"All Sins are Equal in God's Sight" . . . And Other Stupid Statements

Added to the “and other stupid statements series.”

During my ordination, one of the questions that I was asked by a seminary professor was “Are all sins equal in the sight of God?” I hesitated. Not because I did not have a strong opinion on this, but because I was not sure what the answer was that he was looking for. Are all sins equal in the sight of God? My ordination may have depended on the answer.

It is very common within popular evangelicalism to answer this question in the affirmative. This was one of the main assumptions in a book that I just recommended last week. Most find this theological concept very appealing and accept it, I am afraid to say, without doing much homework.

I think this tendency to assume that all sins are equal in the sight of God comes by means of three influences.

1) A reaction by Protestants against the Roman Catholic distinction between mortal sins (sins that kill justifying grace) and venial sin (sins of a lesser nature that do not kill justifying grace).

2) A tendency within our evangelistic church culture to express common ground with unbelievers—i.e., if all sins are equal in God’s sight, then your sin is not worse than any other. This way we are not coming across as judgmental or condescending.

3) Some biblical passages that have been interpreted in such a way (discussed below).

I don’t believe, however, that all sin is equal in God’s sight. I do believe that telling people that it is does serious damage to people’s understanding of the character of God and of the seriousness of certain sins. There are many reasons for this, but let me start with a reductio ad absurdum and them move to a biblical argument.

I often ask people who say that all sin is equal in the sight of God if they live according to their theology. Think about this. If all sin is really equal in the sight of God, and one really believes this, then God’s consternation and anger will be equal for whatever sin we commit. Equally important is the fact that our relational disposition before God should suffer equally from the conviction of the Holy Spirit for all sins. Most Christians understand what it means to have a conscience weighed down by unrepentant sin. But this weighing down normally only comes from those sins that we perceive to be more severe. If it is true, however, that all sin is equal in the sight of God and one actually lived according to that theology, then they should be just as troubled spiritually and just as repentant before God when they break the speed limit as when they commit adultery. After all, breaking the speed limit, even by 1 mph, is breaking the law and breaking the law is sin (Rom 13).

But nobody does this. We all see speeding down the road as water under the bridge of God. Apparently our conscience bears witness that it is not as bad as other things, even if we confess differently. Either that or the ability for our theology to actually affect the way we believe and think is non-functional in this situation.

Next (and more importantly) I think that it is biblical and necessary to say that some sins are more grievous in the sight of God than others. This also translates into the non-politically correct assumption that some people are sinners to a greater degree than others. Even though Protestants may not agree with the theology behind the Roman Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sins, there are many instances in the Scriptures where degrees of sin are distinguished.

1. Christ tells Pilate that the Jewish leaders have committed a worse sin than him, saying, “He who has handed me over to you has committed the greater sin” (Jn. 19:11, emphasis mine).

2. Certain sins in the law are distinguished in a particular context as an abomination to God, implying that others are not as severe (e.g. Lev. 18:22; Deut. 7:25, Deut. 23:18, Isa. 41:24).

3. Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is set apart as a more severe sin than blasphemy of the Son (Matt. 12:31)

4. Proverbs 6:16-19 lists particular sins in such a way as to single them out because of their depraved nature, separating them from others.

5. There are degrees of punishment in Hell depending on the severity of the offense (Lk. 12:47-48).

6. Christ often evaluates the sin of the Pharisees as greater than the sins of others. You strain out a gnat while you swallow a camel (Matt. 23:24). If all sins are equal, Christ’s rebuke does not make any sense. (See also Lk. 20:46-47)

7. Similarly, Christ also talked about the “weightier things of the law” (Matt. 23:23). If all sins are equal, there is no law (or violation of that law) that is “weightier than others.” They are all the same weight.

8. Unforgiveness is continually referred to as a particularly heinous sin (Matt. 6:14-15; 18:23-35).

So where does this folk theology come from? Most people would refer to Christ’s comments in the Sermon on the Mount. Most particularly, reference is made to Matt. 5:27-28 as justification for this way of thinking.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall not commit adultery’” but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matt. 5:27-28 27).

Is there a difference in the eyes of God between thinking about adultery and actually doing it? Absolutely. If we say anything other than this, I believe we do damage to God’s character and encourage the act based upon its premonition. The point Christ makes in Matt. 5:28 is not that lust and the actual act are equal, but that they both violate the same commandment, even if the degrees of this violation differ. Thus, Christ was telling people – and particularly the religious establishment of the day that thought they were safe because they had fulfilled the letter of the law – that the law runs much deeper. The spirit of the law is what matters. Therefore, if you have ever lusted, you have broken the sixth commandment. If you have ever hated your brother, you have broken the fifth commandment (Matt. 5:22). But, again, the breaking of the principles of the commandment is the issue, not the degree to which it is broken.

