“A sin is a sin is a sin.”
Have you ever heard that? Have you ever said that? The idea is, while we tend to think of some sins as really bad, and others as no big deal, all sins are the same in God’s eyes. From little white lies to serial murders, every sin is simply a sin when we stand before the Almighty Judge.
But is this true? The not-so-satisfying, but hopefully clarifying answer is, yes and no.
In one sense, it is true that all sins are the same. For example, James 2:10 shows us that it only takes one sin to condemn us. Paul tells us in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death, no matter what sin that may be.
Furthermore, we must not make peace with any sin, no matter how “small” we may perceive it to be. Spiritual fools believe they can carry fire next to their chest but not be burned (Prov. 6:27). Paul tells us to “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:14), and that there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality among those who seek to imitate God (Eph. 5:1-3).
C.S. Lewis is helpful here:
“That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible."1
In other words, make peace with “small” sins now and you will fall to larger sins later. As God told Cain, “Sin is crouching at the door. It’s desire is to have you.” (Gen. 4:7)
But if we are to be honest with the teachings of the Bible, we cannot and we must not say that all sins are equal in God’s eyes. It is simply not true when you look at the evidence.
On a number of occasions Jesus spoke in a way that shows us God does in fact consider some sins as worse than others. For example, his words to Pilate just before he was condemned to the cross, “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 mine) Or, consider his comments about degrees of punishment in hell in places like Matthew 10:15 and Luke 12:47-48. And we must not forget the one sin that Jesus pronounced unforgivable—blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:31-32).
Jesus also teaches that there are some commandments that are more important than others, implying that disobeying these would be worse than disobeying the others. In Matthew 22:37-40 he tells us the greatest and second greatest commands, and in Matthew 23:23 he says there are "weightier matters of the law."
Finally, the Apostle John wrote, “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.” (1 John 5:16-17) While we may not be able to explain exactly what these sins are, we can confidently conclude, at minimum, that he was saying some sins are worse than others.
Again, as usual, I find C.S. Lewis especially helpful and clarifying here:
"If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting; the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither."2
In other words, there are sins of the flesh that we may commit in a moment of weakness, or that unbelievers may give full vent to in their ignorance and pleasure-seeking, but these do not bring the wrath of God like the sins that come from spiritual pride or hatred.
So, there is a sense in which all sin is equal. However, if we want to be as biblical as possible with our language and our beliefs, we must acknowledge that not all sins are the same in the eyes of God.
1 Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis (Kindle loc. 1660)
2 Mere Christianity, (Kindle loc. 1330)