Post Author: Bill Pratt
In a sense, yes, but in another sense, no. Evangelicals often point out that all sins will send you to hell, that God demands moral perfection, so whether you steal a stick of chewing gum or murder your spouse, both sins will equally damn you. This is really just a way of explaining that all mankind sins, and thus all mankind is in need of a savior from that sin. It is, in other words, an evangelistic appeal more than anything else.
But when we talk about sin, we’re not always evangelizing. Sometimes we’re admonishing Christians who are already saved, and other times we’re debating public morality in the context of legislation. In these cases, stating that all sins are the same is hardly helpful.
Leaving the issue of evangelization aside, we all intuitively know that some sins are worse than others. Look at our legal system. The punishment for stealing a stick of gum is quite different from the punishment for killing your spouse. There is a wide range of punishments, from a $100 fine to the death penalty, all depending on how serious your crime is.
When we punish our children, the same rule applies. Little Johnny may be grounded for several weeks if he makes an “F” on his report card, but he may only be sent to his room for an hour for swatting his sister on the back of the head. Again, Mom and Dad know that all sins are not the same.
But what about the Bible? Is there support for the view that all sins are not equal in Holy Scripture? Yes, actually there is.
Let’s look at the words of Jesus. In Matt. 23:23, Jesus scolds the Pharisees for neglecting “the more important matters of the law.” If there are more important matters of the law, than there are less important matters of the law, and thus a moral law hierarchy.
In Matt. 5:19 Jesus refers to breaking the “least of these commandments,” again indicating a hierarchy.
In Matt. 22:34-40, an expert in the law asks Jesus about the greatest commandment. Jesus’ response isn’t, “Silly man! All of the laws are equal!” No, he tells him that the greatest command is to love God and the second greatest command is to love your neighbor. Clearly the man who loves his neighbor but does not love God is committing the greater sin. God comes first.
In John 19:11, Jesus tells Pilate that “the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” If there is a greater sin, then there must be lesser sins.
What about the apostle Paul? He says in 1 Cor. 13:13 that the greatest virtue is love. If there is a greatest virtue, then there must be lesser virtues. Paul also tells Timothy in 1 Tim. 1:15 that Paul is the worst sinner. But if all sins are equal, then there can be no worst sinner.
In 1 John, the apostle John informs us that there is sin that leads to death, and other sins that do not lead to death. Clearly some sins are worse than others.
In part 2 of this post, we’ll look at the practical consequences of some moral laws being greater than others.