“Sin is sin.” That’s a common phrase that we hear in church life. Often times, it’s tossed around as if to say, “Well, nothing is really worse than something else. No person is really worse than another.” Is this true? Yes and no, as unfulfilling is that may sound. There are quite a few questions like this where the answer is yes and no. Yes, it’s all the same. All sin is the same. No, it’s not all the same. In the same way, “does God love everyone?” Yes. Does God hate some people? Yes, but He loves everyone. How does this work? These aren’t necessarily things that can't co-exist together but they take some teasing out. We’ll address the loving-hating question in the future.
Is All Sin Just Sin?
Yes, It’s All The Same
Let’s address the way that it is all equal. All sin is equal in that it’s deserving of punishment and deserving of death. The easiest way to look at this is Romans 6:23 which says, “For the wages of sin is death.” Not some sins, not just this type over here, no, all sin. This is the consistent testimony of the Bible. Just because all sin warns death, that doesn’t mean all sin is the same. All sin is not equal. We’re going to look at quite a few Biblical passages to make this point.
No, It’s Not
Exodus 32:21, “Moses asked Aaron, what did these people do to you that you brought such a great sin upon them?”
Why would you need a qualifier - “great” - if sin wasn’t understood to be something that had different levels to it? Just because Moses asked this question to Aaron, that doesn’t mean his assumption is correct. Scripture records that he said this, but that doesn’t mean that his assumption is correct. Yet, there are many other passages that will make this point.
Since we’re in the Old Testament with Exodus, it’s worth pointing out that the Old Testament Levitical law had different punishments for different types of moral law breaking. The punishment for sexual crimes was much higher than that of theft. The punishment fits the crime. It does in society, it does in our intuition and it does in scripture also. The fact that all punishment is not the same would mean that all crimes are not the same. All moral crimes are not the same.
Let’s look at some New Testament passages. This is Jesus speaking in Matthew 11:23, where He says,
“And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven? No. You will be thrown down to Hades, for if the miracles done among you had been done in Sodom, it would have continue to this day. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for the region of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”
Here, Jesus is putting a contrast between Capernaum and Sodom and Gomorrah. We know what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah. He's saying they got off easy compared to Capernaum. What does that mean? There's a difference in the crime because there's a difference in judgment, a difference in punishment.
Then, we see in a parable in Luke 12:47, where Jesus says,
“That servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or do what his master asks will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know his master’s will and did things worthy of punishment will receive a light beating. For everyone who has been given much, much will be required. And from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked.”
Once again, we see that the punishment that is meted out fits the responsibility that the person had who has being punished. Implicit in scripture is the idea that you're responsible for how much you know, for how much revelation you’ve been given. Let’s say, you're in a region and you’ve never heard about Jesus, is it just for God to punish you and send you to hell? Yes.
The Bible says everyone is in rebellion against God. Just because you haven't heard about Him directly through the revelation of scripture, it doesn’t mean you weren’t rebelling against the sovereign God who has been made known by creation. Creation is not enough to know about God to come to salvation but it is enough to know that a God exists (Rom 1). Everyone suppresses that truth, Paul says under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Romans. Those who have been confronted with the gospel and reject it are worthy of more punishment than those who have not. That is a direct implication of this passage in Luke.
The simplest of all passages to look at for this point that all sin is not the same is John 11:19, where Jesus says to Pilate,
“The one who delivered me to you has the greater sin.”
Who is doing the sentencing? Pilate. You would think, “Well, he is responsible for what's happening to Jesus.” In a way, he is. By saying that the other people have the greater sin, that’s implying Pilate still has sin. He is not blameless and innocent in this punishment and condemning of Jesus. However, he is just doing what other people have decided. They are the ones who in their heart want Jesus dead. Theirs is the greater sin.
There are more passages we could look at. What I hope you see so far is that all sin is not the same. There are levels to it. At least some things are worse than others. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says things like, “If you look at a woman to lust after her, you have committed adultery with her in your heart.”
Some people will say, “See, lust is the same as adultery.” That’s not correct at all. What Jesus is doing here is addressing a religious culture in which only the action mattered. “I didn’t committed adultery: I'm not guilty of anything. I didn’t break the law.” What is Jesus saying? He's getting at the fact that the law was there to teach them about right and wrong. It wasn’t just a list of rules. It was meant to reflect at the heart.
The Pharisees and another religious leaders got really good at just acting in a very legalistic way and ignoring the fact that the desires of their heart were sinful and worthy of judgment also. Jesus is saying, “It’s not just adultery that’s wrong. It’s lust that’s wrong.” “It’s not just murder that’s wrong, hate is wrong too” but that doesn’t mean that hate is the same as murder or lust is the same as adultery. These are very different things but nonetheless, hate is still wrong and so is lust. This was the point He was trying to make to His audience. We should not conflate these two things and say they’re only as bad as each other.
Here's the reason why I want to tackle this topic, because I think in religious cultures that say all sin is sin, there's this tendency to say, “Well, I did this one thing I struggle with, It can’t be any worse if I do this other thing.” Consider, if you will, a teenager who’s lusting after his girlfriend. Well, if lust is the same as sex, they should just have sex. Then, it’s more enjoyable but it’s just as sinful. That’s not actually accurate.
There’s a long line of other arguments we made against premarital sex. This isn’t the best one, but I'm just saying, this type of reasoning, while incorrect, also creates problems.
