I recently had a conversation with someone that went something like this:
A: "He (a pastor) won't let me serve as a deacon."
Me: "What do you think is the reason?"
A: "He just wants his friends on the board so he can control everything."
Me: "What does he say is the reason?"
A: "He says it's because I'm living with (my girlfriend), but I know it's not that, because if it
were, everybody on the board would have to resign, because we're all sinners. Sin is
sin, right? And one sin isn't worse than another."
We talked at great length about a number of things, most of which centered around the last comment. It's one we've all heard and possibly repeated. The statement, however, has only a slight connection with truth, and that only in a context in which it is rarely used.
So let's talk about the context in which the statement IS true. It is completely biblical to say that all sin separates us from God. Sin is anything we do that falls short of complete perfection, and heaven is a place for utter holiness. No darkness, no hint of sin, can enter, and once our spirits are marred by sin, they are unfit for heaven. And we all sin, the Bible says. It doesn't matter if the transgression is a lie told to spare someone's feelings, theft of a piece of cake from the refrigerator at work, pedophilia, meditation on impure thoughts, or murder. The blot on our lives immediately -- as soon as the sin is committed -- separates us from God eternally and earns for us physical death as well. The type of sin doesn't matter, so in this sense, it is true that all sin is the same. The eternal consequence is the same. (I also can't let this opportunity go without saying here that Jesus Christ makes a way for us to change our eternal destination. If you don't know this assurance, please contact us for more information.)
What is not true, however, is the sense in which the statement is usually made -- that there are no degrees of sin, that all iniquity is equally grievous to God or serious in nature. There is absolutely nothing in Scripture that supports this idea. In fact, it says the opposite. A cursory reading of the Old Testament reveals that God didn't prescribe the same punishment for all transgressions. When handing down the Law, He didn't say everyone who lies should be put to death, or that the murderer should have to pay money to the family of the man or woman murdered. He said if someone steals, he or she should make restitution, but the person who takes the life of another should be put to death. Consequences ranged from restitution, sacrifice, or ritual bathing to exile, mutilation, or capital punishment, depending on the offense.
Additionally, the New Testament speaks to degrees of sin. In Matthew 11, Jesus told His
followers that those who rejected the gospel would be judged more severely than Sodom and Gomorrah, seeming to indicate that we will be judged based on the amount of light, or
revelation, that we have been given. James, also, testifies to greater judgment for some, saying not everyone should aspire to be teachers, because they will be "judged more strictly" than others. Because God is perfectly just, if He judges certain sins more severely than others, it is because the sins are more egregious.
It is no small thing, in fact, to murder someone. Mankind was the only created thing that was made in the image of God. Killing a plant, a whale, or even a beloved dog is not the same thing as hating God enough to kill something that reflects Him. It is also no trivial matter to mock or alter the institution of marriage, a holy institution that reflects a heavenly truth. The consequences for these things are great, because they are abominations.
So what's the harm in saying all sins are the same? Apathy. People who believe a lie is the same as murder, that failure to return a book is the same as adultery, will be people who excuse away all sin. Rather than thinking, "Wow. Failure to return a book must be really bad" we tend to focus in the other direction -- "Adultery must not be that bad. After all, it's no worse than my library book being late." Pretty soon, we're excusing away embezzlement from the church, adultery, homosexuality, and a host of other sins as "no worse than anything I've done." I'm of the firm belief that there aren't many lies that have done as much to harm to Christian congregations as the widely-circulated falsehood that all sins are equal in severity. It has generated an apathy and "anything goes" attitude unbefitting the Bride of our holy Christ.
Christians should be people who are increasingly conformed to the image of our Savior. We should absolutely be putting away trangressions like theft and sexual sins, but we should also be working on those smaller offenses like not speaking disrespectfully or abstaining from thinking selfish or bitter thoughts. Putting off all these behaviors and attitudes makes us a fit bride for Christ, ready at any moment for His glorious return.
Father, I ask in the name of Jesus Christ that You reveal to me if I've become lackadaisical in my attitude toward sin, especially my own. Help me to see it as You see it and to have the attitude toward it that You have.
TRUTH FOR TODAY: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. -- Romans 12:2 (NIV)