Are all Sins Equal?

by Jim on 1 August 2012

Does that seem like a funny question?  I know, some are thinking,"Of course not!  A white lie just isn’t as bad as a brutal murder!"

And others are thinking,"Now wait a minute – all sins are the same in God’s eyes.  A sin is a sin."

This issue came up at a Bible study here.  As I recall, someone was saying, it doesn’t seem fair that God treats a mass murderer the same way as He treats a sweet grandmother with a Bible by her bed.

Scales

Now, I would like to suggest that there is some truth on both sides – in a sense.  But let me start by saying – emphatically – that God does not treat every sin the same.

In the Old Testament

I mean, starting at the beginning of the Bible you have God-given laws – laws that clearly differentiate between sins.  Some sins were to lead to the death penalty.  Others, a simple repayment.

Judgement on Unbelievers

What did Jesus say about judgement?  Was all sin the same to Him?

Actually, He spoke of different types of judgement – Matthew 10:15: Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. (see also Matthew 11:21-24)

In Mark 12, Jesus told people to beware the scribes, explaining that they would "receive the greater condemnation". (Mark 12:40)

He talks about greater and lesser punishment in Luke 12:47-48.  And to cover all four Gospels, in John 19:11 Jesus specifically talks about greater sin when He says to Pilate:  You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.  Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.

Even the last book of the Bible seems to indicate that people will be judged by what they have done – which doesn’t sound like a simple "sinner or non-sinner" distinction.  (See Revelation 20:13)

Believers?

Since we’re talking about distinctions, what about believers?  Well, as believers our sins have been forgiven in Christ, because of His death on the cross (Colossians 2:13-14).

But are we judged by our actions too?  Do our actions really make a difference when it comes to the way God judges us?

Well, the Bible seems to say that as well.

What about the parable Jesus told about the talents (Matthew 25:13-30)?  Those who were faithful over more were given greater responsibility when the master returned.

Remember what Jesus said to Thomas, when he finally accepted the fact that Jesus had risen?  Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. (John 20:29)  So is one action better than the other?

In 1Corinthians 3, Paul describes those who work for the Lord as builders.  All of the builders are saved, but some have work that lasts, while the work of others is burned up.

James even talks about judgement of believers in James 3:1:  Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

But I’ve always heard…

So clearly there are different actions with different consequences – not just in this life, but consequences that go into eternity.

So where did this idea come from that all sins are the same?

Well, there is a verse that might give that impression – James 2:10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.

I think that James is saying basically that if you break the law, you break the law.  All sin is serious – because all sin is an affront against God.  He is the Lawgiver, and in fact the Law is a reflection of His very character.

So you can’t say, well, I may favour certain people in my church based on how wealthy they are – but at least I haven’t murdered anyone (James 2:11).

Israel was required to obey all the law (Deuteronomy 28:58-59).

That doesn’t mean that it’s just as bad to break one law as it is to break them all – but if you broke the law, you’re a lawbreaker.  Period.

Perhaps we’re obsessed with the idea that everything has to be equal.  And certainly we are (as believers) all one in Christ (Galatians 3:28).

Wait – you just said we’re all equal.

We are all equal in certain ways.  Believers are all one in Christ.  We cannot judge someone by their economic status, their gender, the colour of their skin – we are all forgiven of a debt we could never pay, and given an eternal inheritance.

And as we learned from James, we are all lawbreakers.  As Paul said – For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Rom 3:22b-25a)

All under the wrath of God – but all who are in Christ are forgiven.  But – is that fair?

Well, I can’t comment on whether or not is seems fair to us.  But Paul does spend a lot of time explaining to his readers that it is fair – in fact, God did it this way in order to show how just He was.  This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26)

God is just because He will judge sin.  Sin will be punished.  For believers, their sin was punished in Christ.  They are united with Him in his death and resurrection – it was just as if they already paid the price, because they paid it in Christ.  So the price was paid.

Although our good deeds – no matter how good – are never enough to save us and earn us God’s love, in Christ they are of value.  As believers we recognize that Christ allows us and empowers us to serve Him.  In the end, we all know where our crowns are going to end up (Revelation 4:9-11).

Is it fair?  Well, the old grandmother who repented and put her faith in Christ – and the murderer who put his faith in Christ – (who both, incidentally, are by nature sinners and opposed to God, no matter how visible or serious their sin may appear to us – but that’s a whole other post…) not only are they forgiven (because the price was paid), they are transformed into new people.  The old person has died – the new one is raised to life.

Of course, the implications of all this are enough for several posts – ok, a book.  A long one.

But this is the way I see it.  No, every sin is not the same – and neither is every good work – some actions are better or worse than others.  God will judge justly, He won’t just consider everyone the same.

At the same time, we stand before Him infinitely undeserving, all sinners.  And when we try to compare ourselves to others, we usually get it wrong (2Corinthians 10:12).  We as believers are saved by grace – by nothing we have done.  There is no room for pride at all.  And so in the end we throw our crowns at the feet of the only one who is truly deserving.

So what do you think?


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Kari Delamont Eliuk August 1, 2012 at 11:05 pm

Well said.

Grandma C. August 3, 2012 at 10:55 pm

Yes, I agree with all you say here. It’s a bit complex, especially for those who have little or no understanding of the Bible. So thanks for addressing it.

Gary and Ardys Winger August 4, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Hi Jim, Great post! Yes there is plenty of complexity here, especially when we try to compare and weigh our human understanding of fairness with the concept of God’s right to deal with us as he sees fit.
Romans 9:14-end. Dad Winger

Grandma C. August 4, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Hi “Dad Winger”!

The passage you referenced fits into this subject well. Gen.18:25 came to my mind. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” And this is where trust in Him comes in.

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