Are all sins equally bad? Or are there degrees of severity for different sins?

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

This question came up recently so I did some digging on theology web sites to find what Bible verses applied to the question.

Here’s what Ligonier said:

It’s clear that we have different degrees of sin when we consider the warnings of Scripture. There are at least twenty-two references in the New Testament to degrees of rewards that are given to the saints in heaven. There are different levels, different rewards, and different roles in heaven. The Bible warns us against adding to the severity of our judgment. Jesus said to Pontius Pilate, “He who delivered me over to you has the greater sin” (John 19:11). Jesus measures and evaluates guilt, and with the greater guilt and greater responsibility comes the greater judgment. It’s a motif that permeates the New Testament.

The idea of gradation of sin and reward is based upon God’s justice. If I commit twice as many sins as another person, justice demands that the punishment fits the crime. If I’ve been twice as virtuous as another person, justice demands that I get more of a reward. God tells us that entrance into heaven will be only on the basis of the merit of Christ, but once we get to heaven, rewards will be dispensed according to works. Those who have been abundant in good works will receive an abundant reward. Those who have been derelict and negligent in good works will have a small reward in heaven. By the same token, those who have been grievous enemies of God will have severe torments in hell. Those who have been less hostile will have a lesser punishment at the hands of God. He is perfectly just, and when He judges, He will take into account all of the extenuating circumstances. Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matt. 12:36).

A while back, my friend Dina sent me a sermon where that exact passage (John 19) was brought up by the pastor.

I think the correct position is that any sin is enough to separate you from God, but some sins are more severe than others in God’s objective standard of right and wrong.

OK, that was fine and good, but then I noticed a few days later that Michael Krueger had also blogged about this “all sin are equal” view, too.

Krueger says this:

First, to say all sins are the same is to confuse the effect of sin with the heinousness of sin.  While all sins are equal in their effect (they separate us from God), they are not all equally heinous.

Second, the Bible differentiates between sins. Some sins are more severe in terms of impact (1 Cor 6:18), in terms of culpability (Rom 1:21-32), and in terms of the judgment warranted (2 Pet 2:17;  Mark 9:42; James 3:1).

Even more Bible references, so we’re not on the wrong track.

So then why do some people insist that all sins are equal? It turns out that it is coming from the secular ideal of non-judgmentalism.

Krueger explains:

We should begin by observing that this phrase does not come from Scripture.  People do not use it because it appears in the Bible. Why then do they use it?

One reason, as noted above, is that some Christians use this phrase to uphold the seriousness of sin. It is viewed as a way to remind people not to be dismissive about their sin or regard it is a triviality.

Others use this phrase as way to “flatten out” all sins so that they are not distinguishable from each other.  Or, to put it another way, this phrase is used to portray all human beings as precisely the same.  If all sins are equal, and all people sin, then no one is more holy than anyone else.

In a world fascinated with “equality,” this usage of the phrase is particularly attractive to folks. It allows everyone to be lumped together into a single undifferentiated mass.

Such a move is also useful as a way to prevent particular behaviors from being condemned.  If all sins are equal, and everyone is a sinner, then you are not allowed to highlight any particular sin (or sinner).

Needless to say, this usage of the phrase has featured largely in the recent cultural debates over issues like homosexuality.  Yes, homosexuality is a sin, some Christians reluctantly concede.  But, they argue, all sins are equal in God’s sight and therefore it is no different than anything else.  Therefore, Christians ought to stop talking about homosexuality unless they are also willing to talk about impatience, anger, gluttony, and so on.

Krueger also posted this fascinating follow up post, where he looks at how the phrase is being used by people on Twitter.

Look at these tweets:

  • All sins are equal. People tend to forget that. There is no bigger or smaller sin. Being gay and lying, very equal.

  • all sins are equal in God’s eyes. whatever you’re doing, is no better than what someone else is doing.

  • If you have sex before marriage please don’t come on social media preaching about the wrongs of homosexuality. All sins are equal

  • Need people to realize that all sins are equal… don’t try to look down on me or question my faith just cuz you sin differently than I do.

  • Don’t understand why you’re so quick to judge me, when all sins are equal. So much for family..

  • if you think being gay is a sin, let me ask you something, have you not done anything wrong in your life? all sins are equal. we’re sinners

  • Nope no difference at all. All sins are equal no matter what you’re running for. The bible says do not judge lest ye be judged

  • A huge problem I have with religion is the notion that all sins are equal. Like pre-martial sex and murder are the same amount t of bad.