This is the same argument that James makes in Jam. 2:10 when he says “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” He is not equating all sin, but showing how any violation of the law, no matter how small, is still breaking the whole of the law because the law is connected to such a degree.

Think about this (another reductio): if you believe that adultery and lust are equal in the sight of God, then here are the consequences: any man or woman can justify divorce based upon the fact that in Matt. 5:32 Christ condemns divorce except for marital infidelity. All they need to do is make the safe assumption that their spouse has lusted to some degree during their marriage. This will make their divorce justified and biblical. In the same way, if a man were to lust after a woman on the internet, he might as well commit the actual act since in God’s eyes he already has. Or (I am rolling), if you have ever lusted after a girl, then you are under God’s mandate to marry her since in God’s eyes you are one with her (1 Cor. 6:16).

I think that this way of thinking is not only wrong biblically, but it also has repercussions that lead to a distorted worldview and to discrediting the integrity of God and the Gospel of Christ.

It is true. All people are sinners (Rom. 3:23). All people are sinners from birth. But not all sin is equal.

I think this is a safe way to stay humble and accurately represent the biblical witness:

While not all people sin to the same degree, we all share in an equally depraved nature.

In other words, no one is less of a sinner because of an innate righteousness about which they can boast. All people have equal potential for depravity because we are all sons of Adam and share in the same depravity, even if we don’t, due to God’s grace, act out our sinfulness to the same degree.

If you disagree with this, just think—really think—about what you are saying about God. You are saying to an unbelieving world that your God is just as angry about the act of going 56 in a 55 as he is about the act of one who rapes and murders a six-year-old girl. Do you really want to go there? Do you really think this position is sufficiently supported to justify such a belief? Can you really defend it? If the Bible teaches it, fine: we go with the Bible and not with our emotions or palatability decoder. But I don’t believe that a viable case can be made for letting our theology argue for such a belief. I can’t think of many more things in Evangelical pop-theology that is more wrong, more damaging, or more misrepresentative of God’s character and the nature of sin.

I answered with the above answer during my ordination. I was relieved when I saw the approval of the ordination committee. They were all concerned that I might be one who, even with seminary training, retained this belief that most Evangelicals have. I have often wondered whether or not they would have passed me if I had answered according to the traditional Evangelical folklore, saying that all sins are equal in the sight of God.

99 Responses to “"All Sins are Equal in God's Sight" . . . And Other Stupid Statements”

  1. Michael,

    I agree with what you are saying. I believe, though, that many would make the distinction that all sin is equally WRONG, while it is not all equally BAD. It is all an offense before a holy God and worthy of condemnation to hell, though as you have pointed out there are varying degrees of the offense of the sin and the consequences.

  2. This was definitely worth reading. If, 5 minutes ago, someone had asked me if all sin was equal in the sight of God, I probably would have hesitantly given the standard evangelical answer of yes, though not sure how to articulate how its not really yes.

    I’m glad that I somehow stumbled on your blog, because your posts are solid. Keep it coming.

  3. I always assumed that there is an implied “for purposes of salvation” before “all sin is equal in God’s eyes”.

  4. CMP,

    Astute observations. I agree that this commonly taught theology often gives a false picture of the degrees of sin, as well as a false sense of security.

    And, certainly I think we also have to distinguish between personal sin, which we think often consider harmless simply because we aren’t caught at it at the time we commit it , and therefore don’t deal with it until we are forced to by having to face more serious consequences of our actions.

    An example would be us chronically going a few miles over the speed limit, and not getting ticketed, or thinking we’re really harming anyone by doing it. So, it’s no big deal to us except if and when in doing this we someday harm someone else, or get arrested ourselves. Then we have to face it, but unfortunately so do the other people we involve. What we thought was okay, and a minor infraction to begin with, has now resulted in major consequences to ourselves and others, such as someone being maimed or killed, or being involved in a serious accident.

    It is too bad, I often think, that we can’t recognize and deal with our sins when they are small, before having to face the music when we hurt someone else in a big way, or suffer serious consequences ourselves.

    That’s the downside to the teaching you are speaking of, that all sin is equal in God’s eyes. Certainly, we should all be able to readily see the human cost and the consequences are not.

