The other day, I made a passing comment to a friend about Christian clichés I dislike—some because they are overused, some because they are gross over-generalizations, some because they’re simply untrue. Here were a few I mentioned…
- “God helps those who help themselves”
- “God loves the sinner but hates the sin”
- “Forgive and forget”
- “I don’t feel led”
- “You are enough” (yeah, my wife wrote a post on that pet peeve)
Among those I really dislike is this little gem: “All sins are the same in God’s eyes.“
On one level, it makes sense why some would believe all sins are equal. Since all sins are hell-worthy, this might give the impression God sees all sins the same. After all: hell is hell. Can’t get much worse than hell.
Furthermore, if we say all sins are not equal, doesn’t this promote a kind of self-righteous Phariseeism? I mean, if it’s possible for your sins to be worse than mine, won’t I be tempted to feel justifiably better than you?
But all of this is based on a superficial logic and a misunderstanding of the Bible.
Jesus Teaches All Sins Are Not Equal
1. Jesus says some sins are greater.
Standing before Pontius Pilate, the governor reminds Jesus he has the power to sentence Him to death. Jesus replies to 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, emphasis added).
Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin were guilty of a greater sin than Pilate, even though Pilate would be the one to officially condemn Jesus to die. Even though he would act cowardly and selfishly in his ruling, Pilate was acting out of his God-given authority as a civil magistrate (Romans 13:1). But the Jewish leaders had maliciously and deceitfully delivering Jesus to Pilate, despite being part of God’s chosen nation. Their sin was greater.
2. Jesus says some are more willing to repent than others.
After the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Campernaum had largely rejected Christ’s message, Jesus denounced these cities, saying, “it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you,” and “it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you” (Matthew 11:20-24, emphasis added). Bear in mind, all of these lands will face Judgment Day, but for some, that judgment will be “more bearable.”
The lands of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom were notoriously wicked cities that had already undergone destruction in the past due to their sin, but Jesus says these wicked cities “would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” had they seen the works of Christ (v.21, 23). This is why their judgement will be more bearable—their hearts were not as hard. Their punishment will be less severe as a result.
3. Jesus says some will be punished more severely that others.
Jesus tells a parable in which a wise manager goes away on a journey, leaving a servant in charge of his household. The chief servant abuses his power by beating the other servants and getting drunk. The master then returns home at a day and hour the servant didn’t expect. Catching the servant red-handed, the master casts him out with the unfaithful (Luke 12:46).
Jesus then makes clear God’s justice will be based, in part, on what we know of our Master’s will: “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. 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” (v.47-48, emphasis added).
Why are those in-the-know given a more severe beating? Because their disobedience is a willful disregard of their master’s command. Their sin is worse than those who don’t fully know the will of God.
4. Jesus says some matters of the Law are weightier than others.
In his final public address, Jesus issued many strong words to the Jewish leaders. At one point He says, “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” (Matthew 23:23, emphasis added).
Clearly, in Jesus’ mind, there are matters of obedience that are, in a sense, closer to the heart of the Law than others. Tithing from your herb garden is good, but it isn’t nearly as central as justice, mercy, and faithfulness. To neglect these weightier matters of the Law is a more grave offense.
Why Does This Matter?
1. This truth helps us to remember God is the perfect Judge.
Of course, we still need to remember and need to teach our kids that all sin is evil. No one gets a pass just because his or her sin isn’t as bad as his neighbor’s sin. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10).
But this truth helps us to teach our kids that God is just. He doesn’t paint evil with a broad brush. God is not a trite judge who categorizes stealing your sisters toy with the crimes of Hitler.
The fact that not all sins are equal is the foundation for other motivating Biblical doctrines:
- There will be different degrees of reward on Judgement Day (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27) – As believers, though we are all citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, we will still be rewarded according to our works (Revelation 20:12). This ought to inspire us please God (2 Corinthians 5:9-10), help us to take the mantle of Christian leadership seriously (James 3:1), and make sure our work for the Lord is of the highest quality (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).
- There will be different degrees of punishment in hell (Matthew 11:21-24) – Hell is a hard doctrine for any child (or adult) to swallow, but it is a comfort to know that God’s punishment will be just. Though everyone in hell will be “away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9), no everyone’s misery will be the same.
2. This truth helps us to correct our kids justly.
“Let it always be seen that you are more displeased at sin than at folly.” – John Witherspoon
When it comes to how we correct our children, do our attitude, intensity, and words reflect God’s justice?
As someone who struggles quite a bit with anger, I am more and more acutely aware of how tempted I am to abuse my parental authority by weighing my kids’ mistakes and sins in my own scale of justice, not God’s scale.
Often I discipline my kids not because of how their behavior offends God, but for things threaten my comfort, my plans, my sense of control of a situation, or my productivity.
But if we, as parents, fill our minds with an understanding of God’s justice, we will have an internal filter for how we correct our kids. Our intensity and focus will match what God says about their sin. Our discipline will fit the crime.
- Principle #1: More entrusted knowledge means more culpability (Leviticus 4:13-14; Luke 12:48 Romans 3:20). A child’s age, intellectual maturity, and previous instruction matter in how we react to his or her sin. When you’ve had a chance to give formative instruction, and when you’ve entrusted your child with a duty based on that instruction, a failure to comply is a more grave offense. Act and speak accordingly.
- Principle #2: Intentional rebellion is worse that irresponsibility (Numbers 15:27-31; Psalm 19:13 Hebrews 10:26). To neglect ones duties because of tiredness or distraction must be corrected, but to neglect a duty out of “high handed” rebellion (“No, I won’t do what you say”) is a more grave offense. Act and speak accordingly.
- Principle #3: A soft heart is more important than outward compliance (Matthew 15:8; Mark 7:21; 2 Peter 2:20). Often the way we direct our kids is aimed at them just getting stuff done. As important as this is, the focus of our correction needs to be on the heart: a desire to obey, a repentant heart, a love for God and others. If our children don’t outwardly comply but show signs of heart-softening repentance, our attitude should reflect pleasure in this. If our children comply with out wishes but do so begrudgingly, our attitude should reflect being troubled by this.
All three of these principles focus on the heart. Before we barrel ahead with our corrective words, we need to pause and really ask what the child’s state of mind is, allowing our demeanor to follow accordingly.
Giving Grace in the Face of Sin
Of course, a more grave offense—one that is based on more knowledge, is intentionally rebellious, or is hardhearted—does not necessarily means our demeanor should be hotheaded, rash, or shaming. Rather, we should see it as an opportunity to share the gospel with our kids. Even when our child’s sin is great, we must remember that God’s grace is greater (Romans 5:20).
No, Not All Sins Are Equal…
Believing God does not see all sins the same can be liberating. It frees us up to react to our own sin, the sins of our kids, and the sins we see in the world appropriately.
It makes me pause and really think about my reactions—do my passions, my volume, my intensity, and my choice of words reflect that I know the difference between sins of ignorance and foolishness and sins of hardheartedness and rebellion?