I once saw a picture on twitter that had a bar graph showing several unlabeled categories of differing heights. The label at the bottom read “Sin in our eyes.” Beneath was a picture of that chart as if you were looking down on it and couldn’t tell how high or how low each category. The label read “Sin from God’s perspective.” It was creative. It was thought provoking. It was encouraging. It was wrong.
Perhaps you have heard a well-intentioned believer say, “All sin is the same in God’s eyes.” Perhaps you have been brought up believing that. Perhaps you believe that now. But as with every spiritual sounding mantra that isn’t actually a verse, we must ask if it lines up with what Scripture teaches. A careful study of the Bible will show us that, contrary to what many believe, not all sin is the same in God’s eyes. And rather than being a discouragement, the truth ends up being more helpful, encouraging, and fair than we might at first realize.
The Biblical Case
We have several passages in Scripture that describe degrees of punishment. Matthew 11 Christ condemns the cities in which He did the most miracles since they refused to accept Him as their Messiah. Verses 21-24 read:
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”
If it will be better for some people than others on the day of judgment, and all of the cities mentioned will be judged, how can we say that all sin is the same? Later, when warning His followers to be ready for His return, Christ states:
“...that servant who knew his master's will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating.” (Luke 12:47-48)
Part of the reason that God waited so long to fulfill His promise to Abraham we find in His explanation in Genesis 15:16 where He says “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” If all sin is the same, why would God need to wait for them to sin more before wiping them out? Wouldn’t one sin be enough to justify Him removing them from the land?
Finally and most convincingly are Christ’s words to Pilate in John 19:11:
“Jesus answered him, ‘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.’”
It’s pretty hard to get around that verse. Some sins, in God’s eyes at least, are greater than other sins. Some sins will be punished more. Some sins are worse.
What about James 2 and the Sermon on the Mount?
Perhaps as you’ve been reading this, two passages come to mind. The first is Christ’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. There Christ teaches that a lustful look is the same as committing adultery in one’s heart and hating someone will earn God’s judgment, not just killing them. Are these passages teaching that hatred is no better than murder and lust is no better than adultery?
Notice how careful Christ is to say that lust is adultery of the heart. Is adultery of the heart serious? Absolutely, and this passage sobers me every time I read it. Is it just as bad as actual adultery in every sense? Well, ask any wife if it makes a difference to her whether her husband steals a glance at another woman or if he goes to bed with her. Ask any judge whether there is any difference between someone hating their neighbor and someone killing their neighbor in cold blood. These passages show us how seriously God takes the thoughts and motives of our hearts, yet to say that there is no distinction between thinking wrong thoughts and acting on them goes beyond the purpose of this passage, and could even be twisted into a wicked excuse for going further in sin (well, I’ve already… and that’s just as bad as…).
A second passage, James 2:10-11 reads:
“For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.”
Doesn’t this teach clearly that all sins are the same? Isn’t it teaching that adultery is no better than murder, and in context that neither are worse than showing favoritism?
Well, not exactly. The point of this passage is that all sin breaks God’s law. If a person steals mail, they are a federal criminal. If they murder someone, they are also a federal criminal. But that does not mean that in the government’s eyes killing someone is no worse than stealing mail, nor does it mean that you would receive the same punishment. All sin is serious in God’s eyes. All sin breaks God’s law and everyone who sins is a sinner, a transgressor, from the teen who lies to his parents to the serial killer. And all sin will merit hell judgment. But it is an unjustified leap to go from that to say, all sins are the same and will be punished in hell to the same degree.
What a Relief!
Believe it or not, teaching that some sins are worse than others can be quite helpful in your spiritual walk. While thinking that all sins are the same might help a believer struggling with guilt, it can also defeat a believer who has seen spiritual growth but continues to struggle with their flesh. How defeating is it if a husband idolizing his wife is just as bad as Hitler slaughtering millions of Jews? How should a teen feel who is struggling to overcome a porn addiction if every lustful look is no better than full blown immorality? How can we say that there has been spiritual growth if when we sin it is just as bad after 60 years of being saved as after two months? How can we even have a doctrine of progressive sanctification if every sin we commit is just as bad as every sin anyone else could commit?
“All sin is the same in God’s eyes” sounds very spiritual. But we have to be careful that we don’t allow what sounds spiritual to trump what is Scriptural. All sin is serious. I don’t mean for this article to in any way detract from this. There is no such thing as a “minor” sin. Realizing that some sins are more serious than others should in no way, shape, or form make us comfortable with “small” sins in our lives. We should grieve over and hate them just as much as the “big” sins we see around us. All sin deserves God’s wrath. All sin will be paid for - either by us or by Christ.
What I am saying is that we need to be careful not to take that seriousness to an unhealthy extreme and say that there is no difference between lust and fornication, or murder and hatred. We should be encouraged by the growth we see, yet bothered by the sin that still remains. We must realize that what God thinks are the big sins aren’t always what we would think of as big sins, and we must respond with an appropriate seriousness to God’s Words. And most of all, as in every area, we must allow our thinking to be governed by what God has said in His Word and not what makes the most sense to us.
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