  • people do bad things because they believe that all sins are equal and ~god~ loves y’all equally so he’s going to forgive you naman ha ha ha

  • It a sin to condemn another sinner and their actions. All sins are equal. So what makes you better than the person you’re condemning?

  • I think so b/c having sex before marriage doesn’t make you less of a women then if you waited until marriage.. all sins are equal soo

  • friendly reminder, all sins are equal in gods eyes so you’re not better than I am in any way. please worry about your own sins before mine.

  • People don’t like when I suggest abortion as an option. This is a free country and all sins are equal so mind your business!!!

  • What I do is no worse than wat you do… all sins are equal no matter what it is… a sin is a sin

  • to god all sins are equal so you have no right to compare your sins to someone else’s bc in the end it doesn’t matter

The first thing that I noticed is that premarital sex and homosexuality are the most popular sins. I would think that divorce and abortion would be up there in the rankings, as well.

Something strange has happened in our society such that more and more people want to be led by their feelings, rather than be bounded by rules or standards. When people get caught breaking moral rules, rather than be accountable, they attack the person judging them. They would rather escape the judgment of their peers than admit fault and try to fix the mistake, and do better next time.

It’s so bad now, that the people who have morals and who make moral judgments are seen as the real bad people. The immoral people are on the offense, and even trying to ban people from being able to disagree with them. We’re seeing that with people who are being attacked for defending natural marriage against divorce and redefinition of marriage. In France, they want to make speech critical of abortion a criminal offense. And in Canada, they’ve now made speech critical of the gay agenda a criminal offense. (It’s already a human rights tribunal offense)

What is even more interesting is when the people who push the “don’t judge me” line try to justify it from the Bible. Very strange, but we seem to have forgotten the value of setting moral boundaries. Now moral boundaries are “evil”. Instead, having compassion for people who break the moral boundaries and harm themselves and others is “good”.

21 thoughts on “Are all sins equally bad? Or are there degrees of severity for different sins?”

  1. Even though I can’t speak within a religious context myself on the issue, I agree with many points! I hate how society today has become one of lack of accountability, and the feeling of entitlement to do whatever one wants consequence free! Guilt seems to have to be avoided at all costs by people, even when it is valid, by crying “you’re judging me!” to get away with moral turpitude. Parents who only think of themselves and cut corners raising their kids are rampant, you just have to read many parenting articles! The anything goes hook up culture, “any family is a real family” lies are just a way to avoid having to take personal responsibility for being promiscuous and the fallout, and avoiding guilt over tearing apart your children’s childhoods through divorce! In this horrible radical Leftist society, it’s all about ME to the detriment of everyone else!
    https://aladyofreason.wordpress.com/2018/08/01/the-right-to-life-liberty-and-doing-whatever-i-want/

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Even if it were true that all sins were equal, what these folks are forgetting is that the difference between repentant sinners and unrepentant ones is the difference between Heaven and Hell.

    I see this “moral” equivalency all of the time on the sidewalk. “You should not protest abortion because you, too, are sinners” – is their view. “OK, so does that mean that Harriet Tubman and the abolitionists were wrong to protest slavery and rescue slaves because they, too, were sinners?!?” “How about William Wilberforce protesting the slave trade in the UK? He was an acknowledged sinner after all.”

    Finally, “aren’t you protesting my protest? By your OWN standard, you are not allowed to do so, because you, too, are a sinner.”

    Our culture has descended into absurdity, and sadly, many of the churches are not immune to it.

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  3. As believers, we all struggle with sin. Some struggle with more sin or worse sin than others. Therefore, we will be judged according to our fruits and our fruits will determine our rewards (1 Cor 3:10-15). As saved people, sin prevents us from producing fruit and some sin is more dangerous than others in that regard. So of course sin is ranked.
    For the unbeliever, the unsaved, what reward or punishment will they have? Will their punishment be worse for fornication than for lying? What would it matter since they have the ultimate of punishment, eternity without God, forever blotted from his sight. Therefore, I would not judge the sin of the unbeliever to be better or worse, only in need of the cure.
    Once a doctor determines that a patient has a treatable infection, he does not withhold antibiotics waiting to determine if the infection is in one foot or both. No, he administers the medicine and then determines what is necessary to root out the infection from all parts of the body. Sin is the same. All sin except blaspheme against the Holy Spirit is treatable and all have the same cure; Jesus. After one has become saved then let Jesus decide on the bema seat who deserves what.

