Are All Sins Equal Before a Holy God?

Sins Many years ago I attended a church service that devoted a few minutes at the end of each sermon for the children. The pastor would call them to the front of the church and sit on the steps of the pulpit as he communicated the message of the sermon in a way children could easily understand.

In one instance, he used an illustration to teach about the equality of sin before God. To do so, he held up a fist fill of straws and explained that each straw was representative of a different type of sin. “This is murder and this one is stealing,” he explained, as he pointed to individual straws. He added that the length of the straws (which were concealed by his fist) would symbolize the type of punishment each one deserved; the longer the straw the worse the punishment. Finally, he asked all the kids to guess which straw was the longest; in other words, what was the worst sin before God? Murder was the consensus.

After some slight suspense, he opened his hand to reveal that all the straws were the same length. His point was made that all sin is equal before God. But is it? Is someone who doesn’t love the Lord will all their heart, soul, strength and mind due the same punishment as someone who kills another?

The verse used by the pastor was James 2:10-11, which reads, “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty for all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not commit murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder you have become a transgressor of the law.”

The logic of this position centers around a seemingly well-intentioned idea that every sin is a crime against an infinitely Holy God and therefore worthy of the same punishment, eternal hell.  However, if we study other places in scripture we learn that Jesus didn’t seem to teach that all guilt is the same because all sins, regardless of how heinous, are equal.

Consider the parable in Luke 12:47-48, And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” Here we see a clear instance where the punishment differs from person to person, although you could argue the crime itself was the same. Implicit to the parable is that certain people are held to a different standard.

Another text we can use for this brief study is found in Matthew. “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feed, Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgement that for that city” (Matthew 10:14). Clearly Jesus is teaching us that there will different degrees of guilt and punishment on the day of judgement.

Still, we must be deal with the verse in James.

Notice that James doesn’t really comment on how one sin is worse than another, but speaks to the fact that one transgression makes you guilty of all. He speaks not to severity but to summation. Just one offense breaks the law and is enough to show us our sin and deep need for a savior. More specifically though, I think James is trying to speak against self-righteousness and self-justifying thinking.

There are few things humanity is better at than deflecting and painting ourselves in a better light than we are. It started in The Garden of Eden and I find myself guilty of it on a regular basis.

We are prone to an outlook that says, “Maybe I failed and sinned in this one area, but look at these other things I did really well!” Or worse yet, is a Pharisee mentality that says, “I am in a better place before God than so-and-so because I go to church, pray, read my bible, listen to music that’s safe for the whole family, etc. Look at how good I am!”

James also wants us to understand that while a single offense against a holy God is worthy of an eternal punishment, the punishments may not always be same. Justice will roll down, as the great hymn declares. Suffering at the hand of oppression will be made right. A fitting punishment will be had for gross evils in our world. The horrible atrocities we have read about and hear about on the news will be dealt with.

There is not a single sin in all of history that will go unnoticed and not look up at the face of justice. All sin will be accounted for appropriately and punished. Either the punishment will fall on Jesus or it will fall on the offender.

As Christians we must remind ourselves daily that God desires living sacrifices who are delighted to do God’s will in ALL areas of their life. We will fail and we will sin, but for those who are in Christ there is an endless river of grace, forgiveness, and hope.

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  • See Noevo

    No, all sins are not equal before Holy God.
    Did you never read 1 John 5:16-17?

    “If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal
    sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal.
    There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that.
    All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal.”

  • Paperboy_73

    How would you say that the punishments differ?

    • Jack Lee

      I don’t think scripture is clear on this point. However, whatever the punishment is it will not be pleasant.

      • Paperboy_73

        If it’s just an eternity of pain and suffering verses an incrementally worse eternity of pain and suffering, I’m not sure splitting the difference matters very much.

        • Jack Lee

          I would agree with you there Paperboy_73.

          • Paperboy_73

            In that case, if you believe that’s the outcome then it seems to make little sense to think of sins as being unequal.

          • Jack Lee

            There a great amount of sense to understanding it because scripture teaches it. I suspect the soul receiving the harsher punishment would care about the distinction as well.

            Thanks for the discussion!

          • Paperboy_73

            This is the problem when dealing with infinite quantities. It’s very difficult to compare the two in a sensible logical fashion. The flippant mathematical line is that infinity + 1 is still infinity.

            If you plan on grounding your ideas in logic, you can’t have gradated quantities of infinite magnitude. If punishments are infinite, then all punishments are identical. If you plan on dispensing with logic, then you can’t trust reasoned argument.

            I don’t see a middle ground on this. It doesn’t bother me, because I think the idea of infinite punishment is untenable; it introduces so many logical conundrums that essentially require magical thinking to dismiss.

