1.20.2012

Is All Sin The Same In God’s Eyes?

Scales of Justice Mosaic; photo by Flickr user eflon

During my years of ministry, I don’t know how many times I have heard someone claim, in one form or another, that “all sins are the same in God’s eyes”. Basically the idea is that we as humans distinguish between different types of sin and consider some to be worse than others, but that God doesn’t do that—He is holy, He doesn’t tolerate any type of sin, and therefore, to him one type of sin is just as bad as any other.

This idea has certainly become a basic tenet of pop theology, but is it biblical? I would humbly submit that it is not, and it’s an idea that I wish could be put to rest.


Why Isn’t All Sin Equal?

First off, we should mention that all sin is equal in the sense that it separates us from God. Romans 6.23 says that the wages of sin is death—we can’t have any relationship with God until we do something about the sin in our lives. So all sin, any sin, is a big deal because it damages our relationship with the Father.

So why, then, isn’t all sin equal?

(1) The Bible teaches that there are different degrees of sin.

There are a whole lot of examples that could be used here, but just consider the following:
  • In John 19.11, when speaking to Pilate in the context of his arrest and trial, Jesus  says,“You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” Here Jesus explicitly says that one sin is worse than another.
  • Speaking to the Pharisees in Matthew 23.23-24, Jesus says that they had neglected the “weightier provisions of the law”—justice and mercy and faithfulness—and had instead focused on minor issues. To me, if some parts of the law were more important than others, then the implication is that neglecting those portions was a greater sin.
  • In Matthew 7.3, in the context of being careful about the way we judge others, Jesus says, “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” The clear indication here is that the log is a bigger problem than the speck, and should therefore be dealt with first.
  • Luke 12.10 talks about sinning against the Holy Spirit, and how it is unforgivable. People debate all the time about exactly what this sin refers to, but if there is a certain sin that is unforgivable, doesn’t that mean that it is worse than others?
  • Ezekiel 23 compares the cities of Samaria (the capital of Israel) and Jerusalem (the capital of Judah), and clearly states that Jerusalem was more corrupt than Samaria (v.11) because of her greater degree of unfaithfulness.
  • When the Israelites worshiped the golden calf at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 32), Moses charged them with committing a “great sin”. If all sins are the same, why is this one specifically referred to as “great”?
  • In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he emphasizes how terrible it is for a Christian man to neglect his family. In 1 Timothy 5.8, he says, “But if anyone does not provide for his people, and especially his own household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.” If one can be worse than someone else, doesn’t that imply greater sinfulness?

(2) Some sins have harsher consequences than others.

When you think of the earthly consequences of sin, do all sins seem to be the same? Committing lust in your heart is undoubtedly a sin, but does it have the same consequences as committing adultery? In one case, the sin is limited to yourself, while the other necessarily involves another person and could potentially destroy an entire family. Stealing a piece of gum is a sin, but it is unlikely that it will cause great damage to the person you steal it from. On the other hand, committing murder destroys a life and affects an untold number of people. In short, some sins might not have long-lasting temporal effects, while others literally destroy people’s lives.

This can also be seen in the Bible—if all sin is the same, why did God decide to basically reboot the whole system in the days of Noah and start from scratch? At no other point did God decide to do this, so the indication is that things must have somehow been worse in the days of Noah.

What about Sodom and Gomorrah? Undoubtedly every city on earth is plagued by a great amount of sin—why were these cities singled out for destruction? I would submit that it was because their sinfulness was so widespread—in just the small glimpse we get of Sodom, it appears that the majority of people were guilty of homosexuality, inhospitality, violence against strangers, and sexual assault. It seems that the sinfulness of Sodom was worse than in other places.

There is also some indication in the Bible that different types of sin may have different eternal consequences as well (see Matthew 11.20-24, Luke 12.47-48, and Hebrews 10.28-29).

(3) Some sins are harder to repent of than others.

