“Well, sin is sin.” We have probably all heard this statement before. It is a way of saying that all sin is equal; it is usually said when comparing two different sins. For example, Person (A) says that murder is one of the worst sins then Person (B) disagrees by saying that they think rape could be the worst sin, typically Person (A or B) or perhaps a bystander who doesn’t like arguments (Person C), essentially end the conversation by pulling out this statement, “Well, sin is sin! So let’s stop talking and thinking.” It has been the rhetorical trump card in this type of argument, but is it even a valid statement?
There is one main verse, which is used to defend the idea that all sin is equal. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” James 2:10. This is the fall back verse for those who play the “sin is sin” card, but perhaps this verse is being misapplied. One test that I use to determine what is truth, I call, “The Magnifying Glass.” This is a unique concept that I apply to doctrine, theology, apologetics, etc. Take any concept and multiply its effects and application by 100, and then if it hasn’t gone into error, you may be onto something.
When you put real truth under the magnifying glass, it doesn’t fail the test. For example, if I say Jesus can forgive anyone (a real truth), when multiplied by 100 it is still true; whether you are an average Joe who sins on occasion or Hitler himself, God can forgive anyone. When you apply the test and multiply something that is in error, for example: the survival of the fittest-evolutionary theory, the next thing you get is Nazi Germany. Let’s apply the Magnifying Glass to the idea of all sin being equal.
The idea of all sin being equal on a low level of examination such as the “rape versus murder debate” might not seem to be in error. Although, if we multiply it 100 times, then we have a debate such as “Hitler killing 6 Million Jews versus a homeless man stealing bread to feed his family.” The majority of people would not say, “Well….sin is sin” when comparing these two categories. Within our hearts we all have a sense of justice that tells us that Hitler and the homeless man are not in the same category. The implications also lead us to the conclusion that if we are to deal out punishment for sin, it would not be considered “fair” to give equal judgment. Our sense of justice hopes that Hitler would be punished differently than the homeless thief.
The Bible gives several clear verses, which show that not all sin is equal:
- Paul tells us that sexual immorality is a sin against the body and that all other sins are committed outside the body. “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.” 1 Corinthians 6
- Another interesting one is 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral…. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you.” Here Paul has stated that we are not to even eat with a sexually immoral person who calls himself a Christian. There is nowhere else that the Bible tells us not to eat with a brother who commits a certain kind of sin. In this way, sexually immorality is set apart from all other kinds of sin.
- A mysterious example is 1 John 5:16 “If you see a Christian brother or sister sinning in a way that does not lead to death, you should pray, and God will give that person life. But there is a sin that leads to death, and I am not saying you should pray for those who commit it.” There are two categories of sin presented in this verse, those that lead to death and those that do not.
The Bible does teach that sin has differing levels; but how do we explain James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”?
Consider this: Two thieves break into two different homes, the first thief steals a few hundred dollars, whereas the second thief break things, kills the family dog, steals all the electronics and tens of thousands of dollars. According to James 2:10 both have broken the law and are considered lawbreakers. They will both appear before the judge for violating the law, but the violation is not equal and the judgment will not be equal either. James is merely pointing out that whether you commit one sin or you are Hitler himself, either way you have transgressed and will be accountable as a lawbreaker.
If sin is not equal in the eyes of God, then will the judgment of sin be equal?
According to the general Christian view, all sinners will be equally tormented in Hell forever and ever. With this understanding, Hitler, Ghandi, Stalin and Mormon Grannies will receive equal punishment for their actions in hell forever. I am not questioning the doctrines of grace and eternal punishment, but I don’t believe that God will give equal punishment. Don’t get offended yet, I am basing my opinion on the Bible, not upon feelings.
The Bible tells us that God will judge the dead nonbelievers according to their works. “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.” Revelation 20:12-13. This verse is rarely taught in church, but it truly shows the mercy and justice of God. It does not fit with the justice of God’s nature to say that Hitler, Stalin and Ghandi will all receive that same punishment.
I am not stating here what the difference in punishment is; there are many theological opinions on this and I did not write this article to address that. The Word tells us that not all sin will be punished the same, but will actually be “…judged according to what they had done,” which brings us back to our conclusion, “Not all sin is created equal.”