  • Jason Evans

    Conservative Christians, including evangelicals, are some of the most terrible and evil human beings in this country. There is little in their soul and character besides the extension of greater suffering and human ruin to mankind. Their religion is garbage and qualifies as punishable apostasy.

    We will be clear. You cannot be a conservative Christian and be saved. You will burn.

    • Lark62

      Yes. It is hard to believe that their deity would overlook the greed of refusing to fund health care for children, the cruelty of separating a parent from their children because one was born in the wrong place, and the evil of putting a wedge between people and their god because those people find the wrong type of person attractive. They worship a deity who would overlook a total void of empathy and love while rewarding self righteous and hate. Who wants what they have?

      • Jack Lee

        To content that God is” void of empathy” demonstrates a vast ignorance of Christianity and the bible.

        • Lark62

          No, I am completely familiar with the bible and those who claim to follow it.
          I said they choose to worship a deity who overlooks their total lack of empathy and love and who rewards self righteousness and hate.

          That is the god they worship.

          The fact that they find that god worthy of adoration is a reflection on them.

          Whether the “god they worship” or any other deity actually exists is another question altogether.

          • MickeyDoesStuff

            Something far worse than self righteousness, Hubris. Arrogance. Cherry picking what ever works for them.

        • MickeyDoesStuff

          I have found some conservative Christians who treat the bible like the book of entitlement. Even to the point of how they view and mistreat women.

    • Jack Lee

      Saying someone will perish and burn sounds like something a conservative Christian might say…..

      • Jason Evans

        In particular, God points His sword directly at you. Calvinism is a heresy of monumental proportions. Its proclamation is mortal sin and a cancer upon the Body of Christ. For your part in it, as a teacher and proclaimer here, you have no salvation and you will be cast in the lake of fire. I am not judge, but God is and His pronouncements on your fate are very, very clear.

        You impugn the character of God with your filthy religion – your religion of depravity, perversion, and absolute apostasy. Ascribing to God such evil as limited atonement and the various incoherences of Calvinism amounts to a willful breaking of the third commandment. The sickness of this religion is nearly boundless. At this point, parts of Islam reflect God’s character more correctly than the evil which you preach. Your violation and twisting of the Bible is truly a sight of criminal evil to behold.

        And yet God offers a way. TODAY is the day of salvation! With repentance and a mere asking of our Savior to save you, you too can partake in the grace of God. Repent and fall on your knees in contrition, asking Jesus Christ to come into your heart and grant you salvation.

        • Jack Lee

          These are very bold and serious statements you make against a historic Christian faith, in the name of God. Can you provide scriptural basis for Calvinism as heresy?

          • Robin Warchol

            your historic “Christian faith” only goes back to the 1500s

          • Robin Warchol

            I would suggest a couple books. “Against Calvinism” by Roger Oslen. “A Biblical Critique of Calvinism” and “Biblical Catholic Answers for John Calvin” both by Dave Armstrong.

    • MickeyDoesStuff

      Baloney. Neither you nor anyone else can make that statement. Only Jesus knows who is and isn’t saved. Many conservative Christians are the salt of the earth, giving, tithing, caring for others, just not via the government. Some behave like selfish, soulless reptiles, but don’t convict all of them for the acts of a few.

  • MickeyDoesStuff

    One of the better texts refuting Calvinism. Thanks. But assuming all conservative Christians are Calvinist is incorrect. We need to learn to use a scalpel instead of a bomb. While I’m not a political conservative and don’t agree with what many “conservative” Christians say, that doesn’t mean they aren’t saved. God is not a bureaucrat.

    • Jason Evans

      The discussion looks like it, but I actually wasn’t inferring that all conservative Christians were Calvinists. Of course they are not.

      I initially wanted to level an accusation against conservative Christianity based on their need to create pariahs and its use of the tool to equate all sin, which seemed to interconnect with the author’s article. But, it has veered towards Calvinism since I suddenly noticed that the basis of this and other articles was Calvinism. Its recent resurgence is cause for alarm. My only regret is not being more civil to the author. Apparently I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning and Calvinists are better behaved.

      • Jack Lee

        Hi Jason,

        thank you for your thoughtful reply to my question. I am sure my reply will not be sufficient to convince you or sway your thinking. Nevertheless, I will respond to a few points.

        “Calvinists are faced with the tenants of theism, a few of which are the common concepts of omnipotence and omniscience. Instead of leaving these as unbounded attempts to understand something beyond our comprehension…” —- I would fully disagree with that. A primary tenant of Calvinism is fundamentally rooted in the freedom and power of God. We do not bound them as you say. On the contrary, to be God is be unbounded except by that which is contrary to His nature. Furthermore, to make any discernment about election or predestination (as you do in your final paragraph) results in making decisions boundaries about what God can and cannot do. We both are forced to use the whole of scripture as the grounds for how we understand God.

