Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Are All Sins Equal Before God?

We often hear a claim that all sins are equal in God’s eyes, even though humans rate some as worse than others. There are Biblical references that may seem to uphold this idea.

James 2:10-11 makes the point that if someone “keeps the whole law, yet stumbles at just one point,” he is “guilty of breaking all of it.” Galatians makes a similar point about the unity of the Law and the obligation of people under that Law to continuously keep all of its provisions. The person who disobeys every command and the person who only disobeys one are both law breakers.

Matthew 5 records Jesus’ words about the commands that “you have heard that it was said.” A man who looks lustfully at a woman has committed adultery already in his heart. A man who is angry with his brother has put himself in judgment for murder.

The Bible, read with open eyes, does say that it takes only one sin to become a sinner and that each and every sin is equally condemning before God’s law. It also says that sins of intention are still sins, even when they are not acted out. However, to conclude from this that all sins are equal is invalid reasoning. It is also dangerous, since it could encourage a sinner to decide, “Since I’ve already committed the heart sin, I might as well go ahead and do the act.” Clearly, while both are sins, the action does harm to more people than the thought.

When asked what was the greatest commandment, Jesus did not say that they were all equal. He told which was the first and greatest, and which was second (Matthew 22:37-40). He also distinguished between lighter and heavier matters in the Law (Matthew 23:23). Violating a heavier matter is worse than violating a lighter matter, though the scribes were expected to violate neither. On trial before Pilate, Jesus called his judge a sinner, but assured him that he was not the greatest sinner (John 19:11).

I John 5:16-17 tells us that all wrongdoing is sin, but some sins lead to death and others don’t. This is an important distinction, because it affects our prayers for our brothers.

All sins are not created equal. If we mean to say that any sin, however small it seems in human opinion, separates us from God, let’s say that. But let’s not say that all sins are equal in God’s eyes. And let’s keep reading with our eyes open.

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