  5. THANK god I don’t go to church with you.

  6. Michael: ‘Think about this. If all sin is really equal in the sight of God, and one really believes this, then God’s consternation and anger will be equal for whatever sin we commit.’

    I agree with the main point of your essay, but I wonder about the above quote. Maybe it’s some comfort to believe that God isn’t quite as angry about some things as others. God does seem to spend a lot of time being angry (He was angry with the Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years), and for good reason of course. There is much to make even us angry.

  7. I agree with the basic premise, but you missed the main verse people use to equate this, and because of that you miss the point of such a statement.

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

    Regardless of the sin, the ultimate wage is death.

  8. So after drawing your conclusion, can you now tell us, what God thinks are the lesser sins, and why this would be the case. If not then the whole exercise is futile. There is only one sin that is unforgivable, blasphemy.

  9. Well, for starters, I would say that going 36 in a 35 is not as bad as rape and murder!

  10. Glad you feel that way, but God is all about keeping your soul from being separated from his spirit. Thus the flood, and then Jesus’s sacrifice, in the end it’s not how many people you kill, it’s killing that’s the sin. We are all guilty of sin by Eve’s failing in the Garden of Eden, we are born into sin. If that’s enough to separate us from God then why worry if you truly believe in the salvation of Christ.

  11. I’ve often countered this kind of thinking with the analogy of a felony. The commission of any sort of felony will make you a felon and get you sent to prison. In that sense, all felonies are equal in that they shift your status as a person and where you’re heading. In another sense, clearly not all felonies are equal. Stealing a car and serial murder are obviously radically different in degree of offense, but both have the same consequence to an extent. This kind of analogy, though limited, has produced valuable discussion about the nature of sin and identity (e.g. As a felony labels you a “menace to society”, sin labels you an “enemy of God.”), and also about the nature of relative good and evil (e.g. Even felons have pecking orders of who is decent and who is scum).

  12. Is it really about the severity of the sins committed or is it more about the condition/desease of sin that is behind us committing these deeds?

    If it is about our condition, then we all fall equally short of the standard God sets, namely perfection. How will it affect your thesis if I consider that it is only by God’s grace that I am not a rapist/murder, but only occationally break the speed limit?

  13. Buks, none at all. That is what I believe. But this post is not necessarily dealing with that.

  14. The poll at the beginning is very telling of the mindset here. Two black and white answers. The first allows people to judge other peoples sins. The second allows people to decide Gods intention. The third would be more intellectually honest, given we are having a ten page discussion on the subject and how the bible might be inter petted.

  15. Don’t we need to define “sin”, before deciding if some types are worse than others?

  16. Am very grateful for this timely post. I have a woman in my life who is seeking to use this very argument to justify her desire to leave a troubled marriage. I disagreed using some of these same words…but certainly not put together so eloquently. You’ve helped me today. Thanks.

  17. I thank God for your blog posts in this series!

  18. In a sense, it’s a moot point against the backdrop of eternity. There are two kinds of sin. There is the sin God forgives and there is the sin God does not forgive, acoording to the Lord Jesus Christ. To every person that is of the most immediate importance.

    To those who reject Christ, they remain under God’s condemnation. Regardless of the extend of their sin, and the badness of their sin, God’s condemnation is a cover out from under which they will never come. If they occupy a higher level of hell….that is really only an academic point, at least from our earthly vantage.

    To those who receive Christ, eternal life begins now and continues into heaven. There are hints that at the judgment seat of Christ there will be varying size of rewards (and for some no tangible treasure other than entry into heaven). But there will be no condemnation; so the subject of sin, against the backdrop of heaven, is really only germane in the effect it has against the size of one’s pile of treasure.

    But what of our continuing earthly life? Would the egregiousness of sin have any bearing here? And I think that’s where we can pay attention. Actually, we do already. The penalty for going a mile over the speed limit is considerably different than the penalty for murder, or even armed robbery. That is as it should be.

    Otherwise, in terms of spiritual condition, the badness of a sin, whether great or small, still requires the same antidote — confession, cleansing and repentance.

  19. Nothing personal Tiffany, but I’ve searched my whole life so far, for a inkling (not from God) but of God. As of yet, I have not found it. I am very tried of people who claim they know it personally, what it thinks, what it feels, what it wants from them, what it wants from others, that they talk to God every day and it talks back. One of us is being intellectually dishonest with ourselves. If I find God, and I hope I do, it will have to mean something more than the current cheer leading seasons that the churches lead us in today. The bible speaks of faith that can move mountains, and make Jesus reappear, does this happen at your church?

