Are All Sins Equal?

Have you ever heard the claim that all sins are the same in the sight of God? Perhaps a parent will try to help a child see that their disobedient attitude is a big problem, and they will tell the child that their disrespect is as bad as stealing. Or, perhaps you will hear a Christian trying to prevent hateful actions toward people of certain lifestyle choices, and they will argue that one sin is just as bad as any other—we are all guilty, after all.


But should we assume that all sins are exactly equal? Does God view lying as the same as murder, petty theft as the same as child abuse, starting a quarrel at home as the same as starting a war? The problem is, we have not defined enough terms to answer this question with accuracy. There is certainly a sense in which all sins are equal. But, there is also, most certainly, a sense in which all sins are not even close to equal. And, thus, I would argue that saying with confidence that all sins are the same in God’s sight is a very bad idea.


First, let’s consider how all sins are alike. Since most Christians seem to believe that line, how are they correct? All sins are equal in the sense that all sins violate the law of God and make us guilty of rebellion against God. All sins are alike in that their proper penalty is eternal death and the wrath of God. All sins are alike in that, if they go unforgiven, they will separate us from the Lord forever.


Matthew 5:21-22- 21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.


James 2:10 – For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.


Romans 6:23- For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.


When we consider that all sin separates us from God and violates the basic duty that we have to obey and honor God, yes, all sins are the same. To disrespectfully snap at your spouse or to commit murder both treat people in ways that God has commanded against. Both say to God, “I will do things my way and not yours.” Both oppose the Lord and earn his wrath and judgment if not forgiven. And no person can claim innocence before God by pretending that they did wrong, but not the big wrong that actually ought to get them in trouble.


However, there is also a clear pattern of teaching in Scripture that all sins are not equal. This is why certain behaviors in the Old Testament law system merited a time of separation from the community while others carried the death penalty. Or, from Leviticus 4, we can see that certain sins required a different level of sacrifice and a different placement of the sacrifice’s blood than did others. Thus, we can see that God did not view the sins as exactly the same.


In Leviticus 4, we have a set of provisions regarding the sins of people with different levels of influence. If a sin was committed by a high priest (Lev. 4:1-12) or by the community as a whole (Lev. 4:13-21), the offering had to be a bull, a costly sacrifice. The blood was carried into the tent and sprinkled before the screen between the holy place and the holy of holies, getting right up next to the presence of God. The blood of this offering was also to be placed on the incense altar inside the holy place, showing the depth of the need for forgiveness.


However, if the sin was committed by a political leader (Lev. 4:22-26), his offering was to be a male goat, not the bull. If the sin was committed by a common person (Lev 4:27-35), the offering was a female goat or lamb. The blood of these offerings was to be dealt with at the altar for burnt offerings in the court of the tabernacle, not taken into the holy place. And, the priests could actually eat of the meat of these offerings, though God forbad the priests to eat of the offerings whose blood was taken into the holy place (Lev. 6:29-30). 


What should we learn from the different standards for offerings in Leviticus 4? Of course, we can see that the Lord is wonderfully gracious, actually forgiving sin. We should learn that the Lord is gracious, lowering the cost of the offering for the weaker and less influential. We should see that, the more authority and influence a person has, the more damage that person can do by sinning. But we must also understand that there is something different about different sins. Sins that do more harm require different treatment.


So, are all sins the same? No, not if you are being silly enough to pretend that an angry word and murder are exactly the same thing, that one is no more significant than the other. That was not the point Jesus was making in the Sermon on the Mount, nor was it the point that James was making when he said to break the law at one point makes us guilty of it all. Different crimes require different punishments.


And, yes, all sins are the same when you realize that every sin, even the smallest, is a violation of our duty to live holy lives before the Lord. He is perfect, and his standard is perfection. For us to violate that standard makes us guilty of rebellion against the holiness of God. Such rebellion earns the wages of sin, death and hell, if we do not come under the grace of God in the perfect sacrifice and resurrection of Christ.