~ 19 February 2004 ~

Are All Sins the Same? Not Necessarily

If you’ve been in evangelical Christian circles for even a short while, you’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase, “all sin is the same in the eyes of God.” Aside from the explicit, it’s typically used to show that a Jared Bridges is in the same need of redemption as a Joseph Stalin. So far, so good. I’m not quite the scoundrel that Stalin is, but I’m nevertheless a scoundrel. My sin nature separates me from God in the same way that Stalin’s did. My only hope for deliverance from sin (however miniscule or major) is the grace of God through the sacrifice of Christ.

The problem occurs when this notion of “equality of sin” is carried from the sin nature into the realm of specific sins. For example, a recent New York Times article on the “emergent church” (a euphemism for the postmodern church trend) featured this from lay pastor Tim Lucas:

“We both preached about baptism recently,” Mr. Pendell said. “Tim used a film clip from `Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?’ I’ll say, `This is what the Bible says about baptism.’ He’ll talk about people’s lives and why they get baptized, then get around to telling what the Bible says about baptism. I’m speaking to people who know what the Bible says, so I don’t need to win them into it as much as he does.”

Mr. Lucas said that the dialogue gave him leeway to discuss topics like homosexuality and pornography in ways that might be divisive in a conventional sermon.

“If anything,” he said, “we talk about sin more because we’re more forthcoming about our own lapses.”

At the same time, Mr. Lucas said, unlike some traditional churches, “we don’t pretend there’s an invisible hierarchy of sins.”

“As we live in community, someone living a homosexual lifestyle doesn’t have any more issues before God than I do as a heterosexual man,” he said.

In Lucas’ view—a view I’ve often encountered—no one specific sin is worse than another. In this paradigm homosexual activity is no worse than a white lie. Such an egalitarian view of specific sin is dangerous and unbiblical.

A survey of the biblical text will show again and again that sins are of different magnitude. The lex talionis of Exodus 21:23-25 is a perfect example: “But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” (ESV) Retribution was to be exacted on the basis of the nature of the offense. “Eye for tooth” and “hand for eye” would not work because they do not represent equal not equal offenses.

This shows that all sins are not equal. How do we know from the Bible that some sins are worse than others? A good example is 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. Paul is writes here about sexual immorality in a way that clearly makes it more serious than other sins: “Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?”

I know these are just a couple of instances, but there are more like them throughout the Scripture. To say, like Mr. Lucas, that “someone living a homosexual lifestyle doesn’t have any more issues before God than I do as a heterosexual man,” is naive, dangerous, and harmful to homosexuals. Yes, we are all sinners in need of redemption. Yes, there are heterosexuals who sin sexually as much as homosexuals. However, neither of these premises negates the special attention that the Bible gives sexual sin.

No sinner is good enough to justify himself/herself before God. No matter if a person is a promiscuous homosexual or a “pretty good guy” who tells a white lie every now and then, both need God’s grace. This fact should not delude us into thinking that murdering someone carries the same weight as stealing a Snicker’s bar.

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6 Comments:

  1. Jeremy Pierce » 24 February 2004:

    This has long been one of my pet peeves about common evangelical presentations of the gospel. I agree with you 100% that sins are not all equally wrong. I do think it’s worth pointing out that there seems to be at least as much negativity about divorce as there is for homosexual sex/relationships, probably more. There’s also no explicit biblical command not to have sex with children. So the biblical record is not exhaustive about sin, and I’m not sure the amount of time spent on any sin is a guide to how bad it is as much as how prevalent it was at the time.

  2. liz church » 28 April 2004:

    Your scripture references do nothing to prove that there is a hierarchy of sins. “For all have sinned and fall short of hte glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” –Romans 3:23-24. What you have proved is that there is a hierarchy of sins in mans eyes. God DOES NOT label one sin worse than others. The reason we as humans feel that some are worse than others is because killing someone seems more difficult to ask for forgiveness than telling a lie. Anything is possible through Christ. To say the God sees one sin as greater than another is to say that he loves one more than another

  3. Jared Bridges » 28 April 2004:

    Liz,

    Thanks for the comment. I think you misunderstand my point (on at least one level). I agree that all sinners fall short of God’s glory. A white liar cannot justify himself any more than a serial killer. Justification comes through the grace of God alone.

    I disagree that the references I cited only show that some sins are worse in man’s eyes only. After all, it was God who inspired the text.