It also doesn’t help us understand the nature and character of God, because if all sin is the same, then wouldn’t all good would be the same too? Well, no. Some moral goods are better than other moral goods. Picking up garbage is great. Donating a kidney is better. Hopping on a grenade to save your fellow soldiers at the loss of your own life is even better. The greatest moral good (notice, in order to be able to say greatest, there have to be levels) is Jesus’ sacrificial, pure, blameless offering of Himself on the cross. The irony of which is that’s also the greatest moral wrong that humanity has ever committed.
God decreed both from the foundation of the world we see in Acts 2 and Acts 4. The cross was the greatest moral wrong which people committed but Acts 2 says it was according to God’s predetermined plan. God sent His Son to the cross to pay for the small wrongs that we do and the large wrongs. When we think everything is the same, I don’t think we understand as well the gravity of the cross, which was the greatest thing that has ever happened. It was also the most wrong thing that has ever happened. Both of those coincide in something that pays for our sin.
Some Sins Disqualify A Person
The last thought I want to leave you with is that some sins Paul presents in 1st Corinthians 6 actually disqualifies someone from salvation or at least, the prideful participation in them does. Here's what he says,
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, the drunkards, verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. Some of you wants to live this way but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Paul presents, once again, a contrast here, but not a contrast of greater and lesser. A contrast of these actions: these are the things that you are set free from, if you have been saved by Christ, if you have been justified by what Jesus did on the cross. You might think, “Well, I'm greedy sometimes. I've stolen something after being saved. Does that make me a thief? Does that make me greed? Is this passage applying to me? Am I not going to inherit the kingdom of God?” That’s not Paul’s point. Paul is saying this passage in 1st Corinthians 6 on the tail-end of talking about prideful, unrepentant sin. I think this should be read in the context of what's happening in the Corinthian church and in this letter to the Corinthians.
What typifies how you act? Are you a thief? Is that how you see yourself? Is that actually how you behave? Do you go around stealing? What about a drunkard? Someone who’s drunk all the time and calls themselves a Christian should not have confidence in that. In the same way that someone who’s verbally abusive should not have confidence that the Spirit of God resides in them and they were justified by Christ on the cross. That’s what Paul is saying here. That’s not me. That is Spirit-inspired scripture.
This passage also talks about homosexuality. When I talk with younger people, often times students, about homosexuality, I get this question: “Why are we talking about this? Homosexuality is just the same as everything else, other sin. We’re not spending a week talking about lying.”
There are few reasons. One is because Paul puts it in this list. It’s a grave issue. The second would be all sin is not the same. It has different gravities. We’ve talked about that too. The third would be that often times, being a homosexual means you identify yourself as/with that thing. What could it possibly mean if you identify what something God calls sinful? If you go around saying, “I'm a homosexual Christian?” You're setting your identity as the very thing that God says is gravely sinful. And all too often, this is done pridefully (think “pride parade”).
Paul says here, disqualifies one from salvation. It’s not that you lose it. It’s that someone what with the Holy Spirit would not live that way. It’s what he's getting at in Galatians 5 and Romans 8 also. We would have the same conversation, I tell the students, if people were going around calling themselves “adulterous Christians” or “pornographic Christians” or “lying Christians”. Imagine: “Hey, I'm a Christian that lies. That’s how I live. I'm a practicing, lying Christian.” Well, those do not go together. There's a pride issue here, and a lack of conviction of sin.
We, as the church, have the responsibility to talk with people who we think are Christians, who claim to be Christians, to say, “Look. This is not what scripture presents as right living. You need to come back to a restored, renewed relationship with Christ and repent of this.”
There's so much more that could be said here. One of the liabilities of doing shorter podcast or articles is often times, you can be misunderstood. I want to clarify a few things I do not mean before we conclude.
The first would be is that just because some sins are lesser than other sins, that doesn’t mean they don’t matter. Any sin would have warranted and does warrant separation from God based on God’s perfect moral nature. Christ would have needed to atone for even that one sin if that was all there ever were.
The second thing I'm not saying is that people can lose their salvation. We looked at 1st Corinthians 6 passage. That’s not what it says. What it says is people who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God because the Spirit is powerful and it changes you when you come to Christ and so you will not live like that.
The last thing I want to make sure is clear is that we will not be perfect. We have a fallen nature, a sinful nature in spite of gaining a new nature from Christ. However, this doesn’t mean, like I said, that we’ll be perfect. We need to rest and have peace in the fact that when Jesus said “it is finished”, it was finished.
He covered all of our sin that we will ever commit if we are in Christ, something we can never lose because God secures our salvation. Those little sins, those big sins, whatever, Christ covers those. He has never lost anyone, John 6 tells us. He will raise all up on the last day that His Father gives to Him.
He secures our salvation. Our works, in no way merit our salvation. Christianity, unlike almost every other religion, is based on you not being able to earn that which gains you heaven. Someone else earned it in your stead. How we live in our daily lives and the good things we do, some of which could be better than others, are done out of gratitude for the one who accomplished what we could not, with the greatest moral good that has ever happened.
I look forward to talking with you next week on Unapologetic. If you haven't picked up the book Unapologetic: A Guide for Defending Your Christian Convictions, click the link in the side bar. Check it out on Amazon. I hope it will benefit you as it has benefited other people.