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    1. “Therefore, I would not judge the sin of the unbeliever to be better or worse, only in need of the cure.”
      For Divine Justice to be satisfied, it seems likely to me that those in Hell will reap what they sow, and, because of this, there will be different levels of punishment in Hell for Hitler, Stalin, abortionists, etc than for your essentially “nice” unbeliever who lived a decent life but wanted nothing to do with God.
      I think Hitler is being gassed and shot over and over right now, and abortionists are being aborted over and over right now. But your typical “decent-living” occupant of Hell is probably feeling VERY alone and sad, but likely not enduring the kind of physical effects that Hitler, Stalin, baby killers, etc are feeling.
      I won’t be dogmatic on this however – I just know that Divine Justice is somehow being served, and it seems likely that it is being served in different ways for different occupants of Hell.

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      1. I wonder – if Mrs Schickelgruber or Mrs Jughashvili had chosen to have abortions, would the abortionist have given time off for extenuating circumstances?

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        1. Not at all. The proper response to the question of aborting Hitler or Stalin is to NOT abort them, and then surround Hitler with loving Jews and Stalin with loving capitalists while growing up. :-)

          Of course, we would never have that kind of foreknowledge anyway, so the question itself is extraordinarily arrogant of the pro-aborts.

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          1. “The proper response to the question of aborting Hitler or Stalin…” So are you saying that Hitler and Stalin were not personally responsible for those crimes, that it was just social conditioning which decided it?

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          2. No, please do not put words into my mouth. I am saying that what Hitler and Stalin did was not NECESSARY for them to do. They had free will, and that free will COULD have resulted in other consequents. Had Hitler been raised either surrounded by authentic Christians (who love God’s chosen people), or merely raised to love the Jewish faith, it is highly unlikely he would have exterminated 6 million, plus, Jews.

            If you disagree, please feel free to provide a formal proof that Hitler’s actions were necessary in the logical sense. And if you WERE to provide such a proof (I know you can’t), then you would be absolving Hitler of his crimes against humanity by denying his free will. In which case, aborting or not aborting would be meaningless.

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          3. Just to be clear, you would need to prove TWO necessities:

            1. That it was necessary that Hitler spend his life without an appreciation for Jewish people.

            2. That, given all of the circumstances leading up to the decision, Hitler’s decision to exterminate Jewish people was necessary.

            If you were able to prove item 2, you would be absolving Hitler of his crimes against humanity.

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          4. I’m not putting words in your mouth – just giving you the opportunity of clarifying your original point. I agree with you that Hitler and Stalin, like all of us, could have chosen different courses of action and are thereby personally responsible for the consequences of any action. However, I’m not sure that I share the confidence that your “highly unlikely” suggests in social conditioning. I don’t feel any obligation to provide a ‘formal proof’ (even if that were possible) as I haven’t made any claims that require proof.

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          5. Great – and my sincere apologies for misunderstanding you!

            Back to your original thought experiment:

            “I wonder – if Mrs Schickelgruber or Mrs Jughashvili had chosen to have abortions, would the abortionist have given time off for extenuating circumstances?”

            I don’t think that God allows us to do evil in order to prevent evil, especially given a Molinist (or greater) view of free will, where fatalism is not in play. Similarly, given the necessary lack of human foreknowledge, I don’t think that God cuts modern-day abortionists any slack because SOME of those aborted babies would have grown up to be murderers and rapists had they not been aborted, because that line of reasoning could technically be applied to murdering babies, children, even adults OUTSIDE of the womb too.

            However, I admit that a similar line of reasoning to yours was the basis for the Valkyrie plot, which was highly contested within that particular resistance group – the major difference being that the knowledge base surrounding Hitler was exceptionally deep by then, and his murderous ways well-established. Where are you on the July plot?

            Also, I concede that because God knows our hearts perfectly, there could be other ameliorating circumstances involved, perhaps similar to your line of reasoning here. In most cases, abortionists seem to love the money they can make quickly with less effort doing abortions, but many are also in it to “help women,” or so they say / believe.

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          6. No apology necessary! I must admit, it was the various plots to kill Hitler that I was thinking about when I made my initial comment. I would agree that showing intention is a key element.

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  4. This notion that you can’t judge because you are a sinner is flawed and twisted, but it is not completely without merit.

    Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:1-6 must be balanced against the teaching in Matthew 18:15-35. Our judgments must be correct and not hypocritical, limited in scope.