    I think Rick has hit the nail on the head, what is sin? It obviously came into existence (as a nature anyway) at the time of the creation of the universe. Some would argue God created it. But it was not of his nature to do so. Gods chosen angel ,”Satan” fell to it, and so the battle for souls began. But what is it, that the all powerful cannot. control it? Science speaks of dark matter and dark energy as an invisible source that makes up 90% of the known universe. We can’t detect it, but know it’s there by it’s effect on the solid matter of the universe. Any serious thoughts?

  20. It seems to me that we are all equally depraved but not equally sinful.

    But that’s just me.

  21. I believe that “super-sized” sin, compared to tiny sins, only breeds a sense of self righteousness, or some thinking of themselves as better than the next. (I am glad that I am not as bad as that guy!)
    it also starts leading us into a “works based” faith.
    What happens next, is that we get side-tracked from what the definitions of sin are, (one being the falling short of God’s standards)…
    The penalty of sin…death.
    The payment of sin…Jesus.
    The beauty of it all, is that Jesus died for both the tiniest of sins, and the most horrific. He gave up His life, even for the “lesser” sins.
    Those believing that they are not “really bad sinners”, should give thanks to the Lord for paying such a high price for such a tiny sin.
    Like Paul, I put no confidence in the flesh…(please read Philippians ch 3).
    In closing, it is always going to come back to the condition of the heart, and what comes from it.
    Also, not all sins will have the same physical consequences as others.

    Good post!

    All for Jesus!

  22. @oldman: To your thoughts about mountain-moving faith, I believe that most thoughtful biblical scholars, even ones that seek God diligently, would put those statements of Jesus within the idea of hyperbole, a figure of speech where exaggeration is used for dramatic effect. Jesus is quite fond of it.

    @Bill, I am sorry if this comes off as judgmental, but please re-read your post and consider your approach. If you disagree then please do so kindly. Michael is a good man with a heart for Christ; he is more Reformed than I am and we disagree occasionally, but name calling is not at all what the Lord would have us do. John 13:35 is pretty clear on the issue to me.

    A good discussion all the way around, but keep the punches above the belt everyone!

  23. You ARE going to eventually turn this series into a book…right?


  24. John: Jesus used speech for dramatic effect? I kinda figured that’s what the miracles were for, you know the walking on water, etc.
    The bible clearly tells us if three or more believers request Christ to appear he will do so, as he did in the bible. Apparently none exist today. Either we have lost the true message, or our faith is put on.
    People only believe because they want the reward or are afraid of the punishments, that God promises. I think God has seen through us.

  25. Whether the proposition is stupid depends on the context or background.

    The proposition is only stupid if one assumes a discussion about punishment in hell and one believes that there are degrees of punishment in hell. However, not all Christians believe that there are degrees of punishment in hell. For example, in answer to a question about whether there are degrees of punishment in hell, Pat Robertson answered:

    “The thing you don’t realize is that sin is sin. It is probably no worse to kill somebody than it is to slander him or her. If you slander their reputation, you are killing them. But slander seems to be cool in most churches. There is all kind gossip and slander going on, and everybody thinks it is OK, whereas if someone does something promiscuous in the sexual way, they are shunned. Sin is sin because it is all an offense against God. I don’t know anything about venial sins and mortal sins and peccadillos. I know our friends in the Catholic Church categorize them, but I see nothing in the Bible that indicates that. We are sinners, and the wages of sin is death — period. Dante had various levels of hell in his writings, The Divine Comedy. I just don’t believe in that. I don’t believe it is biblical.”

    Second, the statement would not be stupid in a discussion about the moral weight of sin. It is a standard argument in discussions of the atonement that sin is against God, who is infinite. The reasoning is that any sin against an infinite God requires an infinite punishment and an equivalent payment for the penalty.

    Third, as has been noted above, the statement would not be stupid in a discussion about what separates us from God. All sin, any sin, every sin, falls short of the mark and separates us from God and results in the wage of death. Even a white lie would separate us from God.

    Hence I don’t think that the statement is necessarily stupid, nor do I believe that it entails the repercussions for our view of God, etc., that CMP claims. It certainly does not entail that a person will be more likely to actually commit adultery because he/she views it as equivalent to thinking about it. Since both are sin, what follows instead is that a person will avoid both. Or having committed one sin (thought) a person will not compound it by doing a second (carrying out the deed) at a time subsequent to the thought.

    It is also not the case that all christians, or even all evangelicals, believe that infidelity justifies divorce. John Piper, for one, does not. I don’t either, though not for all the same reasons as Piper. Hence, the view that all sins are equal does not necessarily lead to a justification of divorce.

