Friday, May 13, 2016

Are all sins equal? (Bible Questions and Answers #1)

I’ve decided to start a blog series on Bible Questions that people ask me.  Here’s the first one:

Question:  Are all sins equal, or are some sins greater than others?

Answer:  In some ways all sins are equal, but in other ways they are different.

It is true that without the grace of God shown in Christ Jesus any sin would cause us to be condemned and to miss out on eternal life.  Jesus said,

NIV  Matthew 5:48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Also see 1 Peter 1:15-16, Galatians 3:10, and James 2:10-11)

Another way in which sins are equal is that even very serious sins like murder and adultery can be completely forgiven by God.

However, the Bible makes it clear that there are ways in which some sins are worse than other sins.

1.)  Jesus specifically says that someone is guilty of a “greater sin:

NIV  John 19:11 Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin."

When Jesus says “the one who handed me over to you” He might have been talking about Judas, or He might have been talking about the Jewish High Priest.  Either way, Jesus explicitly mentions a “greater sin”.

2.)  Jesus indicates that some commandments are less important than other commandments:

NIV  Matthew 5:19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

3.)  Jesus teaches that even though details like tithing on things of small value are important, these types of actions are not equally important as other parts of God’s will:

NIV  Matthew 23:23 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices-- mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law-- justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

4.)  Jesus also taught that the punishment for some sins is worse than for other sins:

Luke 12: 47 "The servant who knows the master's will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows.
 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

5.)  God shows Ezekiel a series of sinful actions, each of which is worse than the preceding ones:

NIV  Ezekiel 8:6 And he said to me, "Son of man, do you see what they are doing-- the utterly detestable things the Israelites are doing here, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see things that are even more detestable."

NIV  Ezekiel 8:13 Again, he said, "You will see them doing things that are even more detestable."

NIV  Ezekiel 8:15 He said to me, "Do you see this, son of man? You will see things that are even more detestable than this."

If all sins were the same, it would make no sense for God to show Ezekiel a series of sins and to tell Ezekiel that each sin he was shown was "more detestable" than the previous sins.
More examples could be given, but these are enough to show that God does view some sins as more serious than others.  But, since any sin would keep us out of Heaven (if it were not for God’s grace in Christ), what do we mean when we say some sins are more serious than others?  It turns out that there are some very important and practical reasons to understand that while all sin is serious, not all sin is equally serious.

1.  Some sin displeases God more than other sin.

2.  God will discipline us more severely in this life for some sins than for other sins.

3.  While no leader is perfect, the Bible clearly teaches that moral character is the most important quality for choosing leaders (see Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3).  Thus, we need wisdom in discerning which types of sins disqualify someone from being a leader in the church. This principle should also be applied to choosing political leaders.

4.  Sometimes we should just be patient and overlook someone’s sin (Proverbs 19:11; 1 Peter 4:8).  However, sometimes we should gently yet firmly discuss someone’s sin with them in order to help them get free (James 5:20).  And sometimes a sin is so serious that we should take church discipline against someone if they will not repent (Matthew 18:15-17). Not all sins are equally serious and therefore not all sins call for the same type of response.

5.)  Every Christian longs to become more and more like Jesus.  Yet none of us are perfect yet.  Knowing that some sins are more serious than others can help us to prioritize which areas of our life we need to work on the most.  Of course, this should never be an excuse for sinning.

Finally, I want to point out that the seriousness of sin does not depend only on the specific sinful action.  One important factor is who is committing the sin.  A brand new Christian getting upset and letting a cuss word fly is not as serious as a pastor or Bible teacher doing the same thing.  As we grow in Christ, God holds us to higher standards and sins which He would have overlooked in a new believer can bring painful discipline in the life of a mature believer.  God also considers the motives of a person’s heart. Having “good motives” can never make a sin not a sin.  But having evil motives can turn even an apparently good action into a serious sin in God’s eyes.


If someone is talking about getting into Heaven, it is true that any sin would disqualify us. That is why we are so thankful that we have a Savior – Jesus Christ. Because of the sacrifice of Christ, all your sins can be completely forgiven. In these ways, “all sin is the same”.

But in many other situations it is wrong and misleading to say “all sin is the same”.  Sometimes people say “all sin is the same” or “nobody’s perfect” to argue that we should not take into account a person’s sin when considering who to choose as a leader.  That’s wrong.  The Bible clearly teaches that we should take into account a person’s character and past sinful choices when choosing leaders.  In this situation, and also when it comes to deciding on how to respond to a neighbor’s sin, all sin is not the same.

Other Questions

If you have a Bible question, feel free to ask.  You can email me at:

I don’t have all the answers, but with God’s help I will respond to as many questions as possible.  In some cases I may respond to you privately. In other cases, if it is appropriate, I’ll respond in a blog post like this one.  I won’t identify who asked the question unless you want me to.

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

1 comment:

  1. Mark, these words are mentioned several times in the OT., "are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel”
    My question is :
    Is there a record of this book in existence or is this another symbol of something else. Just curious to know.