Taking Back Christianese #6: “All Sins Are Equal in God’s Sight”

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Aaron Blumer's picture

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I cringe every time I hear this kind of moral equivalence talk. (Evangelicals have been fond of talking this way about Trump, as though the fact that we're all sinners means no men are any better than any other men)

The Bible does not teach that all sins are "the same" in seriousness, or consequences, or indications of character and qualification for leadership.

There are good kings and bad kings.

Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked ruler over a poor people. A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor, but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days. (Pr 28:15–16)  

There are sinners who are qualified to serve as pastors and sinners who are not.

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, (1 Ti 3:2)  

There are "weightier matters"...

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (Mt 23:23)  

There sins that cross points of no return

Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. (Mt 12:31)  

I could go on and on. The notion that all sins are equal is completely unbiblical.

Bert Perry's picture

....would be that any sin sends you to Hell, in a very hypothetical case where someone avoided sin all their life but has one tiny little sin.  Obviously not a plausible case, but it's a valid hypothetical case.  But that still leaves us with some trouble when we see the warning Christ gives about what Judas is going to experience.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Rolland McCune's picture

It seems there is a problem here of the lack of a defining criterion that separates the two options. The above distinctions are valid as far as they go, but James 2:10 would mitigate them significantly. The ultimate criterion, standard or "law"  for defining sin is judicial or moral, i.e., the infinite, unalterable and inflexible holiness of God and His relentless demand for absolute continuous conformity, including perfect motives. Therefore a small (no matter how "small")  transgression takes on infinite moral liabilities because it is in equal contradiction to the Lawgiver as is the "biggest" infraction. From there of course we move to the perfect and infinite obedience of Christ and its application to the believing sinner in justification. In this sense the phrase, "no sins are worse than any other," is patently true, but the phrase as it stands is admittedly very elastic.

Rolland McCune

Aaron Blumer's picture

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James 2:10 is difficult on multiple levels. For one, we're all guilty already before we personally sin, so committing that first sin has to be more of a demonstration of what already is than a real crossing over from one condition into another.

But it's also hard to reconcile with the passages I've already referred to, as well as may others. Jesus word's here don't make sense if violating one of God's requirements is the same as violating all of them.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. (Mt 23:15)  

How can anyone be more a child of hell than another?

Resolving the difficulty, as far as I can tell, involves either taking James somewhat less than literally (some figure of speech is involved?), or finding some grammatical alternative (still literal), or explaining away a great many other passages.

Perhaps James should be understood to mean what we know from other passages to be true: that there are two real categories/kinds of human being: non-sinners and sinners, non-transgressors and transgressors.

It's binary--there is no degree involved. A person is either 100% in the transgressor category or 100% out of it.

There has only been one non-sinner human, Jesus Christ, but the category is real nonetheless. Since we know from Paul that we are all born in the transgressor category, the first time we sin, however small the sin might be, we demonstrate that we are 100% in the transgressor category and 100% guilty as transgressors.

This has James meaning "anyone who breaks God's law in one point is entirely guilty as a lawbreaker."  ... which still doesn't seem to quite fit, but it's the best I've ever been able to work out.

In any case, it's clear enough what James cannot be saying. If all sins are the same in degree, the same in temporal consequences, and the same as expression of the whole character of the sinner, there is no point in having multiple commands...  one will do.

And it can't make any sense to say things like Jesus does in Matt 23:15 and 

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. (Lk 10:13)  

How could Chorazin and Bethsaid be worse than Tyre and Sidon? But that is Jesus' point.

So, I think James at the very least means that any sin, however small, has one result that is identical to every other sin: it makes a person 100% transgressor (by choice as well as by birth) and brings, as Dr. McCune put it, "infinite moral liabilities."

But saying every sin has one result in common is very different from saying all sins are the same. It's a huge, huge thing they all have in common, but there are many things they do not have in common.