Even Prisoners Have a Righteousness Pecking Order

By Joel Hess


Often times when a child molester or murderer is sent to prison, he doesn’t last long. The other prisoners find a way to kill him. From various interviews with other inmates, the motivation to kill someone who hurt children is because the other prisoners find that crime is the worst of all crimes. In other words, in their world where they are all convicted criminals, even of the most heinous crimes, there is still a righteousness pecking order. You simply can’t escape it. Outside of Hell there is always a righteousness pecking order.

Some of us think that is great. Surely there is no worse crime than hurting a child. Yet others of us laugh at a violent criminal thinking he is somehow better than others. What sort of screwed up paradigm are you residing in, when you consider a person who killed three adults as more righteous than a dude who molested a 5 year old!?

statue of lady liberty holding the scales of justice

Yet that is how we do righteousness outside of Christ! No matter what, we find ways to justify ourselves before God and others. If we can’t do it by pointing to our actions (and we can’t), and if we can’t do it by pointing to our excuses and reasons behind our evil deeds (and we can’t), then we will likely establish our worth before God and others by saying, “at least I’m not as bad as…”

Practicing righteousness in a prison. It doesn’t get you out of prison. The dude who killed the child molester is not freed. Worse, he has added to his guilt. The warden is not impressed, though it may have cut the expense of keeping a prisoner. Your righteous act will not free you. In fact, ironically, it only binds you further!

You, dear reader, are not any more righteous or worthy in any way than that fellow who molested kids. We are all in the same prison, equally guilty, bound to sin, bound to death, bound to hell. Look in the mirror. Look at your heart. Look at your past. It ain’t pretty.


Thanks be to God. We are made righteous, pronounced righteous by the promise of Christ, backed up by His precious blood.

We have been freed from the prison, the self-delusion of self-justification, the rat race of trying to be better than others, the destiny of all guilty prisoners; hell. We don’t need to impress our warden, earn parole, or kill the guilty fool next to us to make us feel better.

We can rest in Christ and draw from His well of mercy to us in order to give it to others. We are free.


2 thoughts on “Even Prisoners Have a Righteousness Pecking Order

  1. While all sin places us in the same standing with God vertically, there are different levels of sin/crimes horizontally. Some people, including many Christians, get this mixed up and engage in what is called sin leveling. This sadly occurs even in the case of child molesters. When these misguided Christians are trying to protect or defend someone who has committed this grievous sin and crime, they’ll say “Well, his sin is no worse than yours or mine.”

    In my opinion, this problem of sin leveling is greater in conservative Protestant circles than the problem of people trying to create different levels of sin vertically.


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