Have you heard people say that all sins (i.e. wrongdoings) are the same, or equal, before God? Is this idea true?
This idea may come from Paul’s statement in Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23a). This statement seems to imply that every sin deserves death. It may also come from the reality that we are all, without exception, sinners in need of salvation (Rom. 3:23). Furthermore, that a person who tries to keep the Old Testament Law, and breaks just one command is guilty of breaking the whole Law, adds to this uncompromising picture (Jas 2:10; cf. Gal. 3:10).
Our society, however, recognises that murder is a much more serious offence than, say, forgetting to return a library book on time. Consequently, healthy societies punish culprits in proportion to the severity of their wrongdoing, and sometimes they even let the wrongdoer off with just a warning or reprimand.
If we can recognise a difference between the severity and consequences of various wrongdoings, certainly God can too. Is God less just or less merciful than we are?
In the Old Testament we see there are sins that God immediately dealt with and punished, but others that he seemed to overlook and ignore. Perhaps the clearest evidence that God does not regard all sin as equal, however, is this statement in 1 John 5:17: “All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.” John’s statement here seems to contradict a common understanding of Paul’s statement in Romans 6:23.
Since Jesus has atoned for our sins and since he has brought about the possibility for salvation, it is largely irrelevant whether all sins are equal or if only some sins lead to death. So I propose we get rid of the rather meaningless and flawed notion that all sins are equal in God’s eyes. Instead, let’s focus on the wonder and truth of his salvation freely offered to all.
All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, but all are treated as righteous [or justified] freely by his grace because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus. Through his faithfulness, God displayed Jesus as the place of sacrifice where mercy is found by means of his blood. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness [or justice] in passing over sins that happened before, during the time of God’s patient tolerance. He also did this to demonstrate that he is righteous [or just] in the present time, and to treat the one who has faith in Jesus as righteous [or justified].
Romans 3:23-26 CEB (cf. Acts 13:38-39; 1 Pet. 3:18; 1 John 1:9, etc.)
The following verses also indicate that there are different degrees of sin and different kinds of sin: Matthew 11:21-22; Mark 3:28-29; Luke 12:46-48; 1 Corinthians 6:18; 2 Peter 2:20-21.
There are also different degrees of responsibility and accountability (Luke 12:48).