Are All Sins Equal?
I wrote a post with this same title many years ago, and I noticed that it was quite lacking. This is that same post revisited and majorly revised.
To talk about anything, we must first understand what it is we’re talking about. So, first, let’s understand sin.
Sin, at its foundation, is simply ungodliness or anti-God – anything apart or opposite from the character of God. It is better to think of sin in this way than to think of sin as anything that is bad. This preserves the meaning of the word and helps keep people from confusing sin with opinions and preferences. For example, it is a bad thing if a wife loses her wedding ring, however, that does mean it is sinful.
Also, sin is referenced in the Bible in two different ways: (1) as a damning nature, which I will refer to as Sin (capitalized), and (2) as the fulfillment of that nature in individual acts that coincide with that nature, which I will refer to as sin (uncapitalized). So we are born with the character of Sin, or a Godless character, and then we act out of that character to commit individual acts that reflect our Godless character.
Because of Adam’s act of disobedience (an action that is not in line with God’s character), suddenly the damning nature was passed on to every soul that descends from Adam’s line. So, the souls of mankind were cursed by a Godless nature, which is why God destroyed the world with a flood, and why He will destroy the earth after His thousand-year reign, because God cannot change His character to that which is unlike Himself in order to receive those who are unlike Him (“unlike Him” in the context of moral purity).
Of course, thankfully, those who have been saved from their Godless nature now have a choice to not sin even though they still possess the sinful nature. The body in and of itself is not Sinful, but, like the earth, has been marred by the presence of Sin. However, though my soul, being Sinful, has not yet changed in its nature, God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, now indwells me due to the death of Christ, who dealt justly with the mandatory destruction of Sin. This destruction of Sin will reach fulfillment at the Great White Throne Judgement (Revelation 20:15); and the punishment for Sin was dealt personally by Christ on the behalf of my soul when I put my trust in His work to deliver me from the impending destruction. So, now, when God the Father looks at my Sinful soul, He can accept me, because Christ bore the punishment of His Father’s wrath on my Sinful soul. Also, although my soul is currently Sinful, my soul will be purified of its Sinful nature at death, at which point I will be freed from the presence of Sin.
With this understanding of Sin, I can now begin to address the topic of this blog, which is the difference of Sin and sins.
Every now and then, people will discuss whether any sins are greater than another. It seems that those who don’t understand the difference between Sin and sins will affirm this, and the others will disagree. Those who affirm this usually do so because it is obvious that murder is worse than stealing a candy bar, and those who disagree realize that both sins arise from a Sinful nature, for which we were condemned. However, I would like to go just one level deeper and agree with both sides.
John 19:11 recounts Jesus referring to a “greater sin.” I don’t believe His point is that greater sins cause further damage to the person’s already nonexistent relationship with God – you cannot further damage something which is nonexistent. Rather, I think his statement points out the fact that a person did actually commit a worse sin.
Why am I writing this? I am writing this to show that there are worse sins than others, but although this is true, it does not have any direct effect on a believer’s fellowship with God, or an unbeliever’s lack of relationship with God. Murder does not further separate an unbeliever from God, because there are no dimensions to the vastness of the separation. Only the fact that unbelievers are separated is what should be understood. Likewise, murder does not cause anymore damage to a believer’s fellowship with God than any another sin, because there are no degrees or measurements to the brokenness of the fellowship. This is not say that worse sins don’t have any different effect at all, just not on the aspect of relationship.
You might be asking now, “What’s your point? What are you getting at?” Well, as I consider what relevance this has, I think of how relevant it has been in my life as God has been teaching me about confession. Personally, I do not always handle the sins I’ve committed appropriately. As one who is still in need of a tremendous amount of growth in my understanding of God and of Sin, I tend to excuse smaller sins and allow myself to become overly focused on greater sins. By excusing a smaller sin, like being selfish by actively choosing to not do the dishes for my wife, I still have affected my fellowship with God because it is a sin. That sin causes the same brokenness of fellowship with God as would immorality, but when I commit a sin of immorality I find that I am ten times more remorseful and more likely to focus on the confession of that sin than to focus on the work of Jesus Christ, which enables me to live free from Sin. Which is the point of application I want to get at.
Something I learned recently is what confession of sins ought to look like for believers. I think that many people, if they are at all like me, probably sit down to pray with the intention of spending most of that time in quality conversation with God… …and then we begin our prayer with confession. I have fallen asleep, who knows how many times, because I would (1) spend way too much time trying to remember unconfessed sins that I had no way of remembering and (2) spend way too much time confessing my worst sins. I now see that by the way I prayed, I thought confession was a time for me to express how bad my sin was, since I thought that was how I was supposed to agree with God about my sin. The major problem with this is that I was spending so much time focused on my sin, that I was completely NOT focusing on Jesus. In the moment, it seemed like a righteous thing to do, but now I realize that it is selfish, proud and tends toward piety. It is selfish and proud because I am elevating the severity of my sin over the forgiving grace of God through Christ. God does not want us to try to come to the realization of how awful our sin is while we are confessing it. Instead, He wants us to acknowledge it for what it is (something that is not in line with His character that ultimately breaks fellowship with Him), and then immediately remember that we are forgiven and we are no longer condemned for that sin. Not only does this save time, but it honors God because we are elevating His grace over our wrongdoing, and in an indirect way, we are praising/thanking Him for what He’s done. God still wants us to come to the realization of how awful our sin is, but He will do that in our hearts on His own. It is not for us to try to force. The more we know Him, the more we will understand Sin.
I hope that I have spoken correctly concerning how we understand sins apart from Sin, and that it would be of some help to another believer to recognize that ultimately, our confession should be the same no matter the severity of the sin. If anything, the worse our sin is, the less we should focus on it, and the more we should elevate the grace of God which abounds even more (Romans 5:20) over that sin – this is my prayer.