considered how good my shower at home was going to feel the last time I went away, it struck me that ultimately, there’s only one kind of clean for all kinds of sin: it’s the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because whether you think you’re just a little bit dirty or absolutely filthy, Jesus’ grace is the only thing that can wash away the sin.

And it’s one size clean fits all.


About Jacob Sahms

I'm searching for hope in the midst of the storms, raising a family, pastoring a church, writing on faith and film, rooting for the Red Sox, and sleeping occasionally. Find me at,, and the brand new
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