The question comes from skeptics and believers alike, “Are all sins really equal in God’s eyes?” It is common within evangelical circles to say that they are. The smallest white lie and the most brutal murder both nailed Jesus to the cross; he died for all sins. Most people may find this theological concept very appealing and accept it without doing much homework. I think this is true for two reasons:
- A reaction by Protestants against the Roman Catholic distinction between mortal sins (sins that are grievous) and venial sin (sins of a lesser nature).
- A tendency within our church culture to find a way to say that we are all equally in need of God’s grace and that all sin is extremely serious in God’s eyes (which is true).
After a little research, I don’t believe that all sin is equal in God’s sight. I also believe that telling people all sins are equal does damage to the character of God and the seriousness of certain sins. There are several reasons for this:
Think about it:
What if people lived according to this theology?
- If all sin is equal in the sight of God, then His anger will be equal for whatever sin we commit.
- How would it affect our relational disposition before God?
- If we suffer from the conviction of the Holy Spirit for all sins equally, our conscious getting weighed down by unrepentant sin will become confusing.
- This weighing down normally only comes from those sins that we perceive to be more severe. But if all sin is equal in the sight of God and one lived according to that theology, we would be just as troubled and just as repentant each time we exceeded the speed limit as when we commit adultery, steal the last loaf of bread from a starving family, or abuse children.
- But no one does this. We all see speeding down the road as a minor infraction because our conscious bears witness that it is not as bad as other things.
What Does the Bible Say?
I think that it is biblical and necessary to say that some sins are more grievous in the sight of God than others. This also translates into the assumption that some people are sinners to a greater degree than others. There are many instances in the Scriptures where degrees of sin are distinguished.
- Jesus tells Pilate that the Jewish leaders have committed a worse sin than him, saying “he who has handed me over to you has committed the greater sin” (John 19:11).
- Certain sins in the law are distinguished in a particular context as an abomination to God, implying that others are not as severe (as in Leviticus 18:22, Deuteronomy 7:25, 23:18, Isaiah 41:24).
- Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is set apart as a more severe sin than blasphemy of the Son (Matthew 12:31).
- Proverbs 6:16-19 lists particular sins in such a way as to single them out because of their depraved nature, separating them from others.
- There are degrees of punishment in hell depending on the severity of the offense (Luke 12:47-48).
- Jesus says of the Pharisees, “You strain out a gnat while you swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24). If all sins are equal, Christ’s rebuke does not make any sense.
- Jesus also talked about the “weightier things of the law” (Matthew 23:23). If all sins are equal, there is no law (or violation of that law) that is weightier than others. They are all the same weight.
Where Do We Get Our Theology?
So where does this faulty theology come from? Many people might refer to Christ’s comments in the Sermon on the Mount as justification for this way of thinking, or perhaps that verse in James.
“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 (Matthew 5:27-28).
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. (James 2:10)
Is there a difference in the eyes of God between thinking about adultery and actually doing it? Absolutely. If we say anything other than this, we do damage to God’s character and encourage the act based upon the thought of it. The point Jesus makes in Matthew 5:28 is not that lust and the actual act are equal, but that they both violate the same commandment. He was telling all people (particularly the religious leaders of the day) who thought they were safe because they had fulfilled the letter of the law that the law runs much deeper. The spirit of the law is what matters.
- If you have ever lusted, you have broken the sixth commandment (Matthew 5:28).
- If you have ever hated your brother, you have broken the fifth commandment (Matthew 5:22).
James is telling us that whatever the sin, no matter how small a sinner you believe yourself to be, that tiny sin still put Jesus on the cross to pay the debt.
The breaking of the principles of the commandment is the issue, not the degree to which it is broken.
Absurdity in Action:
If we believe that adultery and lust are equal in the sight of God, then here are the logical results:
- Any man or woman can justify divorce based upon the fact that Christ condemns divorce except for marital infidelity (Matthew 5:32). All they need to do is make the assumption that their spouse has lusted to some degree during their marriage.
- If a man were to lust after a woman on the Internet, he might as well commit the actual act, since in God’s eyes he already has.
- If you have ever lusted after a girl, then you should marry her since in God’s eyes you are one with her (1 Corinthians 6:16).
I think that this way of thinking is not only wrong biblically, but it also has repercussions that lead to a distorted worldview and it discredits the integrity of God.
It is true that all people are sinners; all the way since birth. But not all sin is equal. I think that it is safe to say that while not all people sin to the same degree, we all share in an equally depraved nature.