We’ve heard it said many times: “Sin is sin. All sins are equal. Your sins and mine are different, but they’re the same before God.”
Like most things, this statement has the ring of truth, but it’s not entirely biblical. That also means it’s not entirely unbiblical either. The last thing I want to encourage is a hierarchy stating, “Which sins are the worst sins.” That would be unhelpful only fuel self-righteousness.
Sometimes sins are so close in nature and effect they are like comparing a red apple to a green apple. At other times it’s like comparing oranges with tomatoes. Both are rightly categorized as fruits, but the differences end there. Sin is sin. That is true. But that does not mean they are all the same.
Here is how different kinds of sins are equal, how they are different, and why it matters.
How Sins are Equal
All sin is equally wrong and sinful, and accordingly carries the weight of guilt before God. Sin equally condemns the sinner, because even the smallest of sins is an expression of rebellion against the Holy God.
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23
“For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23
“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” James 2:10
Consider Matthew 5:21-30 as an example how Jesus, throughout the Sermon on the Mount, affirms the Old Testament Law while pointing to where the guilt of sin resides: in the heart. Therefore, the man who is angry becomes guilty of murder and lust is the root of adultery. The murderer and the angry man stand guilty before God, though they receive different earthly judgment.
How Sins Are Different
While all sin is equally wrong, not all sin is equally bad. This is especially true where sin affects others… and sin always affects others. In the Old Testament some offenses brought about the death penalty, others were along the lines of “an eye for an eye,” while others carried a fine or repayment of some sort. The Old Testament Law spends much time instructing Israel how to deal with the earthly results of sin and crime.
I would rather be punched than shot. Of course, I’d rather not get punched either. Both are wrong and sinful, but to say that God sees them as identical is far-fetched.
All the Bible’s teaching about the ways sins are equal are given to rebuke the self-righteous from trusting in their self-righteousness. None of those verses are attempting to equate sins.
Similar to the Pharisees who brought the adultress before Jesus, he responds in a way to make people confess their own sin before they judge others.
Why Does This Matter?
Your sin impacts your neighbor. Sometimes in small ways, and sometimes it can be horrific and life-changing. I appreciate the good motives behind saying, “All sin is the same.” But there is also a false assurance which encourages us to treat sin lightly. If sin cost the Son of God his life, we should not be flippant or casual about understanding what it is and why it’s a big deal.
In our day, this comes up most frequently in discussions regarding sexual identity. It is true, we are all sexual sinners in our hearts, and Jesus would tell us to take the plank out of our own eyes first. Same-sex sexual sin and heterosexual sins are different. They are not completely different from each other, but neither are they the same. Ultimately, however, I personally believe Christians need to invest more in strengthening godly families and marriages rather than spending so much time opposing new sexual norms. When we take the plank out of our own eyes our words will carry more integrity and legitimacy.
Our sins affect one another differently, and in that way they are not equal, but they bring us to the same standing before God: equally guilty apart from the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ. Remember, the only unforgivable sin is unbelief in the gospel of Jesus Christ (but that’s an issue for a future post).