    Regarding speeding, CMP writes, “Apparently our conscience bears witness that it is not as bad as other things, even if we confess differently. Either that or the ability for our theology to actually affect the way we believe and think is non-functional in this situation.” I would argue to the contrary that…

  26. continuation of my post 26.

    I would argue to the contrary that the problem is a defective conscience. What a shocker! To think that our conscience might be an unreliable guide to what is true!


  27. Regarding the definition of sin, is sin a state of being, an action, a thought, an intention?

    Scot McKnight writes:

    “John Goldingay, who has more good ideas than most, has a nice piece on how “sin” is described in the Bible: rebellion, infidelity, disloyalty, ingratitude, getting dirty, wandering, trespass, transgression, and failure ( “missing the mark”). (See Atonement Today, 39-45.)
    It follows then that the problem concerns the human response to God (not just his will)…”

    Scot, referring to a book by Mark Biddle, also writes:

    “Fundamentally, sin is the failure of relationship with God by not being what we are meant to be: authentic humans, Eikons, not God.”

    If that is true, then determining what actions are the worse sin, we miss the point that the sin has already taken place. Therefore, we are just determining the worse action/offense from that sin.

    So is that core sin (breaking relationship with God) always equal, and/or is the isse of degree one of thoughts and actions that we add to the core sin?

  28. Good points, rick (re post 28).

    By focussing on the manifestations and effects of sin, as CMP does in his post, one misses the essential unity of sin, as noted by rick.

    The manifestations and effects of sin depend on the contexts and opportunities for sin, and on the desires that one allows to sit at one’s doorway. But the damage is already done by the time we get to the performance of sin.

    Nevertheless, what are we to make of our intuition that some sins are more heinous than others? Is that merely dysfunctional conscience, shared with nonchristians, or is it a true intuition from God?

    Thomas Watson, a 17th century puritan, wrote this about degrees of sin:

    “Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous? Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.

    ” ‘He that delivered me unto thee, has the greater sin.’ John 19: 11. The Stoic philosophers held that all sins were equal; but this Scripture clearly holds forth that there is a gradual difference in sin; some are greater than others; some are ‘mighty sins,’ and crying sins.’ Amos 5: 12; Gen 18: 21. Every sin has a voice to speak, but some sins cry. As some diseases are worse than others, and some poisons more venomous, so some sins are more heinous. ‘Ye have done worse than your fathers, your sins have exceeded theirs.’ Jer 16: 12; Ezek 16: 47. Some sins have a blacker aspect than others; to clip the king’s coin is treason; but to strike his person is a higher degree of treason. A vain thought is a sin, but a blasphemous word is a greater sin. That some sins are greater than others appears, . . .”

    However, the only implication of this belief that Watson notes is that a more heinous sin brings greater and more severe judgment and punishment both in this life and the next:

    “Use. You see all sins are not equal; some are more grievous than others, and bring greater wrath; therefore especially take heed of these sins. ‘Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins.’ Psa 19: 13. The least sin is bad enough; you need not aggravate your sins, and make them more heinous. He that has a little wound will not make it deeper. Oh, beware of those circumstances which increase your sin and make it more heinous! The higher a man is in sinning, the lower he shall lie in torment.”


  29. It seems when we look at the “actions” of sin we separate them into different degrees of bad or worse. However if we take what Christ says in Mat 22:36-40 into the mix things change. With God it is not so much the what we did as the why we did it.
    If a man drives 20 mph over the speed limit because there is a sale at Penny’s he gets a ticket. If the same man drives 20 mph over the speed limit because he is rushing his child to the hospital he is given a police escort. God sees the offense of the heart. We see the offense of the actions.

  30. The Bible to be sure, 1) suggests that those who “do not sin in small things” will carry the same habit forward, and not sin in larger things.

    And 2) Jesus adds that just thinking about adultery is like committing it.

    But has anyone considered the practical consequences of living like this? As practical matter, what we have here is totalitarianism; even, mind control. You aren’t even allowed to THINK about even a very, very, very tiny sin.

    Aside from the practical ugliness of this: is this total, totalitarian mind-control, consistent with other biblical theologies? Like for example, 1) a forgiving, “grace”ful lord?

    And parts of the Bible that 2) tell us not to be “righteous overmuch”?

