Are Some Sins Greater Than Others or Are All Sins Equal?

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Image by Doğukan Şahin. Adapted for Redemption of Humanity. Used under licence.

The Bible’s Answer

Introduction

It is clear from the Bible’s teachings that not all sins are equal, and that some sins are greater, or worse, than others. God’s law in the Old Testament offers many examples of this. When we look at some examples, we see that some sins demand more severe punishments than others.

The Law of God Teaches that Not All Sins Are Equal

For example, some of the less severe sins required a fine to be paid, such as assault and theft:

“When men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist and the man does not die but takes to his bed, 19 then if the man rises again and walks outdoors with his staff, he who struck him shall be clear; only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall have him thoroughly healed. (Exodus 21:18–19

“If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he shall repay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. 2 If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him, 3 but if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt for him. He shall surely pay. If he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. 4 If the stolen beast is found alive in his possession, whether it is an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he shall pay double. (Exodus 22:1–4)

While the more serious sin of turning to mediums and necromancers required the offender to be cut off from among his people:

“If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them, I will set my face against that person and will cut him off from among his people. (Leviticus 20:6)

And the even more serious sins of sorcery, bestiality, idol sacrifices, adultery, and murder required the offender to be put to death:

“You shall not permit a sorceress to live. 19 “Whoever lies with an animal shall be put to death. 20 “Whoever sacrifices to any god, other than the LORD alone, shall be devoted to destruction. (Exodus 22:18–20)

“If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbour, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10)

“Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. 13 But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee. 14 But if a man wilfully attacks another to kill him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die. (Exodus 21:12–14)

As we can see from the law of God, the Lord does view certain sins as being more heinous than others and deserving of more severe punishment. He does not view all sinners as deserving the exact same level of punishment.

Jesus Teaches That Not All Sins Are Equal

Now let’s look at some of the teachings of God when he walked the earth as the person Jesus. When on trial before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, Jesus clearly said:

Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (John 19:11)

In Jesus’ own words, he clearly taught that there are worse sins than others. Although Pilate sinned by sending Jesus over to the Jews to be crucified, his sin wasn’t as great as the Jewish elders’ and chief priests’, because he had very little knowledge of the Old Testament scriptures, while the latter were teachers of the scriptures, and should have recognised Jesus as the Messiah. When rebuking the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy, Jesus said:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! (Matthew 23:23–24)

By saying that the scribes and Pharisees neglected the weightier matters of the law, Jesus clearly taught that if they would have upheld these, but not the smaller matters, it would not have been as serious of a sin, despite the fact that they still should not neglect the others.

Jesus’ Teachings on Different Levels of Punishment

Jesus also taught that different levels of sin incur different degrees of punishment:

the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. 47 And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. (Luke 12:46–48)

Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgement for Tyre and Sidon than for you. (Matthew 11:20–22)

Finally, Jesus taught that the worst sin anyone can commit is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which is an eternal, unforgivable sin:

“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” (Mark 3:28–30)

This is the sin of continually hardening one’s heart, rejecting who Jesus truly is and the salvation he bought for us, and failing to repent of one’s sins till the day we die, in spite of the evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in Jesus and bearing witness to him. People who are worried that they have committed this sin have not committed it, because the fact that they worry and care about it shows that their hearts are not totally hardened towards Jesus.

What Can Make a Sin Worse?

The seriousness of sins committed by people can depend on certain factors, such as the position one is in to teach others, and lead them in either the right or wrong direction:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (James 3:1)

Or it can depend on the awareness of sin, and the intent behind it:

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. (2 Peter 2:20–21)

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:17)

All Sins Separates People from God

Although not all sins are equal, and not all of them incur the same degree of punishment, one thing that all sins have in common, is that they all lead to spiritual death, separation from God, and eternal damnation in Hell:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— (Ephesians 2:1–2)

I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. 18 If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. 19 But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. (Psalm 66:17–19)

And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ (Mark 9:43–48)

If we examine the various lists of evil deeds given in the Bible, it is evident that although some might be morally worse than others, they are all grouped together and lead to eternal damnation. Some, but not all, include:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practise homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–10)

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19–21)

Conclusion

All people are guilty of sinning, and all of us deserve this punishment (Romans 3:9–12Romans 3:23). Thankfully, Jesus paid the full penalty of all our sins by fulfilling God the Father’s law for us and dying on the cross as our substitute (Matthew 5:17; Matthew 20:281 Peter 2:24). Jesus’ perfect sacrifice satisfied the righteous wrath of God against us because of our sins, reconciles us to him (Romans 5:6–11), and made atonement once and for all (Hebrews 9:24–28Hebrews 10:10–14).

If we repent (turn away from our disbelief and disobedience to God) and believe in the saving sacrifice of Jesus and his bodily resurrection, we will be saved. Our sin debt will be paid, and his righteousness will be ours (Colossians 2:13–14Romans 3:21–26Galatians 3:10–14). Jesus will then prepare a place for us in Heaven (John 14:1–3), and we will dwell there forever and have eternal fellowship with him (1 John 1:1–3).

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:7–9)

See Also

Bibliography

Packer, J I 2004, All Sins Are Not Equal, Christianity Today, accessed on 12 July 2017, <http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/january/19.65.html?start=2>

Graham, B 2014, Billy Graham’s Answer: What is Sin? Are All Sins Equal in God’s Eyes, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, accessed on 12 July 2017, <https://billygraham.org/story/billy-grahams-answer-what-is-sin-are-all-sins-equal-in-gods-eyes/>

Slick, M 2010, Are all sins equal? Are some sins worse than others?, Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, accessed on 12 July 2017, <https://carm.org/are-all-sins-equal>

Are Some Sins Worse Than Others?, Relevant Bible Teaching, accessed on 12 July 2017, <http://www.relevantbibleteaching.com/site/cpage.asp?cpage_id=140028086&sec_id=140001239>

Dr. Brown, M 2016, Are Some Sins Worse Than Others?, ASKDrBrown, accessed on 13 July 2017, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Avv___3LoZk>

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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