Are All Sins Equal?

- Sam B. Sears

“All sins are equal.” “Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.” “Only man categorizes sin.” I’ve heard such claims, and you probably have, too. Last month in the newsletter, I tackled an issue that is often divisive and is one of the current points of pressure that the church is experiencing from the outside world. Greg Koukl, of "Stand to Reason," was once asked by a secular interviewer why Christians only talk about homosexuality and abortion. He responded, “It isn’t that we focus in on them. It’s the only thing you report on.” [1]Part of the perception of the public that we over-focus on these issues is because of disproportionate reporting. These are hot topics. They are where the world is pushing against the traditional views of morality and where Christian thought still gets shared, usually as an opposing view. These news reports are shared in a time when people are less and less likely to be in church, thus making it a greater percentage of what non-Christians hear from the church, Bible, or Christianity in general. While it’s not the only topic, because it’s a hot topic, it’s one we need to be well versed on.   

C. S. Lewis said, “The most dangerous ideas in a society are not the ones being argued, but the ones that are assumed.” Behind many people’s views on homosexuality is confusion about what sin even is, and often an assumption that all sins are equal. That’s an important underlying issue when addressing our culture on the topic. Because of that, this is a follow up to the previous article responding to Pride Month.

Multiple words are used in the Bible for sin. Sometimes we see them translated as “inequity” or “transgression.” When looking at actions, it’s clear that sins are violations of the laws that God expects us to follow. In a broader sense, sin is “missing the mark.” When I taught my wife to shoot on the family farm, we were 40 yards off from our target. I barely missed our standing target. My wife, meanwhile, lost control of her little derringer, and not only did she fire far up and to the left of the target and into a large hill, but she also lost control of her gun. Either way, we missed the mark of perfection. This matches with what Scripture tells us in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” [2]We also know that “the wages of sin is death.”([3]Romans 6:23); but thankfully, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It’s true that any amount of sin leads to death — spiritual death — that is separation from God for all eternity. (Revelation 21:8)

Human beings also carry with them what is called the Imago Dei. We are image-bearers, or as Dr. Michael Heiser likes to say, “imagers” of God. We have qualities that are unique from the animals and also a unique purpose. Every person has value based on what they are, not just what they can do. Acts 10 records the first Gentile conversion, with confirmation by the Holy Spirit, through which Peter comes to understand that God is the God over all people, and that regardless of race or ethnic background, they had become brothers and sisters in Christ.

If any single sin makes a need for a savior, there is a sense in which any single sin has the same outcome. If people are all equal in value, and equally in need of a savior, because any single sin is equally damning, then does it follow that all sins are equal? No, not at all — and for many reasons.   

Although one popular quote says, “Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you,” — often attributed to the modern Church of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) leader, Dieter F. Uchtdorf — we are actually called by Scripture to judge. "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment." (John 7:24) Even the famous “Do not judge” passage in Matthew 7 is taken out of context. The teaching ends with aiding a brother, but the warning is against judging hypocritically. We do need to address sins — all of them. We can’t, however, do the sentencing part of judgment; we are to attempt to connect everyone with God’s mercy as Ministers of Reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18)

      Throughout the entire Bible, Scripture actually teaches differences in sin. When Jesus stood accused before Pilate, he stated, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason, He who delivered Me to you has the greater sin." (John 19:11) How could Jesus say this if sins were not different in some manner?  

He has this to say earlier in Matthew 11:20-24: "Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless, I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.’ “

Matthew 26:24 states, “The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” This is a very unique statement, and in both cases, Matthew points to the idea that there are different degrees of judgment or punishment for sins.

Difference in sins is not a concept unique to the New Testament. Numbers 15:27-31 says, “‘Also, if one person sins unintentionally, then he shall offer a one-year-old female goat for a sin offering. The priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the person who goes astray when he sins unintentionally, making atonement for him that he may be forgiven. You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the sons of Israel and for the alien who sojourns among them. But the person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt will be on him.’ ”

It may not be remembered often, but one can unintentionally sin, and this is treated as less severe. The author of Psalm 19 echoes this by expressing to God his concern over willful sins, “Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; Let them not rule over me; Then I will be blameless, And I shall be acquitted of great transgression.”

