Are all sins equally evil in God’s sight?

I had an interesting conversation with my wife last week, where I asked her this very question. Her response is indicative of what many in our church might say: “Yes, but I wish they weren’t.” I followed it up with my usual follow up question “why do you believe that?” After thinking for a while, she appealed to the sermon on the mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt 5:27-29)
So the logic goes, if lust can be equated with adultery, there is really no distinction between different types of sin. However, this wasn’t said for this purpose. Rather it takes place in a setting where Jesus is teaching about a righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees (5:20).
The issue with them is that while they were nice on the outside, on the inside they were full of sin (Matt 23:28). They were also quite self-righteous, claiming that their sin wasn’t as bad as someone else’s (Luke 18:9-14). In response to this type of attitude, Jesus teaches that the internal motivation for the sin is enough to put you in the category of adulterer or murderer, and thus in need of repentance.

External action is not the be all and end all, the heart matters to God. That does not mean however that adultery and lust are equal, just that both are a violation of the 7th commandment. What most people think when they say that all sin is the same in God’s sight is that all sin separates us from God, and all sin left undealt with will lead to hell. There are not different levels of hell, reserved for the worst type of sins (at least as far as we are told in the bible). But to say that a liar has the same eternal destiny as a murderer if unrepentant is not to say that lying and murder is equal. This goes against both the teaching of the bible and our own common sense.

Evidence against the claim
No one would suggest that someone who lies, or who steals something in order to feed their family should be treated the same way by the police or the criminal courts as a rapist or a murderer. This natural sense of justice and the punishment being proportionate to the crime comes from an inbuilt sense of justice. Hence why Dani said she wished God viewed sins differently.

But this is also a biblical concept. For instance, the Old Testament law tells us “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,” (Exo 21:23-24). The point is that you cannot take a life for someone who took a foot, the retribution needs to be fair. Likewise, in the Old Testament Law there was various levels of punishment for different sins, ranging from fines, to banishment to death. This only makes sense if God views some sins as being worse than others. But perhaps the clearest indication from the Old Testament Law that not all sins are equal is the use of the word ‘abomination’. When used, this delineates a regular sin (which separates us from God), and an extra vile sin that God abhors.

The New Testament maintains this distinction as well. Even within the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us to “take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” This differentiates between a ‘plank-sized’ sin and a ‘speck-sized’ sin. Likewise, he differentiates between ‘camel-sized’ sin and ‘gnat-sized’ sin. Jesus tells Pilate that “he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (John 19:11). John likewise differentiates between different levels of sin (1 John 5:16).
Why is this important?
If all sin separates us from God, why is it important to let people know that not all sin is equally evil in His sight? Well firstly, it speaks to the nature of God. It is destructive to our witness to suggest that the sin of speeding is as evil to God as the sin of a paedophile. This gives a distorted, unbiblical picture of God (consider Jesus’s strong language in Matt 18:6).

But it is also important for us not to minimalize the seriousness of our sin. When we commit large-scale, destructive sins, it may be tempting to think we are just as bad as someone who has told a lie, and thus our sin isn’t ‘too bad’. This idea might even lead people to committing worse sins, such as: “I have already committed lust, so I’m guilty anyway, I might as well have the affair now!” This is a major distortion of Jesus’s teaching! Likewise, for those who grow and change, treating all sins as equal can lead to a downplaying of God’s sanctifying work in your life.

If you have come from a life of drugs and violence, and now you still struggle with lying and petty theft, you are not unchanged! Rather God has been successful in changing your heart and reducing the severity and external impact of you sin.
The good news for us all, regardless of the severity of our sin is that Jesus has paid the price on the cross. All who turn to him in faith and repentance will be forgiven. So whether it is a small white lie, or a big, life-altering sin, Jesus waits with open arms to take away your sin and welcome you into his family.