Does God feel more strongly about some sins than others?
You may have heard or even said, “God judges all sins the same.” Many of us, including myself, have believed or been taught that God weighs every sin the same on his divine scale of justice, from lying to stealing to murder to apostasy to blasphemy. You might be surprised, like I was, to find out that is not at all the case. God has different rules for each sin.
What is Sin?
Sin is called “lawlessness” in the Bible, which means disobedience and a total disregard for God’s law, which is His written and living Word (1 John 3:4). Sin also means not giving God the glory He deserves (Romans 3:23).
Sin started in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve did something they were told not to do: they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 3). Because of that one sinful act of disobedience, all of humanity and all of creation are now corrupt and sinful, and our sins, no matter how big or small, will be punished. All sin deserves death (Romans 3:23). God’s anger and condemnation should be poured out on all sin.
John McKinley, a professor at Talbot Theological Seminary, says, “All sin is so bad that God’s answer to all sin is the same: Hell.” Why? Because every sin is an offense against God, every sin is an act of treason against the one who made us.
Stephen Wellum, a Christian theology professor at Southern Seminary, says, “The three-in-one Creator-Covenant God is holy and perfect. Sinless. He decides what is right and wrong for everyone. He can’t and won’t look past sin. God must face the guilty and judge them.
Sin keeps us from God and makes us deserve punishment, but not all sins are the same. Not every sin gets punished in the same way. There are some sins whose consequences and long-term effects on others are just worse than others.
In his 1995 book “Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be,” theologian Cornelius Plantinga says, “All sin is wrong, but not all sin is bad.”
Even Jesus said that there is a “greater” sin when He stood before Pontius Pilate at His mock trial. “You wouldn’t have any power over me at all if it didn’t come from above. So, the person who gave me over to you has the bigger sin (John 19:11).
Pastor John Piper says, “There are different levels of punishment, so there must be different levels of guilt. This means that some sins are worse than others.”
- Motive: Intentional or Accidental
“If just one person sins by accident, that person must bring a female goat that is a year old as a sin offering. But if someone sins on purpose, whether they are born in Israel or not, they blaspheme the Lord and must be cut off from the people of Israel” (Numbers 15:27-30).
From this passage in the Old Testament, we can see that God wanted all sins, whether they were done on purpose or by accident, to be paid for. Even though he didn’t mean to do wrong, the first person in the passage was by no means a good person. God did take that into account, though, and only asked for a single sacrifice as punishment. The second person, on the other hand, did something wrong on purpose, and because of that, they were sent away. Just one sacrifice wasn’t enough.
God thinks about a person’s motivation (“inner desire, cause”) before deciding how to punish them. Was it planned or did it happen by accident? Even though both are still guilty, they will be found guilty in different ways.
- Where the sinner stands
Some people, especially those with more power and authority in the Body of Christ, have more responsibilities. Because of this, they will be held more accountable, which means they will be judged more harshly.
Because their words carry more weight than those of people who don’t teach, God will judge teachers of the Word more harshly based on how they affect the people they want to lead (James 3:1).
The same is true for elders, since one of the requirements for being an elder is being “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2-10). Elders will be judged more harshly because their authority and responsibilities in the Church are so important.
Because these people intentionally lead others astray by using and abusing God’s Word and changing the gospel message, usually for their own benefit, it is especially bad in God’s eyes (1 Timothy 6:5, 2 Peter 2:1-22). Their punishment will be harsh because they are to blame.
“For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have turned away, because they are crucifying the Son of God again to their own harm and holding Him up to ridicule… Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.” How much worse do you think his punishment should be if he trampled on the Son of God, thought the blood of the covenant that made him holy was dirty, and insulted the Spirit of grace? ” (Hebrews 6:4-6, 10:28).
Blasphemy, which is “slander, reproachful, or hurtful speech against the divine majesty,” especially against the Holy Spirit, the second person of the Trinity, is said to be the worst sin to God, and the person who does it will never be forgiven (Mark 3:29).
Those who don’t want to hear the truth/The hard-hearted
“They will go to hell because they didn’t want to love the truth and be saved by it. Because of this, God sends them a strong delusion so they will believe the lie and everyone will be judged who didn’t believe the truth and was happy with evil (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12).
“Because of your hard and unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be shown” (Rom. 2:5).
People who saw Jesus perform miracles in person but still didn’t believe He was who He said he was and didn’t change their minds about their sin and need to repent will have a harsher punishment lessened for them (Matthew 11:20-24).
The same is still true now. Scott Hubbard says, “The worst sinners in this world aren’t necessarily those who live in filth, but those who keep sinning even though they have every reason and chance to change.”
Even though this doesn’t apply to people, it is interesting to note that even angels like Satan who “did not keep their positions of authority and left their proper dwelling” will have to face God’s wrath and punishment (Jude 6, Revelation 20:10).
- How to Know the Truth
“The servant who knows what the master wants but doesn’t get ready or do what the master wants will be hit hard. But a few blows will be given to the one who doesn’t know and does things that deserve punishment. Everyone who has been given a lot will be asked for a lot more, and those who have been given a lot will be asked for even more (Luke 12:47-48).
God will punish people based on how much they know about His revelation. The more you know, the more you will be judged, while someone who acts because they don’t know will be judged less. This last one is especially true for people who have never heard the truth. Still, they are “without excuse” because everything in the world shows that God exists (Romans 1:20).
- Result for others
Even though many sins have effects on other people besides the sinner, not all effects are the same. Pastor John Piper says, “Not everyone is hurt in the same way by every sin.”
Wellum is in agreement. “Before God, all sin is sin, but the Bible makes a distinction between sins based on how they affect people and how they affect relationships.”
For example, “little white lies” don’t hurt or hurt someone as much as murder, rape, or adultery. That’s not to say that lies don’t hurt and hurt people. It’s just to say that some sins are worse than others and, because of that, can hurt other people more. Both the liar and the murderer are still guilty, and they will both have to pay for what they did. Both will get what they deserve.
Rest assured that God’s scale is fair and that the punishment will fit the crime.
There’s a chance.
God doesn’t want to put people in hell. He doesn’t enjoy making decisions about people and sending some of them to Hell (2 Peter 3:9). God’s deepest desire, instead, is to restore everyone spiritually and get back in touch with them by breaking down the wall that their sin has put up between them and him.
Through His Son, Jesus Christ, He made that possible. Jesus’ death on the cross was a one-time sacrifice for all of our sins. God’s wrath against all sin was satisfied by Jesus’ death on the cross. Now, anyone who says “with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believes in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead” will be saved from eternal damnation and judgment (Romans 10:9-10).
When people turn away from their sins, big or small, and accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (1 John 1:9), all of their sins are completely and forever forgiven (Psalm 103:12). Then they can look forward to their Homecoming Day, when they will stand before the Throne of God, no longer afraid of judgment or punishment, completely forgiven, fully loved, and welcomed.