By Drew Zuverink
"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be subject to judgement. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, 'Raca,' is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift."
Most of us who have grown up in the church have probably heard the phrase, "all sins are equal." In fact, the phrase has been used so often in Christian circles that it has become part of our "Christianese" language. Christianese sayings are phrases that church people use so often that we just assume they are somewhere in the Bible. But is it true, does the Bible really teach that all sins are equal?
It depends what we mean by equal. If we mean that every sinner, no matter what sins they have committed, is in danger of God's judgement and in need of a savior, then yes, every sinner is in equal need of a savior. I need Jesus just as much as Adolf Hitler needed Jesus. But if in saying, "all sins are equal," we mean that all sins are equally as evil, or even that God hates all sins equally, then no, absolutely not, all sins are not the same.
We know this by examining the different punishments that God required for different crimes. Even in our own societies, we understand that in order to have true justice, the punishment should fit the crime. A good parent does not punish their child the same way for forgetting to take out the trash as they would for bullying. Even in our criminal justice system, we do not hand out life sentences for speeding tickets. God operates with the same sense of justice. Throughout the Bible, God required different punishments for different crimes. He wanted murderers punished more severely than a child who disobeyed their parent.
God loves people, and so he especially hates sins that cause the most harm to people, like murder. I do not read Matthew 5 and think that Jesus is saying that when we get angry at someone, we are just as evil as a serial killer. Instead, I think that Jesus hates murder so much that he was trying to stop it at it's core. That's why Jesus is so against hatred and for forgiveness, he knows where both of those things lead.
The two greatest commandments are to love God and to love others. Every other commandment is just an expression of God's vision of creating a society that is in perfect unity with him and each other. It does not do any good to pretend that all sins are equal, it's simply not true. Some sins damage God's plan for a loving society more than others, and those sins should be met with more alarm, more disgust and harsher punishments. Other sins don't harm as many people, and so maybe they should be classified as personal failures. Such sins should be met with more patience and more grace.
We ought to be careful with the language that we use in church. Not everything that we have grown up hearing is true or Biblically accurate. The claim that all sins are equal either minimizes horrible evils like child abuse, bringing it down to the same level as a white lie, or it elevates smaller sins by putting them in the same category as something as evil as child abuse. Claiming that God views all sins the same also paints a picture of an unjust, tyrannical ruler, who punishes everyone equally, no matter what they have done. This view of God leads some to believe that he might lash out at them for the smallest offense. In reality, God is a God of justice. He does not view every sin the same and he most certainly shares our belief that the severity of the punishment should be based on the severity of the crime. Different scripture passages even seem to hint that there are differing levels of eternal punishment.
That being said, all sinners are still in equal need of the grace of Jesus Christ. Adolf Hilter might have fallen shorter of God's standard of righteousness than you or I have, but all of us have fallen short and deserve eternal punishment. This fact is the great equalizer of sinners. Our only hope, in life and in death, lies in the hands of Jesus Christ. Praise God for his limitless love, mercy, and forgiveness for anyone who repents and trusts in him.