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
Every so often, when I’m teaching on the Bible I will say something about a particular sin or behavior being especially bad or harmful from God’s perspective. when this happens it is not at all unusual for someone to approach me afterward and ask if I really believe some sins are worse than others. The question is typically framed in the following way:
“Don’t you believe all sin is the same as all other sin?”
My answer is a bit ambivalent:
“Yes and no”
I say “yes’ because I sincerely believe that all sin is sin (and sin is objectively terrible and harmful) and in one sense no sin is anymore sinful than any other. This is because 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 exactly 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 idea actually leads 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 not one that the church has historically held. I suspect this belief developed because our generation cares more about feelings than previous generations. The belief that all sin is exactly the same does keep certain sinners from feeling that their sins (and they) are being singled out as worse than other sins (and sinners).
Telling people that murdering someone, or practicing idolatry, or being greedy, or abusing a child, or oppressing a widow is exactly the same as telling someone their hair looks nice when it doesn’t, is not nearly as kind as it appears to be on the surface. This is 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 is exactly the same on a 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.
But, because humans are idiots and sinners and because the human heart is capable of an insane level of self-deception when it comes to the subject of sin 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)-
Please understand, I am NOT saying that “little” sins are acceptable or even safe or that God is okay with any sin. He is not. 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 sinning. When nothing horrible happens when I tell a small seemingly insignificant lie it’s easy to begin thinking God doesn’t care about a big giant lie. Which leads to slandering people. Which leads to a hardening of the heart which inevitably leads to more sin which eventually leads to a rejection of the truth, which eventually leads to a rejection of God (Romans 1:18-32, 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 active forms of sexual 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 (1st Corinthians 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 caught up in (Hebrews 12:1).
Sin can separate us from God forever but it doesn’t have to. God simply does not want ANYONE to pay the penalty for their own sin. That is why Jesus died for sinners like you and me (Romans 5:6, 1st Corinthians 15:3, 1st Thessalonians 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.