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.
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”.
14 thoughts on “Are all sins equally bad? Or are there degrees of severity for different sins?”
I try so hard not to get bothered when I hear others say “all sin is sinning” or “all sins are equal”. But that’s about as bad as saying, all crime is crime. While that may be true. Stealing a pack of gum is on a different level from stealing a car. That’s why even in the law, we have petit theft and grand theft.
I want to give them the benefit of the doubt, but I think people who say, say it as a defense mechanism or to cope with the heinous sins they themselves have committed. For instance, they hear how I resist the hook-up culture or that I take marriage seriously and don’t believe in divorcing just because “i’m no longer happy”…and even though I’m not criticizing them outright, even though I have no clue about their personal sins, because they know that they do engage in the hook-up culture, or they’re on their 4th marriage, it’s like they want/need to bring me down.
In reading the scriptures, I’m very much in line with Kreuger’s thinking. Throughout the Old Testament, the two major sins that God constantly warns against, and seem to have the biggest impact, are sexual sins and idolatry. These two things corrupt a nation and culture.
“Don’t judge” is getting on my nerves. It’s a brilliant wicked tactic. If you can get an entire generation to refrain from casting shame, to hide their true feelings and reactions to immorality…evil has a better chance of flourishing. Ecclesiastes 8:11
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Even in the old testament God shows that not all sin is the same. There were different judgements and punishments for different sins. Otherwise why wouldn’t all sin justify stoning people to death?
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Part of the stated equation is that any sin will separate us from God. I’m not convinced that this is the case. Jesus paid the penalty for all sin on the cross… or else the unrepentant will pay for their own sins in Hell. 2 Corinthians 5 tells us that “one died for all, therefore all died.” The wages of sin have been paid.
That doesn’t mean all are saved, of course… as that same passage tells us, we are to beg people (if necessary) to be reconciled to God.
I would suggest that our understanding of sin is sometimes formed not by Scripture alone, but by tradition as well… and we should take care to avoid that.
Your thoughts? =)
I think any sin at all separates a person from God. The duration is the same, but the degree of punishment differs.
I suppose I could have asked a more precise question. Are you suggesting that each sin will cause one to no longer be born again? It’s obvious that a good relationship with anyone requires a clear conscience, and a good relationship with God requires submission… but a strained relationship isn’t the same as damnation, of course.
What does the separation caused by sin look like?
Thanks, my friend. =)
I’m talking about non-Christians. No sins (except apostasy) cause Christians to lose their salvation.
Thanks. Got it.
Non-Christians ARE separated from God, which is why Paul wrote about reconciliation. I don’t believe that it’s their sin that separates them, though. As I read it, all sins for all people for all time have been (legally, positionally) forgiven. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.
I think that the atoning death of Christ is sufficient to cover all sins of everyone, but efficient only for those who repent and trust that Jesus is Lord and Savior.
Peter wrote about false teachers, doomed for destruction, denying the Lord who bought them. It would seem this means that His redemption is universal, including those who will remain unrepentant. No?
Are you arguing for universalism?
Certainly not. As I wrote above: That doesn’t mean all are saved, of course… as that same passage tells us, we are to beg people (if necessary) to be reconciled to God.
As I read 2 Cor 5, it sounds like this: God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s sins against them. In light of this, there’s nothing left for us to do but be reconciled to Him. As 6:1 says, it’s possible to receive God’s grace in vain… that is, to have received Jesus’ sacrifice – one died for all, therefore all died – and to waste the opportunity.
Those who aren’t reconciled will go to Hell. Those who are reconciled are born again. How do you read that passage, especially in light of 2 Peter 2:1?
Pretty sure “go and sin no more” is somewhere in the Bible too.
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People also have, even in the church, a wrong view of salvation. They beleive only the initial act of salvation is the entire doctrine.
Forgetting the Bible teaches to work our salvation with fear and trembling Phil 2:12. Even Paul who laid out the verses used to make an arguement for eternal security says we need to be active and have some fear and trembling in salvation.
Most today tend to have an arrogance and judge the laws of God.
If we have no fear and trembling before God a out anything in our life ever, I need to ask if we were truly saved to being with
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Its women, henpecked husbands, and limp-wristed soy boys who have to try extra hard to get women to tolerate being in the same room with them, who assert all sins are equals.
Its the female mating strategy for getting the good sucessful tall Christian man at 40 after riding the carousel of atheist losers: “You have to accept my 50billion man notch count because when you were 3 you stole a Snickers bar, so you’re a sinner too, bigot.” And their orbiters are required to recite it creedally.
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