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.