    You said, “To say the God sees one sin as greater than another is to say that he loves one more than another.”

    I’m sorry, but I don’t see the connection here. What does the degree of sin have to do with extent of God’s love?

    It’s helpful here to see the differences between justification [the work of God alone] and sanctification [God’s continuing process of making us holy]. With regards to justification, NONE are justified outside Christ, no matter what the sin. With regards to sanctification, it IS worse to sexually molest a child than it is to tell a white lie.

  4. Lisa » 19 May 2004:

    In John 19:11 Jesus states that …”the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” Jesus was stating here that there are sins that are worse than others. The fact remains, committing any sin makes one guilty of being a sinner and no less in need of God’s grace than anyone else. This is the element of truth in the idea that all sin is the same. All sins are not equal, but any sin at all will keep us separated from God without the forgiveness offered through Jesus Christ.

  5. jenniferlovesjesus » 11 March 2006:

    In NJ, Pastor Tim Lucas of the Liquid ministry is not considered a man of integrity because of his corrupt practices. He is also not an ordained Pastor. The Liquid ministry is diminishing because it does not preach core bible teachings.

  6. Mike Johnson » 6 February 2008:

    Bouncing through the internet, I found this blog, and I was interested at the comments you have made about Tim’s position. What is interesting to me, is that you have not shown that sexual is greater in the eyes of God, but that certain sins have greater consequence.

    You have made a typical mistake when trying to extrapolate (sp) someones heurmenutical position on any particalar topic. You don’t have but an artical or a part of a sermon to understand Tim’s position.

    Me on the other hand would say that actually Tim is well aware that sexual sin, and many other sin systems actually have different consequences, and in fact some can cause much more devistation with in ones life. This is because I have been an attender of liquid for almost 6 years now, and have seen various sermons on the subject of sin and it’s consequence.

    What Tim is saying, and Pastor Peter, is that he is stepping away from actually catorgorizing MY sin, and YOUR sin in a hiagharchy of sin. That is looking at the homosexual and saying that their depravaty is higher than my depravity. It doesn’t say that. Having more severe consequences does not equal me coming into judgement on where I stand in the eyes of God or anyone else. It does say that I can understand why sexual sin has so much more consequence then other sin when it comes to our relationship with Christ.

    We do get to judge our brother’s in Christ, but what I have loved about liquid is that there is an understanding of two brotherhoods. One is the all inclusive one that you and I belong in. But the early church knew nothing of the distant cultural ideas of “brother” that we have in America. The Brotherhood of Christianity was actually a full on honest completly open relationship with each other, where paul admits his own failings (I do what I do not want to do), and he rebukes them for their own sexual sin(in Corrinth). I don’t want to diminish the fact that you and I and other Christians who I do not know personally are in fact bonded in our relationship with God, I would and do not give any creedance to any thing you would say about my life. Not because I believe your more or less depraved than me, but because I don’t know you and we have not built a mutual trust together that is held in example through out scripture.

    Which is, Tim’s point. Telling someone that something is wrong has no creedance till they give you it. We can blog about it, we can assume it, we can even keep talking about it, but others have to give us the power for it to impact thier lives.

    So when we say we don’t believe there is an invisible hiarchy of sin, we are saying, we don’t believe that we get to look at your sin as any worse or better than my sin when it comes to the global account of sin. That doesn’t mean that we don’t believe there is a better way to live, but that we still understand that no matter how far along on this Journey with Christ our rightousness is still puss and blood filled rags. No matter what level of use they are on.

    I am sure though, that if your a critic of the emerging church, this will do very little to change your perspective. But, as I said, I don’t believe your opinion really would hold much creedance to me, because I haven’t given you such permission. I just like to rebuke these pop-christianity snipit peices that base their opinions on very little information.

    As far as Jennifer’s opinion:

    “In NJ, Pastor Tim Lucas of the Liquid ministry is not considered a man of integrity because of his corrupt practices. He is also not an ordained Pastor. The Liquid ministry is diminishing because it does not preach core bible teachings.”

    Your flat wrong. I would suggest you sight what his corrupt practices are, before making such blanket statements. This, at it’s core is exactly what gossip is, and is rebuked more times in Scripture than homosexuality. If there is a hiarchy of sin, Gossip is one of the top on the list Scripturally.

    Blessings to you all,

    Mike

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