One of the common sayings pulled out of the hat of the bible belt resident is, “All sin is equal in the eyes of God.” This generally follows what the one saying it would have perceived as judgment from the one they are saying it to. But is this question backed by scripture? Is all sin equal in the eyes of God?
What’s Going On
Let me paint with a broad stroke here: whenever these words leave someone’s mouth, there generally isn’t much thought behind it. What I mean is, the speaker doesn’t thoroughly understand the implications of what they are saying. I would wager that they really aren’t quite sure if what they are saying is even accurate. There is, however, something good about this saying. The one that says all sin is equal in the eyes of God is ahead of the repentance game against the one who says, “Only God can judge me!” The person who says, “Only God can judge me” is actually disregarding their sin. There is no true acknowledgment of it. When they say that God is the only person that can judge them, what they mean is that God is the judge and he is a loving judge and what I did or am doing is not a sin. They are not saying, “Yes, I am sinning but it isn’t your place to tell me.” The person who says “All sin is equal in the eyes of God” is by implication acknowledging that sin is present. However, there is a disconnect with the severity of sin.
Is It Though?
There are a couple of qualifiers that we must discuss before we say yes or no. The first groundwork that needs to be established is the definition of sin. What is sin? The Westminster Bible Dictionary has this to say about the Hebrew word for sin:
The root-idea of the word rendered ‘sin’ is failure; it is missing the mark, as spoken of one who shoots an arrow; it is missing the way, as spoken of one who wanders from the right and safe path.”
Failure. Failure to what? Failure to follow the commands of God. You are missing the mark on pursuing His will. You just shot an arrow backwards. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
The second qualifier pertains to what we mean by equal. Is it equal in its nature? Is it equal in its outcome? Is it equal in how it is treated? Sin is equal in its nature, outcome, and treatment. It is equal in its nature in that all sin is rebellion against God. All sin is man saying that he is his own god, that he can do things better than God. It is equal in its outcome in that it creates separation between man and God. Man, in His sin, has no merit of His own to answer to God. It is equal in its treatment in that all sin will be dealt with by God whether in this age or at the judgment. God cannot let sin go unchecked or He would not be a just God.
The third qualifier is brief but we must qualify God. We aren’t talking about the god of the south, or the nationalistic god, or the god that we create in our head that fits our own comfortable levels of religion. We are talking about Jehovah God. The God of Abraham and Jacob, the King of the Ages (1 Timothy 1:17), King of the Nations (Jeremiah 10:7), the Almighty (Job 11:7). This is the God who, by His Spirit through human instrumentation, expresses disdain for sin. This isn’t an effeminate God who is only love. This is the God of wrath and judgement as well. This God abhors sin.
Yes and No
All sin is equal insofar as it separates us from God. Whether it be what we consider a minor sin (telling a white lie) or a major sin (murder), sin equally deserves the wrath of God. However, we have to be careful in carrying this noble mindset around. I call it noble because it is good to understand that sin is sin is sin. I say we have to be careful because some people may take advantage of God’s long-suffering when it comes to what we would consider minor sins. For example, a man may find no need to resist lust so long as he doesn’t physically act upon it. This is erroneous thinking. Jesus calls lust adultery (Matthew 5:27-28). That’s because lust left uncontrolled and unrepented of will only logically lead to physical adultery as the man slowly slips into being desensitized at each stage. This goes for many sins such as coveting and hatred. Left unchecked anger can lead to physical assaults or the cursing of a brother and coveting can lead to theft or fraud.
We also know all sin isn’t equal in the eyes of God because not all punishment is equal. Take for example Matthew 11:23-25:
And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”
Whatever that severity of judgement looks like, one thing is for sure: Because Capernaum had seen Jesus and had His mighty works performed in their town yet still rejected him, Sodom will have a more tolerable judgment than them. For something to be more tolerable it would need to be less severe. I don’t gamble because I’m baptist… crickets? But I would wager that Capernaum is going to receive or has received an excruciating judgement. We know what happened to Sodom on this earth and the spiritual punishment surely far surpasses it. Lest we are accused of cherry picking let’s look at one more passage in Luke 12:47-48:
And that servant who knew his master's will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.
Here we see a light beating and a severe beating.
The Crux of the Matter
It would be vain curiosity to try to figure out what these “beatings” look like. There’s no need to wonder what the lightest beating in hell looks like as compared to the severe beating. Or to wonder if Satan’s punishment will be more severe than the Hindi monk. What we must understand is that sin is sin and unrepented of will forever separate us from the glory of Christ. However, if one turns to Christ and confesses Him as Lord, their sins are washed as white as snow and no longer counted against us by God. Instead of our sin we now have the righteousness of Christ to show. The Christian life is full of ongoing repentance and a constant striving towards holiness and at the end of all things we know that we stand redeemed before the throne because of the work of Christ. There’s no need to worry about the different severities of punishment in hell because we won’t receive that punishment. Our evangelistic concern also shouldn‘t revolve around the different types of punishment but the fact that there is punishment. How God deals with the unrighteous will be left completely to Him, the perfectly thrice Holy creator of the universe. We need not worry if the punishment is too hard like a grandparent standing by and watching their grandchild be spanked.
To wrap things up, yes sin is equal in a sense but for the most part it isn’t. Christ seemed to abhor the piety of the religious leaders of Israel more than the adultery of the many people he came across. We have also seen that there are different levels of punishment as well. What matters most is the fact that there is punishment, and that outside of Christ that punishment should be cause of great concern for you but for those who call Jesus Lord it should draw out praise that though we were unworthy and unable, He died to wash us clean.