Are all sins the same? Is there a distinction between one kind of sin or another? Are some sins worse than others?
The cookie-cutter and by far the most popular answer to this question is that all sins are the same and God views them the same. We have heard of the sky scraper analogy that we may see the height of the sky scraper and compare that to other buildings and go “Surely this is bigger than the other buildings but God seeing it from above sees everything level”. The point being we as humans might tend to see some sins as greater than others because we are down here but God from up there sees it all the same.
This is utterly wrong for a number of reasons. First, this does not take God’s omniscience into account. Can’t God see the skyscraper from the perspective of human beings as well? Can God not differentiate between a high-rise building and a bungalow simply because He is viewing the same things from above? Is God’s eye-sight so limited that He cannot distinguish? Is God in urgent need of a trip to Spec-Savers?
Secondly, even from above, we are able to distinguish between roads and roofs of houses. Houses would have different roof sizes and in that regard there would be houses bigger than others, everything would not be a level plane.
That does not answer the question though. Is all sin equal before God? I would submit that the answer is No and Yes.
No, all sin is not equal before God. Jesus says to the Pharisees,
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.” (Matthew 23:14)
If it is possible for someone to receive greater condemnation than another then all condemnation is not equal and if all condemnation is not equal, then all sin is not equal. More explicitly, Jesus says to Pilate,
“Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” (John 19:11)
Again John writes,
“If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death.” (1 John 5:16–17)
Here John distinguishes between a sin leading to death and a sin not leading to death. If all sin is equal before God, would there be a need for these categories?
Even in the laws given to Moses, the punishments for some sins are greater than others and there are some sins which all through scripture are given special mentions. We would touch on a non-exhaustive list below.
It would appear murder (i.e. killing a human being for no just reason) is in that special category of sins. God says to Noah (way before the law of Moses),
“Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man.” (Genesis 9:6)
Jesus also echoes this in His charge against the Pharisees in Matthew 23:29–36
Rejection of the gospel and of Jesus Christ seems to be the highest category of sin. One which there is literally no forgiveness for (Please see the article “The one sin Jesus Christ could not die for” for fuller discussion of this) and as such it is definitely a weighty sin. I believe this is the “sin leading to death” John is referring to in the above quoted verse. Jesus instructs His disciples,
“And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!” (Matthew 10:14–15)
Jesus also rebuked the cities where His most major works were done for rejecting Him,
“Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.”
So it would appear there is harsher judgment on the cities that rejected Jesus Christ. This would also make sense in light of the passage in Hebrews which says,
“Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 11:28–29)
It would also appear sins involving children (whether molesting or other wise hurting them) are in a special category,
“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
“Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven”
(Matthew 18:6 & 10)
Preaching a different gospel seems to be a grievous sin as well, Paul writes,
“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8–9)
See also Jude 1:4–19 and 2 Peter 2:1–3 where there are various deprecations of those preaching a gospel which denies the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Finally, this would likely be a controversial one and I hesitate to mention this only because I am aware it is a human tendency to magnify and zoom in on sins of this nature but sexual sin might be in a special class as well.
This is the only sin said to be a sin against one’s own body,
“ Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18)
Now having said all that, there is a sense in which all sins are equal.
All sins are equal in the sense that we needed saving from all of them. All sin drives a wedge (arguably to varying degrees but a wedge nonetheless) between man and God. This is a wedge no man could bridge and hence it took Christ to stand in that gap. So man’s inability to pay for his sins, even the least of them, meant the degree of sin was in a sense irrelevant. When all is said and done who really wants to be the best sinner in hell?
The tension between sins being both equal and unequal can best be illustrated using the below parable of Jesus,
“There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” (Luke 7:41–42)
Now think of the debt as sin. One owed 50 denarii, the other owed 500 denarii. A denarius was a day’s wage for a worker, one owed 50 days worth and another owed 500 days worth.
Clearly both men’s debts were not equal. One owed far more than the other. While neither situation is ideal, it is better to owe 50 denarii than to owe 500 denarii. However, it made no difference whether they owed 50 denarii or 500 denarii because as the parable says, “they had nothing with which to repay”. They were both in need of the creditor’s mercy to cancel their debt because their inability to pay was the emphasis here.
This parable helps us reconcile these two views. On the one hand some sins are worse than others as much as 500 denarii is worse than 50, but on the other hand, we cannot walk around with our head and shoulders held up high because we could not pay for even our 50 denarii worth of sins and we relied on the Master’s mercy for it, the same mercy that is available to the other person with 500 denarii worth of sins.
In conclusion, all sins are equal in that the price for them is nothing less than the precious blood of Christ but in terms of the damage and havoc wreaked to both the sinner (i.e. their body and soul) and those affected by their actions as well as the attendant judgment, all sins are not equal.
That is why to borrow from George Orwell’s Animal farm we can say that “all sins are equal but some are more equal than others”.