        “Calvinists then end up deprecating most of Christ’s ministry and interactions with humanity as the embodiment of God’s grace. Jesus essentially ends up getting lost. ” — To argue that Calvinism loses sight of Jesus in the context is a gross misrepresentation of reformed theology. I am honestly shocked that you think that and offer to correct this view. Even if you do not embrace calvinism, i hope you will engage with me long enough to see that Jesus is at center stage for all reformed doctrine and thought. That comment deeply offends me. I know this is not your intent and I am not offended at you per say, but the idea itself.

        “he solution? Take at face value the order of salvation that the Bible describes: the wooing of the Spirit, the offer of salvation freely given, acceptance, followed by repentance, belief, the gifts of the Spirit, and then eternal life.” —- i am right with you here and my only point of contention relates to the ability of the human to respond. All Calvinism says is that man cannot respond unless the Holy Spirit enables him to.

        Thanks again for the thoughtful dialog. I hope our interaction will spurn both of us know Christ more closely.

  • MickeyDoesStuff

    If all the unsaved are going to end up in the eternal fire pit, what difference does it make? Serious question. The saved will be purified, with some left with almost nothing, but it seems for the rest it really is all the same.

    • Paperboy_73

      Indeed. Taken to its conclusions, the idea of eternal damnation leads directly to the idea that sin itself is, if not a myth, then at the very least so broadly defined as to render any distinctions meaningless. If we consider the sin to be the thing which leads directly to punishment, on some level the only de facto sin is to fail to seek salvation.

  • rtgmath

    I object to the notion that sin bounded in time is worth an eternity of torture. Hell makes God to be a monster.

    • Jack Lee

      you are a creature bounded by time and sin. Your comment doesn’t make sense to me.

      • rtgmath

        Christian doctrine asserts that every person not found in the Book of Life will be thrown into the Lake of Fire to be tormented forever. Even if you assert that there are different degrees of punishment, how do our mortal, time-bound sins make us deserving of an eternal torment in the hereafter? Even if the torture of some is less than the torture of others?

        Because hell is forever, right?

        If you got a traffic ticket and you had to spend time in jail for it for the rest of your life, you would feel it unjust. The punishment must fit the crime. But there is no such notion in Christianity.

        • Jack Lee

          I understand your position a little clearer now, i think. Thank you for the elaborated comment.

          The answer, I believe, is found in the fact that we are sinning against an infinitely worthy and Holy being. Sin cannot be in the presence of God, ever. Rebellion against a holy God is more serious than many give credit at first glance.

          Another point to consider is the fact that when humans place faith in Christ we are made a new creation who is capable of loving God with heart soul strength and mind. This doesn’t happen hell – regeneration does not take place. Therefore, the being is incapable of repenting and is stuck in an regenerative state.

          • rtgmath

            Ahh, but the standard questions remain. What of those who have never heard? Or who have “heard” without any reason to think that the messenger or the message was correct? Would you accept “the good news” from a stranger trying to convert you, say, to Islam? Would there be any reason to even listen? And there are people with no chance ever of hearing the gospel, much less believing it.

            And they go to hell. What Justice is there in that? There is no mercy, no grace, no love. Abraham said it well. Should not the Judge of the whole world do what is right?

            To say that “God is infinitely worthy” means that God can treat as trash those whom he made. And that is not right. To say that God cannot allow sin in his presence ignores the role of Satan in the heavenly court (Job) and forgets that God is everywhere. You, a sinful person, stand in the presence of God every bit as much now as if you were in heaven’s courts.

            No. If God made those kind of rules — and I don’t think so — then He is nothing more than a monster. Think Godzilla, destroying and devouring what he is angry at because he has all power to do so. But you don’t worship monsters, do you? Why should we? No matter how powerful or the consequences.

            I find it interesting that in all the Old Testament there is never a mention of an eternal hell. God never warned Adam of hell. The worst punishments for disobedience were captivity or death. But no eternal hell. No fire. No brimstone.

            If hell exists, then God is a monster. I would rather want to believe God puts that holiness of His into action by instilling a sense of Justice, equity, love for all – the just and the unjust – into His people. If Hell exists, sin wins.

        • Bill Scudder

          I believe a person that goes to hell will suffer only for the time that his life deserves it and then it is over. so some will stay longer than others such in the case of a Hitler versus a good person

          • jamesparson

            Mark 10:18 “Why do you call Me good? Jesus replied, “No one is good except God alone.

            Besides Hitler was a Catholic. He would be in purgatory.

  • jamesparson

    I am an atheist because I don’t see anything that would convince me any kind of god exists.

    Do I get to go to hell?

    • MAGABoy

      From my informed perspective, modern religions, atheism, nihilism and moral relativism are Satanic deceptions. Please checkout and read Ralph Ellis books, and perhaps even look into Syncretism (as explained by Santos Bonacci). May the truth set you free.