It is not uncommon to hear or read the statement, “all sins are equal.” In other words, if I drive one mile per hour over the speed limit, I may as well have exterminated millions of people in the eyes of God.
If that’s true, we should teach our children that disobeying us by taking a cookie from the cookie jar makes them just as guilty as a murderer or rapist, right? I believe that this line of thinking is basically incorrect and ignores matters of the heart, common sense, and what the Bible acctually teaches. It also paves the way for a society in which dangerous criminals are not punished and character is ignored. After all, if we are all equally wicked, we can’t discriminate between a good person and an evil one. We couldn’t know Adolf Hitler from John the Baptist. Both should be allowed to lead a country or baby sit our children. Right?
It is true that all sins separate us from God. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death…” All sin leads to death and judgment without Jesus, but does that mean all sins are equal? I believe the Bible teaches they are not.
Are All Sins Punished in the Same Way?
The Old Testament tells us that God assigned different penalties to certain sins. This suggests that certain sins differ in seriousness. Under the Old Testament law, a thief paid restitution; an occult practitioner was cut off from Israel; one who committed adultery was put to death (see Exodus 22 and Leviticus 20).
Matthew 11:23-24 says, “If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” Because these people refused to soften their hearts, Jesus tells them that they will have an even harsher judgment and punishment than two towns destroyed for their wickedness.
Are Some Sins Worse than Others?
In 1 Corinthians 6:18, Paul says, “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.”
The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to express that sexual sin is different from other sins. Because the sin is against the human body, Christians commit the sin against the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Paul said, “All other sins are outside the body.” This distinguishes sexual sin from coveting, for example, because coveting is a sin done outside the human body.
Jesus suggested that some sins are worse than others when he told the Pharisees they were straining at a gnat (something little, but still bad) but swallowed a camel (something bigger and worse). “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23: 23 – 24).
The words, “the more important matters of the law,” clearly point out that all commands, though each needing to be followed with the same enthusiasm, are not of equal significance. The statement, “You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” is also applied in the same way. “Gnat” implies small sins, while “camel” refers to larger ones.
Remember Jesus’ words to Pilate? He said, “The one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin” (John 19:11). The phrase, “greater sin,” is there in black and white (or red in the Red Letter Edition). Pilate tried to release Jesus because he could see He had done nothing wrong. Jerusalem’s religious leaders should have known better. Jesus should have been welcomed as the one who fulfilled the prophecies, but the crowd amazed Pilate by demanding the death of the innocent Jesus. Jesus made it clear that those who should have known better held greater guilt. Jesus “came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11). Pilate’s sin did not compete with theirs and so Jesus told Pilate that the ones who handed Him over were “guilty of a greater sin.”
As is true in the case of the Jews, who should have known better than Pilate, where God grants loving blessings and rare opportunities, He also demands greater responsibility. One who knew his master’s will but didn’t fulfill it will suffer more than one who didn’t know (Luke 12:47,48).
In Matthew 7:3 Jesus mocks someone who struggles with great sin but takes it upon himself to “fix” another person who commits a less serious sin. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Basically Jesus said that those who commit and struggle with worse sins ought not to “nit pick” those with lesser struggles.
Clearly, Jesus used an example of two things not equal in size or severity to each other when he compared a “speck of sawdust” and a “plank.”
Some sins reveal a heart that is farther separated from God and bring harsher consequences than others. John told us that anyone who hates his brother is a murderer. God’s law convicts me for even thinking about killing the neighbor whose weed poison destroys my wife’s roses. But if my sin remains a thought and I don’t actually kill him, he is still alive. I have demonstrated restraint by resisting the desires of my temporary rage. That’s something that should separate Christians from the world. Our desires may sometimes be similar to those in the world, but Christians should try to do what is right by listening to the Holy Spirit rather than our egos or hormones. In the case of my neighbor, I would be wrong to say, “Thinking about it is just as bad as actually killing him.” Likewise, I obviously shouldn’t say, “I’ve already thought it, I might as well murder him.”
We Shouldn’t Justify “Smaller” Sins
All sins deserve God’s judgment, but not all receive the same judgment. We face danger, however, in attempting to justify our sins by their size. Every sin will lead us to hell if we don’t have the grace and forgiveness of Jesus.
God Offers Forgiveness
Every sin—no matter how large—can be forgiven and swallowed in God’s infinite ocean of grace. Just as God forgives those who turn from their wicked ways, so should we. God offers salvation to even the most wicked. 1 John 1:7 tells us “The blood of Jesus purifies us from every sin” (1 John 1:7). God is willing to forgive all!
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