Have you, like me, grown up hearing that “all sins are equal” in God’s economy? A few years ago I started wondering if this were true. What does the Bible really say?
All of our sins, no matter how trivial, are equal in the sense that they separate us from God. Mother Teresa’s sins make her not good enough to get to heaven just as do the sins of Jeffrey Dalmer. But, let’s imagine for a second that one day Mother Teresa had some unkind words for one of the people she was ministering to (I don’t know that she ever did). Would her sin be “equal” to Jeffrey Dalmer cutting up little boys and eating them?
My husband likes to say that all sins are equal in the sense that we deserve the wrath of God for any of them, but not equal in consequence. I like that explanation.
While pondering this question, the only thing I could think of biblically (besides the fact that differing sins had very distinct responses in Old Testament times) was the verses from Proverbs that mention things God hates: “There are six things the Lord HATES, seven that are DETESTABLE to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” Proverbs is not heavy on theology, though, so this wasn’t enough to settle the question for me.
Today, when I decided I wanted the answer to this question NOW, I let Google become my Bible Study tool.
Is that scary, or what?!
But honestly, through Googling, I found some very helpful commentary on this subject, with lots of verses to look up for further study.
The first link I clicked was to Got Questions where found this good answer. Basically, the author states that people formed this theology of all sins being equal from Matthew 5:21-28, where Jesus equates lusting after a woman to committing adultery, and committing murder with having hatred in your heart. I hadn’t realized it before, but this probably is the verse people use to say all sins are equal.
In this situation, Jesus was saying that the heart of lust is the same heart that commits adultery. The Jews at the time were promoting a “It’s OK to Look if You Don’t Touch” philosophy. Jesus was letting them know that God saw their heart, and looking was touching in heart intent (A blog I later read explained it as lust and adultery are both violations of the same commandment). What Jesus wasn’t saying in these passages is that that lusting after a woman is equal to committing murder, or even that adultery itself is on par with committing murder. He’s not lumping all sins together but showing that the heart is truly where sin takes place.
In fact, I have recently come to see these verses in Matthew 5 as a way of warning from God. If I harbor bitterness and anger in my heart, leaving them unchecked, I daily grow more and more into someone who could commit a murder. I don’t think most people wake up and have the sudden urge for adultery or murder, but often these sins occur after giving lust and hatred time to build up and fester until they burst! This thought has caused me to have a healthy fear of lust and anger and other sinful thoughts — knowing that I am “totally depraved” and that allowing these sins to run rampant could easily lead to more hazardous actions. I am capable of heinous sins because my heart is inherently sinful. Jesus reminds me that the ugliness in my heart needs to be put to death just as vehemently as outward sinful actions.
Google led me next to Bob Pratico’s blog (hadn’t heard of him before now but I bookmarked him to come back and read more!). I followed a link from Bob’s blog over to Reclaiming the Mind, where C Michael Patton gives his answer to the question he was posed at an ordination interview, “Are all sins really equal in God’s sight?” He first offers this practical point:
“I often ask people who say that all sin is equal in the sight of God if they live according to their theology. Think about this. If all sin is really equal in the sight of God, and one really believes this, then God’s consternation and anger will be equal for whatever sin we commit. Equally important is the fact that our relational disposition before God should suffer from the conviction of the Holy Spirit for all sins equally. Most Christians understand what it means to have a conscience weighed down by unrepentant sin. But this weighing down normally only comes from those sins that we perceive to be more severe. However, if it is true that all sin is equal in the sight of God and one actually lived according to that theology, they should be just as troubled spiritually and just as repentant before God when they break the speed limit as when they commit adultery. After all, breaking the speed limit, even by 1mph, is breaking the law and breaking the law is sin (Rom 13).
“This, of course, nobody does. We all see speeding down the road as water under the bridge of God. Apparently our conscious bears us witness that it is not as bad as other things, even if we confess differently.”
Patton goes on,
“Next (and more importantly) 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 non-politically correct assumption that some people are sinners to a greater degree than others. Even though Protestants may not agree with the theology behind the Roman Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sins, there are many instances in the Scriptures where degrees of sin are distinguished.” Patton gives several scripture references worth looking into (please click over and check them out) that give examples of scripture distinguishing sins, e.g., some sins are listed as “abominations” to the Lord (indicating others as not as severe), Jesus telling Pilate the Jewish leaders’ sin was worse than Pilate’s, Christ referring to the “weighter things of the Law” (implying some things are heavier than others), and the fact that unforgiveness is often referred to as a more terrible sin than others.
The last link I had time to investigate (before I had to go make dinner for the family) led me to Christianity Today where I found All Sins are Not Equal by well-known author J.I. Packer. Packer agrees that “No sins are small when committed against a great and generous God. Beyond this, however, the gravity of each transgression depends on varying factors.” Packer goes through examples in scripture where sins are mentioned as having more gravity if they are committed by those who know better, those in the public eye, those who cause other Christians (notably “weak” brethren) to stumble, how much the person acts in regard to deliberate defiance to God, whether they act with disregard to conscience or correction by others, whether they join existing sin with hypocrisy, or whether they bring others into sin with them.
I’m planning to look up the many verses listed in the links I found for further study this evening. But I suppose my conclusion thus far is that any and all sins make us filthy in the eyes of God, and we need the blood of Jesus to cover that mess. Sins are any and all detestable to God. However, if God doesn’t treat every sin as equal — in gravity nor in consequence — then I don’t think we should expect Christians to do so.
I’d love to hear what you think…