Some would question if homosexuality is a sin, and the Bible lists it as such; but still, some point out that it’s just one of many listed. It is often pointed out that homosexuality is listed among other sins, and indeed it is. It is specifically listed as an abomination in Leviticus 18:22. It’s not the only sin listed, but it is attached to the word translated abomination, which in the Hebrew is “tow’ebah.” It is not something one would want to be linked to.

God uses the same term to describe the worshipping of idols. Although some have tried to soften the blow, most would recognize that one shouldn’t claim to be a Christian and yet worship other gods. While the word is occasionally used to mean “a sense of strong revolt towards something,” when connected with behavior, it is consistently linked to behavior that God regards as sin by any people group, not just rules for the theocracy of ancient Israel. 

Yes, there are ceremonial aspects of the Old Testament that Gentiles were never meant to follow. (Aren’t you glad that we don’t need to make animal sacrifices?) Others are more clearly applied universally, and this is one of them; but I wouldn’t make my argument on that verse alone, as it hinges on what expectations were global and which, like state laws, were only for Israel.

           In the New Testament, In Matthew 19:9 some translations use the word “fornication” or “sexual immorality,” but the Greek is “por-ni’-ah,” where we get our modern word “pornography,” often shortened to “porn.” The Greek word had a lot more in mind than simply cheating on a spouse. It would lump any pre-, or extra-marital sex, heterosexual, homosexual, or with animals, even as well as the intentional or manipulative withholding of sex from a spouse, all into this category of sexual sin.

           Yes, God can forgive any of these sins. When Paul was addressing the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 6:11, and commented on a list of sins, he stated, “and such were some of you” (emphasis added). It is fair to point out that many people don’t recognize the seriousness of heterosexual sins. Our culture has largely accepted those. It’s now unusual to think of someone remaining a virgin until they are married. Just because society isn’t challenging Christians on that matter anymore doesn’t mean that Scripture doesn’t have something to say about it, it is still a sin. Yet homosexual sin isn’t just another sexual sin, it’s still a greater sin, in that it doesn’t just involve the sexual act outside of marriage, but outside of design. 

Romans 1 points to the prevalence of homosexuality as a sign that God has turned people over to their own desires. They “exchange the natural function” that is, they use parts in a different way than they were designed to do. Human sexuality was meant to function like a lock and key: two different parts that only function in their intended purpose together. Technically, you can eat a shoe, at least older leather ones, yet that does not make a shoe food. Going against the purpose of what God created is an additional layer of rebellion to our Maker. 

It is always wisest to make the case that homosexuality is a sin from the New Testament. Paul records that the words are “God-breathed” when he is instructing his apprentice, Timothy. While it’s clear that God spoke through all his prophets, so any properly understood passage is God speaking, and thus Jesus speaking, that requires an extra level of communication that simply quoting the New Testament, especially Jesus, does not. Going straight to the New Testament, and especially the words of Jesus, also avoids additional “baggage” that can be cleared up but does require clarification on such things as Shrimp. I addressed this partially when teaching in Acts, and on Kosher diet laws. The often-shouted slogan that “Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality,” isn’t true, as written earlier. When someone says this, be prepared to show them the Matthew 19:9 quote, directly from Jesus: “por-ni’-ah” includes homosexuality and the Romans 1 passage together. Not at all is it a sign, but a sign of God turning individuals over to sin, and it’s a misuse of God’s design for our bodies, and clearly observable design.

              Sins are different in other ways, too. Not all sins are socially acceptable. Although it is fading, monogamy is usually still seen as right by our society. Not all sins involve acts that transmit diseases. Not all sins have lobbies actively seeking to impact legislation behind them, although homosexuality isn’t alone there. Abortion falls into that category, as do groups like NAMBLA, who seek to normalize pedophilia, and others. Not all sins are cultural favorites. It’s our job to address them all, but because of the gravity of some sins, and social pressure, some will be addressed more, and we need to be careful about how we view punishment. Much of our ideas about hell come from fiction, like Dante’s Inferno, not from Scripture, but If a sin has serious judgment attached, all the more reason to pray and to share the love of Jesus with those trapped in that sin; all the more reason to be persuasive, to get individuals to stop that sin, or to sway the culture’s views on social issues that are really sin issues. These sins are not unforgivable. I have been asked what the unpardonable — or unforgivable — sin is, so that will be the topic next month.


[2] All scripture quotes are NASB

[3] Romans 6:23

Originally printed in the August 2019 FCC Newsletter