This week I’ve started a blog series that will run for 11 weeks, in which we are fact checking ideas that Christians believe that might be totally false or at least partially so. This week we are looking at ideas about sin. Check out the first posts here and here that introduce the series and define sin. With this post, we begin fact-checking these ideas about sin. The first ideas two are contrasts: All sins are the same vs. Some sins are worse than others.
Which is true? The statements totally conflict with each other. Using simple logic, they can’t both be true, can they?
Well, yes and no. These statements need some explanation and biblical study. That is what we want to do in this series, asking what does God have to say in the Bible about the topic? Does God believe that all sins are the same? Or does God teach us that some are worse than others?
As we attempt to answer these questions, we will seek to base our understanding on God who is the truth. That is what is so unique and fascinating about Christianity. We don’t hold to the idea that truth can ultimately be encapsulated in statements conceived and written by humans. Instead, we Christians believe in the radical notion that Jesus is the truth. He told us that he is the way, the truth and the life, and we believe in him. This is foundational to differentiating between what is false and true, isn’t it? Jesus is the truth! Our understanding of what is true, then is rooted in our knowledge of him.
So when we think about sin and whether or not all sins are equal, we have to evaluate this question based on what we know of Jesus. As we study these statements, we will come back to Jesus.
Let’s start with the first statement: all sins are the same.
Are they? Of course not, because they are so different. We know this. Theft of a pack of gum at the store is on a whole different order of magnitude from murder or rape. That doesn’t make the theft right, of course. But clearly sins are different. Different in their impact, in their consequences, and different in their ripple effect on the community and individuals.
So why do people say “all sins are the same?” Often this phrase comes out of Christian’s mouths in reference to God’s justice. When I have tried to share the story of Jesus to people, our conversation often comes to the part of the story that refers to Jesus dying for our sins. Some people are loathe to agree that they have committed sins. They think they are generally pretty good, and I suspect most are. They haven’t committed murder or rape, so they don’t consider themselves sinners. Sure they admit to telling white lies or doing other wrong things, but to them that is not sin. To them that is just a mistake or error. In their opinion those occurrences of “missing the mark” are light years away from rape and murder or many other really awful things.
They have a point, right? So in those conversations it is important to show them from the Bible that God does count all sins the same in the sense that even what they consider to be a small mistake or error is actually an indication of our essential difference from God. Whereas God is holy and perfect, we are not, even if we haven’t committed atrocities.
In that sense it is important that all people understand that they have sin in their life. This is a big emphasis in Paul’s argument in the letter to the Romans. Chapter 3 especially: “There is none righteous, no not one.” And, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” There really is a sense in which all sins are the same in God’s eyes, but only when we are discussing the idea that all people are equally in need of Jesus because of our sin.
Sure, the Bible talks about the 7 deadly sins, and the unpardonable sin. There is much debate about what is the worst sin. We won’t be able to answer that until we’re in heaven and can ask God! Where we have gone wrong in our culture, therefore, is when we elevate some sins above others. In the 1920s, it was alcohol, and there was prohibition. Then for years we made divorce out to be the worst sin. Christians who got divorced were almost shunned. My wife’s uncle, for example, was a missionary in Africa, got divorced, and then remarried. But his church here stateside, even after he was remarried, will not allow him to serve in leadership in the church because he was previously divorced!
Then divorce gave its exalted status as the cardinal sin over to another. Think 1960s and 1970s. What sin became the new worst sin? Abortion. For years abortion was put forth as the worst possible thing a person could do. Rallies and picket lines outside abortion clinics, including worse atrocities, were justified by people who said God was somehow punishing America for this new cardinal of legalized abortion. But time went by, and it changed again. What was the new worst sin after abortion? Homosexual practice. And perhaps in many minds that one still holds to the top spot today.
Drunkenness, Divorce, Abortion and Homosexual practice are all sins. But we are wrong to elevate one sin as somehow worse than any other. That is another way in which there is a proper sense of seeing sins equally. For example, we will rail against a person who is a practicing homosexual, but we say very little about our own gluttony or lying or excessive drinking. Again, all of us are sinners, and we need to see that.
So, yes, all sin is the same, but sins are also very different, which will see in part 4 tomorrow.