Biblically, repentance isn’t just being “sorry” for sin, it’s a conscious turning away from the sin in your life. From that perspective, some sins are harder to repent of than others. It’s one thing to turn away from a sin that you commit by accident; it’s another thing entirely to repent of a sin that you plan out ahead of time and intentionally commit—in other words, it’s easier to turn away from sins we are already trying to avoid than those we seek out.

Hebrews 6.4-8 conveys a similar message, saying that for those who have “tasted the good word of God” and then fallen away, it is “impossible to renew them again to repentance.” This is a much-debated passage, but at the very least, the indication is that the sin of these people places them in a category that makes repentance more difficult than for others.

Furthermore, sinful addictions that destroy people’s lives are much harder to repent of than single, isolated sins.*

(4) Simple logic tells us that not all sin is the same.

To reiterate what I said above, all sin is the same in the sense that it separates us from God, but if it was the same in every sense, then that would mean that stealing a piece of gum is just as bad as stealing a car, which is just as bad as killing someone, which is just as bad as killing 20 people. Does that really make any sense?

Put another way, that would mean that in God’s eyes, Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler are exactly the same, because they both committed sin at some point in their lives. If it’s so easy for us to see the difference in the goodness of those two people, does it make any sense at all that God would look at them in exactly the same way (where do you think our moral code comes from in the first place?)?


Then Why Do So Many People Believe This?

If the idea of all sins being equal didn’t come from the Bible, where did it come from? I don’t have any proof of this, but I suspect it came out of the desire to emphasize two ideas about sin that are very true:

(1) Every sin, no matter how small it seems, is a big deal and requires forgiveness. Sometimes, in an effort to emphasize the grace of God and His willingness to forgive, some people effectively minimize the magnitude of sin. The idea here is that it doesn’t matter what kind of language you use, it doesn’t matter if you live a sexually immoral life, it doesn’t matter if you are a chronic gossip, because you can just ask for forgiveness and it’s that easy.

The thing to remember is that while grace is free, it isn’t cheap. The sin of mankind is such a big deal that it required the death of the sinless Son of God to make grace possible. Sin—all sin—is a big deal.

(2) Even the “big” sins that we think of as being terrible can still be forgiven. Sometimes, when people commit very public, very damaging sins, we tend to write them off. A girl gets pregnant out of wedlock or a man divorces his wife, and too often, they are treated like their lives are over and that God has no use for them anymore. The idea here is that only especially saintly people who avoid all “major” sins can ever hope to have a relationship with God.

As mentioned above, it cost God a lot to forgive sin, but thanks to the work of Christ on the cross, He is able and eager to do just that, regardless of how “bad” your sin is (Prodigal Son, Apostle Paul, etc.).

With these two ideas in mind, it’s easy enough to imagine where the “All Sin is Equal” idea came from: simultaneously wanting to underscore that even the “worst” of sins can be forgiven but that even “minor” sins are a big deal and separate us from God, it’s not a huge jump to just declare that all sins must be the same from God’s perspective. 

Hopefully, as I’ve explained above, that idea doesn’t make sense logically, and it doesn’t square with the teachings of Scripture either. As we move forward, let’s emphasize that all sin is a big deal, but that it can still be forgiven. But let’s emphasize that without making unbiblical, broad-brush statements about all sin being the same to God.

UPDATE: As reflect upon what I wrote here, I want to be clear that my intention was not to maximize or minimize any specific sin, or to encourage active reflection on how some sins “rank” in comparison to others. Instead, I am simply calling for people to quit saying, “All sin is the same in God’s eyes”, because biblically, that just isn’t a true statement.


 *I’m not intending to debate addiction as sin vs. addiction as illness. Really, I think it’s a moot point—even if addictions affect the body and mind like illnesses do, they still begin with sinful behavior.

18 comments:

Patrick W 1/20/12, 3:28 PM  

Great blog, I've taught this to my students 2 or 3 different times. I think the big issue is that "all sin separates us from God" is so close to "all sin is the same" that it's a natural progression for some to make.