    Or 3) those Old Testament passages, that suggest that Jesus himself sinned, when he worked on a Sunday/Sabbath? The commandment that told us not to work on a Sabbath, by the way, was in the Old Testament, backed by a death penalty for disobeying that; for even gathering or preparing food on that day (as Jesus’ disciples picked corn to eat on a Sabbath).

    No doubt, many people need to be scared into being good. And for some overemphasizing following every law is necessary.

    But then too, consider 4) those passages that warned that enforcing the “letter of the law” was not necessary or good.

    Particularly though, it is the utterly inflexible, dictator- like totalitarianism, the inflexible absolutism of this, that bothers me.

    Especially when 5) you consider that the New Testament’s new covenant, effectively dropped whole sections of Jewish “law.” Like honoring the Sabbath on a Saturday; honoring Jewish food restrictions; and instituting grace, forgiveness, over the death penalty for cooking a meal on a Sabbath.

  31. Joe,

    You have several times referred to this concept in the Bible of being “righteous overmuch”. Can you please tell me where this is? I can’t remember any verses that give this concept at all.

  32. Cheryl:

    Ecclesiastes. RSV.

  33. I remember when we were taught in sunday school that all sin was equal before God, it was in the context of their consequences. (that they would make you sinful before God)

    With regards the consequences, they are all equal.

    With regards to their effects, they are not all equal. Their earthly consequences vary.

    I guess as with all prooftexting, it is very easy to equivocate. If all that is left of the lesson is the prooftext “All sin is equal”, the point would have been lost.

    If not all sin is equal though, would people here think it moral and just for God to have nine compartments in hell? I’m just wondering where in the nine hells i would be if i wasn’t forgiven.

    As it is, i’m unsure how long i should be staying in purgatory if there was a purgatory.

  34. It seems to me that “degrees of sin” has a greater significance horizontally (i.e., vis a vis other people) than vertically (God). Having greater earthly punishments is a motivation for humans to treat each other better, and the motivation (punishment) would be in proportion to the seriousness of the horizontal affects (more punishment for murder than for stealing). There is a social regulation factor to the Old Testament laws.

    Of what value, however, is degrees of sin in relation to God? Does it require more or less atonement? Given that God is infinite, the usual evangelical explanation for an eternal hell is that any sin against an infinite God requires infinite punishment.

    Furthermore, how would degrees of punishment in hell even be of relevance if hell is everlasting? After a billion billion years in hell, with more to follow, is the “degree” of hell experienced each minute even relevant? If the worst thing about hell is the complete separation from God, isn’t that punishment the same for everyone?

    We may have an a moral intuition that there are degrees of sin, but there is a gulf between that intuition and the rest of our theology.


  35. Joe,

    I like this short commentary on this Ecc. passage:

    Obviously, as this commentary says, in light of all of the rest of Scripture, we can’t take this passage to literally mean that it is o.k. to sin to some degree–in this way not being “righteous overmuch.”

    I don’t know if that is what you were suggesting or not, but that is the idea I got from what you said.

  36. I concur with Jonathan (mostly). However, I have a bit of a challenge for CMP’s statements. Here’s why:

    Since God is Holy, He cannot tolerate sin. I think we all agree on that.

    If that is the premise, how would He be able to tolerate a small sin ? Will He tolerate small sins more than large sins ? And who determines what is small or large ? The Godly consequences of sin are separation from God. Call it hell.

    However, the human consequences of sin are indeed determined by the effect they have on others. Hence there are large sins and not-so-large sins. But imho they’re based on human impact, not Godly “tolerance” or “acceptance”.

    I think it’s dangerous to go down that path. Why ? If God considers some sins “lesser” than others, when does one cross the line ? With one ? That doesn’t sound just or merciful to me. Does one condemn their child to eternal damnation for “thinking about lying” ? Or do you punish him/her for actually lying ? If you accept there is a difference between the two, then you would mercifully let go of the “thinking about lying” piece wouldn’t you ? And if that is the case, well then a person is able to earn their salvation. Which is definitely against the salvation by grace alone doctrine. Only if both sins are of equal “value” and separate you eternally from God (or condemn you to hell if you so please), then salvation by grace alone makes sense. If God does apply two different weights to them… then there is a possibility of earning salvation by good behavior.

    Hence I do believe there is no difference in sins (with the one exception of blasphemy strictly called out in Scripture) as far as their consequences are concerned. However there is a difference I do believe in their earthly consequences. Murder itself being worse than the thought thereof. Adultery and lust ditto. Jealousy vs stealing as well. Etc…etc…

    I’m sure there’s an error in my reasoning somewhere, so feel free to shoot some holes in it.

