Are All Sins Equally Serious?
Sometimes people think that all sins are equally serious in the eyes of God. This conclusion is understandable. After all, the Bible states that all of us are sinners who fall short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23). It teaches that if we have broken only one of God’s commandments we are condemned as lawbreakers (James 2:10). Scripture also teaches that we can sin internally even if we never act out our evil desires. Jesus said that, by lustfully ogling a woman, a man has “committed adultery with her in his heart” and that people who spew angry, destructive words are “in danger of the fire of hell” along with those who commit murder. (See Matthew 5:21-42.)
But does this mean all sins are the same? I have heard of men who have justified extramarital affairs by saying, “I lusted for her. I’m already guilty of adultery. I might as well act it out.” Sometimes abusive church leaders will excuse their vile actions with the plea: “We are all sinners. Nobody is perfect.” They act as if their toxic behavior is no more serious than the mischievous conduct of a naughty five-year-old. Certainly such statements do not reflect a biblical understanding of sin, do they?
Of course not. The Bible clearly teaches that some sins are more serious than others. For example, sins committed against God are more serious than sins committed against other people (1 Samuel 2:25). Sins committed by those who understand the will of God face greater judgment than sins committed in ignorance (Luke 12:47-48). Those who teach God’s word “will be judged more strictly” than other church members (James 3:1). Approving of sinful behavior is described as worse than doing it (Romans 1:32). Causing or enticing someone else to sin is described as especially heinous (Matthew 18:6-7). Sexual sins are committed “against [one’s] own body” in a sense that other sins are not (1 Corinthians 6:18). Those who hear about Christ and reject him will face greater punishment in eternity than those who have never heard the gospel (Matthew 11:20-24). 1 John 5:16 teaches that there is “a sin that does not lead to death” and “a sin that leads to death”. According to Christian author R.C. Sproul, “There are at least twenty-five occasions where the New Testament makes a distinction between lesser and greater forms of evil.”
None of this, of course, implies that any sins are unimportant. Nor does it mean that certain sinners are beyond redemption. The Westminster Confession of Faith correctly states, “As there is no sin so small, but it deserves damnation; so there is no sin so great, that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent” (WCF XV.4).
What the Bible gives us, however, is a nuanced understanding of sin. We need to take seriously the biblical warnings about the serious repercussions that certain sins can have in our lives and in the lives of others. And we should be grateful for the grace of God that can blot out the stain even of our darkest misdeeds.