Well presented thoughts sir. Also your baby girl is awesome.

Anonymous 1/21/12, 7:28 AM  

If the wages of sin are the same then teaching degree of sin is inconsistent. The reason all sin are equal is so we may not think we are deserving of grace. If it is true that Christ would have died to save Hitler then it must be true he would not need to die for Mother Tereasa, also if sin is measured by degree shouldn't punishment and reward by given in degree. I believe you are correct in the ideal that the consequences and nature of our sins are different here on earth but not the eternal consequences .

Luke 1/21/12, 10:26 AM  

Patti,

It's certainly a difficult nuance for many to grasp, and it's one that I've also taught to my teens multiple times. Thanks for the kind words.

And regarding Kinsley—we think she is awesome too!

Luke 1/21/12, 10:33 AM  

Anonymous,

“If the wages of sin are the same then teaching degree of sin is inconsistent.”

The problem with that argument is that the Bible does teach degree of sin in multiple instances, as shown in the post.

Also, as I already said, all sin separates us from God, so Mother Teresa is just as much in need of the grace of God as Hitler, me, you, or anyone else. But just because all sin separates us from God doesn't make all sin equal, because some sin causes more damage than others, some is harder to repent of than others, and the Bible explicitly says that some sin is worse than others (once again, refer back to the post).

And regarding eternal consequences of sin, as I also pointed out in the post, there is some indication in Scripture that eternal punishment won't be identical for everyone (see Matthew 11.20ff, Luke 12.47-48, James 3.1).

Thanks for visiting the blog!

Your Brother 1/22/12, 2:12 PM  

First of all, I really don't know where to start, all of your points are clearly man made opinions and not Bilical truth. You clearly either don't know the Bible or you are putting forth an answer with an agenda, either way I don't have the time to argue with ignorance or foolishness. I am replying so that the liberal, non Biblical, answers you suggest, don't wreck the faith of someone who might be struggleing. Sin is sin in God's eyes, no degrees, no levels, just sin. The Bible is very clear on this point. Punishment for unforgiven sin is eternally separation from God. The Bible is very clear on this point. Forgiveness of sin comes from repentance, confession, and being Baptized for the remission of your sins. It is complete, as if those sins never happened, and it comes from God through the power that is in the sacrificed blood of Jesus. The Bible is very clear on this. I have been a member of the Lord's Church most of my life ( COC ), just as you have been. I have also served as a Deacon in the Lord's Church, and will some day serve as an Elder, and when I see someone your age and in your position in the Church saying these kinds of things, I am ashamed for you, as I assume your Parents would be if they knew you were teaching false doctrine.There are no " unforgivable sins ", only sins which a Christian has not repented of ( which if they never do repent and ask God's forgiveness, they will be lost in ), and for you to suggest otherwise is foolishness. Try reading the writings of Alexander Campbell, Barton Stone, Ira North etc., etc. ( men who were giants in the brotherhood )and see if they agree with your positions. Of course they don't, because their positions were Biblical, yours are not. Better yet try reading your Bible, it's not hard to understand, unless all your Harding based training has left you incapable of understanding scripture in it's simplicity. Your arguments are not with me, they are with God, and when you are on the other side of an issue with the Creator of the Universe, the one and only true God, you better get to the other side in a hurry, and not try to propigate some position because it makes "sense" to you. Anyone reading this that might be struggleing, know this, sin is sin ( no big or little, no major or minor, no degrees of punishment ), and it leads to eternal death and separation from God unless you repent, confess, and are Baptized for the remission of your sins, and then live your life for God. Don't let anyone tell you different, no matter how smart they might think they are. Study the Bible yourself, God's word will speak to you and you will know what to do to become a Christian and to get to heaven through faith and the Grace of God. Thanks for listening and remember, I want to go to Heaven with YOU.

Luke 1/23/12, 11:36 AM  

"Your Brother",

Yikes, I don't know where to begin.