    I’m sure there’s a loophole in that reasoning somewhere.

    In Him

  37. Joe,

    You said, “And 2) Jesus adds that just thinking about adultery is like committing it.

    But has anyone considered the practical consequences of living like this? As practical matter, what we have here is totalitarianism; even, mind control. You aren’t even allowed to THINK about even a very, very, very tiny sin.”

    Since God is the one that has created the world and laid out it’s rules and defined what sin is, why can’t He say that it is, in His eyes, committing adultery in the heart by lusting with the eyes? It is His definitions of sin we have to live by, not the ones we wish He had made. If we had made the rules as to what is sin and what is not, I’m sure they would probably be far different than His!

  38. Even better examples

    As father of a bunch of kids, I know I have mentioned “Do the dishes or you’re grounded” or “Clean your room or you’re not going anywhere” on occasion. My house, my rules… you’re welcome to move out once you’re 18 if you don’t like the rules. And my kids have called this “totally unfair and totalitarian !!” more than once ;-)


  39. Re post 38.

    Michael L raises good points, which are relevant to this topic. However, they were also specifically the subject of the “White Lies . . . and other stupid statements” post by CMP. I tried keeping the discussion on that specific topic with my early posts, but then the discussion turned to issues of Calvinism and white lies, and then to Calvinism alone because no one else was commenting except the people interested in that latter topic. So the thread got hijacked by a peripheral discussion (I confess guilt, since I entered a comment that I would “go with the flow” and switch to Calvinism as a topic, and then I just started replying to one commenter). As a result of the hijacking, CMP shut down that thread (I now plead contrition and repentance). Bottom line, I do thing Michael L’s comment is relevant to this thread as well.


  40. Michael L,
    I think there is a slight error in your reasoning and that is with the way your conceptualize sin. Your seem to think of sin as primarily something you do before you think of it as primarily something you are. I think a Biblical understanding of sin would reverse this conceptualization. Sin is primarily something we are and it is a result of this state of being that we commit individual acts of sin. As a result of the fall humans are born in a state of sin. The reason people ultimately go to hell is not because they have sinned, but because they have never repented of their sinful state and submitted to God. People go to hell because they were born in a state of rebellion against God and never lowered their fist.

  41. Several years ago, my pastor preached a sermon on sin and it stuck with me ever since. In the Bible, there are three different words that we translate with just one word, “sin.” One means “rebellion,” one means “miss the mark,” and one means “twisted or bent.” “Missing the mark” is nowhere near as serious as “rebellion,” IMHO.

  42. Michael (post 42)

    Valid comment, however in need for some clarification.

    I would love to have a conversation or thread to discuss the difference between transgression (i.e. the act) versus sin (i.e. the state) – cf Eph 2.1. Or for those Greek loving members, the difference between paraptoma vs hamartia.

    However, the conversation here is clearly about the acts of rebellion, not the state.

    That being said, the question then becomes whether we can resist acting on our inner state ? And IF (emphasis) we were able to resist from sinning, would be still be condemned ?

    As John1453 points out, this is inevitably going to lead us on a conversation about total depravity or not, or the Calvinist versus Arminian debate. Which we have enough of already. ;-)

    But if we stick to the question of the post on whether certain acts are more “serious” than others, I think it depends:
    1) In human eyes, certainly, based on the consequences.
    2) In Gods eyes ? He may have “grades” of sin, but I’m not so sure whether it matters.

    See, we tend to get this idea of gravity of acts of rebellion based on the consequences they invoke. If I take Rom 6:23 as an example, it doesn’t say whether it’s big ones or small ones. This should apply whether you go by the fact that you are born in a sinful state, whether it’s imputed on you because of Adam or because of the fact that you sin (most likely) before you can even properly talk. The fact of the matter is that before you even realize it, you’re a sinner separated from God. God being perfectly Holy and just, He cannot tolerate sin, hence “we’re children of wrath” (same Eph 2 passage). Whether that is a big sin or a small one. If God would tolerate sin, it would denounce the Holy character of God.

    Are there “grades” of transgressions ? Yes in human consequences, I don’t believe so in Godly consequences. But that’s my humble opinion once again.

    I hope it clarified a bit what I was trying to convey.

    In Him

  43. Blah !!! 2 typos I missed.

    On the transgression vs sin: See Eph 2:1, hence the Eph 2 reference later.

    Rom 6:13 should be Rom 6:23 .. duh !

    [Fixed – ed.]

