Aren't All Sins Created Equal?2
I know, I know.
You’ve heard it for years. You’ve probably passed it on. I’ve said it. We’ve all said it, so it must be true.
“All sins are the same in God’s eyes.”
I know what we’ve said. And heard. And repeated.
But does God agree? Has God said it? Are all sins really created equal?
I think not.
When we keep our finger in the text, I think we come across something quite different. We discover that God actually says some sins are worse than other sins, some sins bring greater guilt than others sins, and some sins do more damage than other sins!
For instance, God rates Jerusalem’s sins “more vile” than her sinful sisters, Sodom and Samaria, Ezekiel 16.52.
When Israel demanded that God give her a king like all the godless nations around her, God pronounced “your wickedness is great,” 1 Samuel 12.17.
Moses rates the golden-calf-train-wreck as a “great sin,” Exodus 32.30. The Message Bible super-sizes it, “You have sinned an enormous sin!”
And what does Jesus declare regarding the person who causes one of these little ones to stumble? “It would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Matthew 18.6
There are degrees of punishment in Hell depending on the severity of the offense, says Jesus, Luke 12.47-48.
And Jesus clarifies there are some sins that lead to death, while others that don’t, I John 5.16.
In light of these, and many, many other scriptures, why do we keep repeating “All sins are the same in God’s eyes”? Let me suggest three thoughts as to why we’ve held onto this notion:
1. This “all sins are equal” catchphrase may have been motivated by a reaction of we Protestants against the (unbiblical) Roman Catholic distinction between mortal sins (sins that kill justifying grace) and venial sin (sins of a lesser nature that do not kill justifying grace).
2. It may also be the product of good people within churches like ours with very good motives. Churches like ours have a passion to reach our communities for Jesus. We want to identify with and express and establish common ground with unbelievers. We don’t want to come across as self-righteous, judgmental or condescending (good!). So we say to them “All sins are equal in God’s sight,” meaning “Since all sins are equal, your particular sins are no worse than my sins.”
Great motivation (not being holier-than-thou). Not so great theology.
3. Thoughts 1 and 2 have perhaps caused our finger to slip off the text, leading us to a misunderstanding of some scriptures. For instance Jesus’ words in Matthew 5.27-28: “You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall not commit adultery’ but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Is there a difference in the eyes of God between thinking about adultery and actually doing it?
If we say anything other than this, we seem to do damage to God’s character and encourage the act based upon its premonition. The point Jesus is making is not that lust and fornication or adultery are equal, but that they both violate the same commandment, even if the degrees of this violation differ.
So, on one hand, all sins are equal in that no matter how trivial they seem, they all deserve God's "wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come, and cannot be expiated but by the blood of Christ." No sins are small because they all are committed against a great and generous God.
On the other hand however, the gravity of each transgression depends on varying factors.
What are some of these factors? Read and consider this fine article by J.I. Packer. (Packer is a Canadian Christian theologian of the first rank, Professor of Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia, and author of many, many books, including the must-read Knowing God.)