First, to say all sins are the same is to confuse the effect of sin with the heinousness of sin. While all sins are equal in their effect (they separate us from God), they are not all equally heinous. Second, the Bible differentiates between sins. Some sins are more severe in terms of impact (1 Cor 6:18), in terms of culpability (Rom 1:21-32), and in terms of the judgment warranted (2 Pet 2:17; Matt 9:42; James 3:1).
For advocates of Reformed theology, we are keen to emphasize the seriousness of sin. Sin is a big deal. Each and every one of them. Indeed, this is precisely why we all desperately need a Savior.
As true as this is, however, our enthusiasm for maintaining the seriousness of sin (which is good) can lead us to make additional statements which may not be so true (depending on how they are understood). One of these statements, and the next installment in our “Taking Back Christianese” series, is, “All sins are equal in God’s sight.”
On the surface, this phrase seems like a great way to uphold our commitment to sin’s seriousness. It is the equivalent of the phrase “there are no little sins” (a line you probably first heard from your parents after you locked your little sister in her room).
Our purpose in this post (as in all the posts in this series) is simply to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of this phrase. We will do this by asking three questions: (1) Why do people use this phrase? (2) What is correct or helpful about this phrase? and (3) What is problematic about this phrase?
Why Do People Use This Phrase?
We should begin by observing that this phrase does not come from Scripture. People do not use it because it appears in the Bible. Why then do they use it?
One reason, as noted above, is that some Christians use this phrase to uphold the seriousness of sin. It is viewed as a way to remind people not to be dismissive about their sin or regard it is a triviality.
Others use this phrase as way to “flatten out” all sins so that they are not distinguishable from each other. Or, to put it another way, this phrase is used to portray all human beings as precisely the same. If all sins are equal, and all people sin, then no one is more holy than anyone else.
In a world fascinated with “equality,” this usage of the phrase is particularly attractive to folks. It allows everyone to be lumped together into a single undifferentiated mass.
Such a move is also useful as a way to prevent particular behaviors from being condemned. If all sins are equal, and everyone is a sinner, then you are not allowed to highlight any particular sin (or sinner).
Needless to say, this usage of the phrase has featured largely in the recent cultural debates over issues like homosexuality. Yes, homosexuality is a sin, some Christians reluctantly concede. But, they argue, all sins are equal in God’s sight and therefore it is no different than anything else. Therefore, Christians ought to stop talking about homosexuality unless they are also willing to talk about impatience, anger, gluttony, and so on.
What Is Correct or Helpful about This Phrase?
If understood correctly, this phrase captures some important biblical truths. Let me just mention two.