  44. Cheryl:

    1) Thanks for your reference to an explication of “Be not righteous overmuch.” Still however, your reference seems to allow my understanding of Ecc. 7.16: “be good … ” but “don’t overdo it.” Some small sins are allowed, it seems in your source:

    QUOTE: “In the first, Solomon’s advice in the passage is part of what he has observed “under the sun.” In other words, it is a conclusion that one could reasonably draw if he excluded God from his thinking and based his judgment only on what he observed. It is a constant theme in the book that in this world, vice is not consistently punished and virtue is not consistently rewarded–and extreme virtue is hardly rewarded at all. From a this-worldly perspective (which the ending of the book rejects–See Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14), the conclusion seems logical: “Be a good person, but there’s no point in overdoing it.”

    In the second explanation, Solomon is dealing with a kind of striving for virtue that refuses to deal realistically with life as it is. This person refuses to accept or acknowledge his own limitations, believing arrogantly that, with just a little more effort, he could be the exception to Ecclesiastes 7:20. In his striving for wisdom, he fails to take into account that wisdom is ultimately unattainable (Ecclesiastes 7:24). Even that wisdom which a person does manage to attain doesn’t necessarily make him any happier (Ecclesiastes 1:18).

    Personally, I favor the second explanation. But either is possible.”

    2) As for Jesus’ telling us not to even THINK about sinning? That thinking about a sin and doing it, are the same? The severity of this, might suggest that it is one of those laws, small sins, that are indeed, not so important.

    Wouldn’t a God of Grace etc., ease up a little? Show forgiveness for very minor sins? Especially considering that many things Jesus himself did, were considered sins in the Old Testament; like working (healing, etc.) on a Sabbath. Wasn’t Jesus forgiven by God, for his apparent sins against the OT?

  45. Michael L:

    God can’t tolerate sins? What do you mean? God 1) created a universe in which sin was possible; and 2) God created all things, so he must have created Satan himself. While 3) sins continue every day.

    If God can’t tolerate sins, then he can’t tolerate his own actions.

  46. Joe,

    You quoted pretty much the whole article I linked word for word, except the one most telling sentence! It is: “This is a puzzling passage, but the way in which you are approaching it is healthy. Obviously we can’t understand the passage as encouraging sinful behavior. in view of so many clear Scripture passages to the contrary. Commentators tend to favor one of two possible explanations.”

    Notice: it can’t be encouraing sinful behavior in view of so many Scripture passages to the contrary!

    And unless you don’t believe Jesus is God or that the Bible is not telling what Jesus said accurately, I don’t know how you can get around the fact that He said to think about sin–to lust is to commit adultery in your heart, or to hate is to commit murder in your heart–are actually what God is saying here.

  47. Light M. on 29 Sep 2009 at 6:31 pm #

    Several years ago, my pastor preached a sermon on sin and it stuck with me ever since. In the Bible, there are three different words that we translate with just one word, “sin.” One means “rebellion,” one means “miss the mark,” and one means “twisted or bent.” “Missing the mark” is nowhere near as serious as “rebellion,” IMHO.

    I’m not sure what words your pastor preached about, but in Romans 5 Paul pretty much seems to use hamartia, paraptôma and parabasis (and perhaps also parakoê) interchangeably. I.e., there may not be a great deal of semantic difference between the different Greek words for “sin(s).” Any intended difference might be more dependent on the context in which they’re used than on the bare meanings of the words themselves.

  48. Joe

    All three your statements are true. But from those three to the conclusion is a bit of a leap.

    If God can’t tolerate sins, then he can’t tolerate his own actions.” God is not the one sinning. Satan sinned, Adam sinned, we sin. Unless you’re trying to imply God is sinning ?

    Let me clarify my statement: “Considering God is wholly just and Holy, it stands to reason that He cannot tolerate sin to be in His presence. Even though God created everything, it is the abuse of His creation that leads to sin. Example: Desire for your spouse is good. Lust for any other woman is not. Trying to find a job to work and provide for your family is good. Being obesessed with money, not so much.”

    I’m really not sure where you stand or where you’re gymnastics are leading ?

    Do you
    1) Believe there is a merit to what CMP is saying or
    2) Believe that there are differences betwen a small versus a big sin ?

    All I’ve read is accusing God and/or Christ of instituting a totalitarion mind-control regime and your understanding that Wouldn’t a God of Grace etc., ease up a little? Show forgiveness for very minor sins?

    I’ve heard too many people use that latter argument to self-justify behaviors that aren’t all that good or healthy. It’s slippery slope. Cheryl already pointed out in post #39, it’s His rules.. not ours.

    In Him


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