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 person who stirs up conflict in the community~ Proverbs 6:16-19 NIV
I do a fair amount of speaking and teaching in a number of different settings. On occasion, I will refer to a particular sin or behavior as especially heinous from God’s perspective. Inevitably, someone will approach me afterward and ask in a rather incredulous tone if I really believe that some sins are more heinous than others. The question is typically framed in the following way:
“Don’t you believe that all sin is the same as all other sin?”
Admittedly, my answer appears on the surface to be a bit ambivalent:
“Yes and no”
I say “yes’ because I sincerely believe that all sin is sin (and therefore terrible) and in one sense no sin is anymore sinful than any other. Any sin (no matter how small or seemingly insignificant) will keep a person out of heaven if they refuse to repent of their sin and put their faith Jesus (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:32, 2nd Corinthians 5:21, Ephesians 2:1-3).
That said, I do not believe that “all sin is the same”. Nor do I believe that the view that “all sin is the same” can be backed up biblically (1stJohn 5:17, Matthew 12:31, 1stCorinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:5, Galatians 5:21). Furthermore, this ridiculous view is actually leading to more sin rather than less, and therefore ought to be examined more closely.
Before you write me off as a wild-eyed heretic, hear me out.
The notion that “all sin is the same” is a relatively new idea that has become both wildly popular and accepted as fact in recent years. I suspect this notion developed out of a desire to keep certain sinners from feeling that their sins (and they) were being singled out as worse than other sins (and other sinners). Telling people that participating in an orgy (or practicing idolatry, or being greedy, or having an abortion, or oppressing a widow) is exactly the same on a sin scale as telling someone their hair looks nice when it does not, is not nearly as kind as it appears to be on the surface. Mostly, because it causes both the saved and the unsaved to feel more safe and comfortable with the whole notion of sin.
The average person tends to think (at least subconsciously) that if telling a small lie concerning someone’s appearance is exactly the same on a sin scale as cheating on one’s spouse then cheating on one’s spouse must not be so bad. In a perfect world (one not populated by idiots and sinners) people would come to the opposite conclusion and we would all be terrified to tell lies AND commit adultery. Sadly, we don’t inhabit that world. We inhabit a world where people tell themselves that if watching a movie with questionable themes is just as bad as viewing porn then viewing porn must not be such a bad thing (Jeremiah 17:9).
I repeat. People are idiots and sinners.
Because people are idiots and sinners and because the human heart is capable of an insane level of self-deception when it comes to this subject there are four things we have to understand about sin:
All sin is harmful and wrong (and not just because it sends people to hell)-
I am NOT saying that “small” sins are acceptable or even safe. All sin is dangerous, because sin is insidiously progressive and hideously deceptive. Even the smallest sins (if not repented of quickly) lead us to become more comfortable with sin. This leads to a hardening of the heart which inevitably leads to more sin which eventually leads to a rejection of the truth (Romans 2:8).
Not all sin has the same consequences-
Looking at porn is worse than watching a movie with swear words in it because looking at porn twists one’s view of sexuality and other people and will inevitably lead to more sin. Telling a lie about someone’s appearance is wrong (and it will make you more comfortable with lying) but it does not cause the same ripple effects that sexual sin does. In 1stCorinthians 5:11 the Apostle Paul tells believers that some sins are so serious and infectious that Christians should refuse to eat with other Christians who practice those sins. Paul does not say that about every sin, partly because if he did we would all eat alone and partly (mostly) because not all sin has the same consequences for the sinner or for the people around the sinner.
The Bible clearly states that “Christians” who habitually commit certain sins aren’t going to heaven-
Seriously, it does (1stCorinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:5). Depending on your theology (Calvinist or Armenian) you can view this in one of two ways. Either genuinely saved people do not commit those sins (Calvinist theology) or committing those sins causes you to lose your salvation (Armenian theology). Either way it should make us think long and hard about what kind of sin we allow ourselves to get entangled in (Hebrews 12:1).
Even the worst most sinful sin can be forgiven and forgotten by God-
Sin can separate us from God forever but it doesn’t have to. God does not want anyone to pay the penalty for their own sin and that is why Jesus died for sinners like you and me (Romans 5:6, 1stCorinthians 15:3, 1stThessalonians 5:10, Hebrews 9:15). All you have to do is trust Him to save you and turn away from your sin (Mark 1:15)
It really is that simple.