    Not all sins are equal. Indeed, sins and punishments are judged on a relative scale that is, in part, based on our judgment and forgiveness of others (!!). It is perfectly acceptable for a brother to confront another in his sin, but if this fails to result in repentance, it becomes the responsibility of witnesses and/or the church to judge, not the individual. The primary punishment available is “excommunication” and normally only the church may enact it.

    The individual Christian has very little room for judgment. He is instructed to turn the other cheek. As the person owed the sin-debt, it is his sole right to forgive, and no one can prevent him from doing so, even if the debtor refuses to repent. If the sinner refuses to repent, he still has a sin-debt against God, but this leaves the forgiving Christian burden-free.

    Moreover, we as Christians should stay out of the business of judging non-Christians (1 Corinthians 5:12). This does not mean that we should not preach truth, for we must do this. But it is not our responsibility to personally judge others. Our responsibility to non-believers is speaking the truth, that is, being salt and light. The Holy Spirit convicts a person of their sin.

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  5. “Something strange has happened in our society such that more and more people want to be led by their feelings, rather than be bounded by rules or standards. When people get caught breaking moral rules, rather than be accountable, they attack the person judging them.”

    Yes. It’s gotten so bad now that I’ve seen this applied to child molesters. Literally, a Christian writer has said publicly on her (now defunct blog thank goodness) that we can’t judge pedophiles because we’re sinners, too.

    Thank you for posting this, WK, I haven’t hardly seen anyone speaking out against this trend of Christians who are making homosexuality and now even pedophilia, things we’re supposed to accept as basic sins and not judge others for.

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  6. Jesus did more to talk about the Pharisees (legalists) of his day that thought following additional laws meant they were better. Yet he rebuked them for the state fo their heart and feeling that they were good before God for not sinning alone.

    The sinners that knew they needed Jesus were the ones he went to, but it didn’t say they continued on in adultery of various sins, they recognized they were wrong and would change.

    Reducing sin without a relationship with Jesus does you nothing,

    Don’t be a Pharisee that thinks you alone are good enough due to no noticeable outward sin you still need to be humble before God.

    Don’t go on in sin because God will just forgive it that is against what Paul said. Why should we who are dead to sin continue on in the lust of it.

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  7. Matthew 18:6 – But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and [that] he were drowned in the depth of the sea

    I do believe this verse applies when Jesus says don’t do things against children, harm to children is a greater sin

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  8. There is a difference between Sin and sins. Sin is the default human condition.All humans born on this fallen and renegade planet are born with a Sin nature that separates us from God. This Sin applies equally to all of us, and is the reason that Christ died. His blood is the only currency to redeem us and cleanse us from Sin, After we are redeemed, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit, and the only thing that can separate us is blasphemy to the Holy Spirit.

    Our Sin nature causes us to commit behaviours that violate God’s laws. These behaviours are called sins. God holds us accountable for our sins, but when we accept God’s gift of the blood of Christ, we are forgiven for all our sins, no matter how heinous. We may still have consequences to pay to society for our behaviour, and these consequences are on a hierarchy that reflects how much harm each sin does to our fellow persons. Christians are not immune to the sin nature, but as we mature in our relationship with God, we will become more like God, and we sin less.

    So, yes — all sin is equally bad in that it separates us from God, and all sin is forgiven when we accept the gift of Christ’s sacrifice. But our sinful behaviour is not equal in consequences while we are on this side of eternity.

    The question of the day is whether Christians believe that homosexual sin is worse that other sin, and Christians are being judged for not accepting gay people in the church. At my church, the doors are open to everyone — we have greeters at each door, not bouncers. We are all sinners. God will do the judging. But that doesn’t mean that we must change God’s word. as society is demanding of us. What God says is sin is still sin.

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  9. I will be more consise. The issue made me think of the book of romans a brilliant book. The 2nd chapter gets into many issues regarding judging but not repenting first. That is the only issue of God is have a reprobrate or unrepentant heart as you judge.
    If you actively are trying to overcome your sin then you should try to lead others to overcome theirs also. Otherwise it says God leaves them to be overcome by all their various sins.
    A Christian must be actively teyo g to not sin and that is the issue with homosexuality is there is no attempt by many to actually change. If a person has those temptations and then occasionally would sin followed by repentance with a goal to overcome it that is vastly different than the worldly goal of living with our sins and openly celebrating them.

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