In a noble attempt to be biblically faithful and theologically accurate, I often hear Christians say something along the lines of, “All sins are the same in God’s eyes. Whether you murder twelve people or think about murdering one person, to God, it’s all the same.”
In his classic book, The Holiness of God, the great reformed theologian, R. C. Sproul, explains why this is incorrect:
The sins listed (in Galatians 5:19-21) may be described as gross and heinous sins. The New Testament recognizes degrees of sins. Some sins are worse than others. This important point is often overlooked by Christians. Protestants particularly struggle with the concept of gradations or degrees of sin. . . we tend to think that sin is sin and that no sin is greater than any other. We think of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount that to lust after a woman is to be guilty of adultery. We are aware that the Bible teaches if we sin against one point of the Law, we sin against the whole Law. These two biblical teachings can easily confuse us about the degrees of sin.
When Jesus said that to lust is to violate the Law against adultery, He did not say or imply that lust is as bad as the full act of adultery. His point was that the full measure of the Law prohibited more than the actual act of adultery. The Law has a broader application.
The pharisees thought that because they never committed the actual act of adultery, they were free of sin against the Law. They assumed that if they actually refrained from killing people, they were keeping the Law against killing. They failed to see that unjust anger and hatred were also included in the wider meaning of the Law against killing.
Jesus taught that hate is a sin against another person’s life. Hatred violates people. It is not as severe as actual murder, but is nevertheless a sin. The smallest sin involves a sin against the whole law. The Law is the standard of holiness for us. In our slightest transgression we sin against that standard; we violate the call to holiness. Again, that does not imply that every sin is as wicked as every other sin. Jesus repeatedly spoke of degrees of punishment in hell as well as those whose guilt was greater than others.
The idea of gradations of sins is important for us to keep in mind so we understand the difference between sin and gross sin. Again, all of our sins require forgiveness. All of our sins are acts of treason against God. We need a Savior for our “little” ones as well as the “major” ones. But some sins are more significant than others, and we need to identify which these are, lest we fall into the pharisaical trap of majoring in the minors.
All sins are not the same in God’s eyes though we need a Savior for them all. Thankfully, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Judge of the world came to be judged. He took our punishment on the cross and rose from the dead. God made Him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). When we turn from our sin and trust in what Jesus has done, God will forgive all of our sins — big and small — past, present, and future — and remember them no more (Isaiah 43:25).
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