I find it sad that, as a deacon in the church, you seemed to think that the appropriate response to disagreeing with me was to make personal attacks against me rather than engaging any of the arguments I made.

I find it ironic that you dismiss what I wrote as mere opinion and not biblical, when the first three of my four arguments were specifically based on Scripture. On the other hand, your response contained no Scripture and responded to none that I referenced, and was, instead, entirely comprised of opinion.

I find it ironic that you accuse me of arguing against the one and only God, when it was you who said that there were no unforgivable sins, apparently without regard to the express statement of Jesus in Luke 12.10.

I find it ironic that you imply that I am some sort of arrogant know-it-all, when it is you who implies that I don't read my Bible and have a suspect education.

Finally, I find it sad that, since you are apparently from Bentonville, you probably either know me directly or indirectly (or at the very least know enough about me to know how to get in touch with me), but instead of doing so in a loving, Christian manner, you resort to a flyby attack on my character, without even attaching your name to what you wrote.

Rest assured, I want to go to heaven with you too, and between now and then, I'd be happy to discuss with you what the Bible teaches on this subject (if discussion is actually what you're interested in).

Robb 1/24/12, 1:49 AM  

Great post, Luke. It would make a great addition to Jack's Sunday School Myths series he preached last year alongside such titles as "Everything Happens for a Reason," "Let your Conscience be your Guide," and "God Brings Good Luck." I plan on making said addition soon.

Luke 1/24/12, 11:07 AM  

Robb,

Hey, thanks! I think it would fit in well with those other myths.

Jack English 1/24/12, 12:36 PM  

Very good article and well thought out and presented. I appreciate your insights and the way you articulated it. It is certainly another one of those "Sunday School Myths" that we have heard repeated so much that we assume is true without actually consulting God's word on the matter. Thank you.

Jake Greer 1/24/12, 5:43 PM  

Luke Dockery, my brother in Christ and my fellow colleague in youth ministry...

Thank you so much for your post. I would like to say a big and hearty "Amen!" to everything (and yes I mean everything) in your original post. I am so blessed to have you as a friend and the Church in NWA is also blessed to have you on the front lines. I only wish that I had a mere fraction of your knowledge and articulation ability.

May God bless you and your ministry.
Your

Luke 1/25/12, 9:15 AM  

Jack,

Thanks, I appreciate the kind words. Robb has spoken highly of your "Sunday School Myths" series—it sounds like material that a lot of people need to hear!

Luke 1/25/12, 9:17 AM  

Jake,

Thanks for your encouraging words; they really mean a lot. I appreciate you and am glad to have you as a friend.

Kelli 1/29/12, 7:22 PM  

Luke,
I find your knowledge of the bible and your insightful way of looking at things very encouraging! The youth you work with are blessed to have such a wonderful christian man as a guide during their impressionable "growing years". Thank you for spending time in the Word and sharing biblical truths through your blog! You have a gift with words!

Luke 1/30/12, 10:52 AM  

Kelli,

Thanks for the kind words—I feel very humbled. Also, I'm glad that you were able to draw encouragement from my blog.

Hope that you, Daniel, and Eli are doing well!

narfstar 9/16/12, 10:58 AM  

Saying sin is sin is the same as saying a crime is a crime. In that instance it is true. But there are degrees of each. If we take any type of punishment from God out of consideration we can still see different consequence. Sinning affects your relationship with yourself and thus God. Your own conscience will condemn you more for willful sin than circumstantial sin. This will then affect your feelings toward yourself and God. The idea that all sins are equal comes from people who want to excuse their bigger sins by saying that all sins are the same.

Luke Dockery 9/17/12, 3:35 PM  

narfstar,

Thanks for your comment; obviously, I tend to agree with you!

LDSare 6/23/13, 8:21 PM  

Luke,

Are you aware of this verse?
1 John 5:16

16 If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.

LDSare 6/23/13, 8:22 PM  


Luke, Are you aware of the following verse?

1 John 5:16 If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.

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