Are all sins equal? The dangers of leveling all sins

There but for the grace of God go I.

Humility requires that we do not think too highly of ourselves; that we do not think ourselves better than anyone else. We all struggle with the same weakness–the desire to love self more than neighbor and to be our own god. We are all easily deceived, born into sin.

And yet, the evidence of humility is not equalizing all sins. Sadly, treating all as human has led some Christians to believe that it is wrong to point out the sins of others, to seek justice after wrongdoing. The error in thinking goes something like this:

  1. We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. We all deserve judgment. No one can earn God’s love.
  2. God’s love is a free gift for all, not based on merit.
  3. Therefore, we must treat all sinners the same; that grace means the same treatment for all.

But ask victims who have heard this stated something like this and they hear, “since we’re all sinners then the way you were sinned against is no different than the way you sinned against God.” So, if there are no differences, then what happened to you (victimization) is no different than what happens to anyone.

Get over it. That is the message we send to victims when we level all sins.

So, consider this question: Does Jesus differentiate between sins? Do some sins result in more judgment and consequence? What about how he speaks of those who hinder the little children from coming to him? How does he speak to those who understand the depth of their sin vs. those who deflect or deny their sin?

Some years ago I was speaking to a large gathering of church leaders about the care for victims and sex offenders. I suggested that sex offenders did not have an automatic right to attend worship but that we could find meaningful ways to bring worship to sex offenders. One leader stood up and accused me of making multiple classes of sinners and ignoring the sin of victims (in his mind they would forever control the lives of the offenders thereby becoming abusive to the offenders). He claimed that I did not believe that God can restore and redeem the worst of sinners. This leader believed that all sin is forgiven (as do I) and thus all consequences should also be erased.

Leveling sins actually harms both victims and offenders. If consequences are erased, then offenders risk remaining unaware of unique temptations, unaware of how they may follow Zaccheus and pay back above and beyond what the Law requires. Victims continue to have little to no voice because what happened (and continues to happen) to them is just commonplace.


Filed under Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, counseling

5 responses to “Are all sins equal? The dangers of leveling all sins

  1. Andrew J. Schmutzer

    Thanks for this important topic and reminder, Phil. The problem also arises from the omni-acceptance and inclusion-obsession of post-modern thought–a reluctance to acknowledge any particularity. Therefore, “all sin is the same at the foot of the cross,” actually minimizes the DAMAGE of some sins. Not all sin is equally devastating, but this is not acceptable to popular faith. This aversion to particularity has also: demeaned the uniqueness of Christ’s work, elevated SOCIAL atonements, and made everyone a victim–thus, no one really is.

    It also saddens me that Christian leaders can be vilified for merely point out what Scripture already says (e.g. Jesus’ comments about some being punished more lightly than others, see Mt 11; Lk 11). What this shows is that the authority of God’s Word has slipped far behind politics and “my story.”

  2. well said, Phil. Every time I read one of your posts I am reminded how much I admire your calm, gentle delivery. 🙂

    I know you ‘get this’ already, but for the sake of your readers, I’d like to share that we have tag for Sin Levelling at A Cry For Justice:

  3. Thanks for speaking about this, as a new believer this is one area the Church I went to, handled very well. Coming from a home of abuse I never was thrown this line and was given an appropriate sense of both justice and radical grace. Later as I plugged into some para-church ministries, I heard this kind of thing like a mantra ‘all sin is the same.’ It is a shame that we are so willing to emotionally and ethically self-lobotomize for the same of making a neat point in our attempts at evangelism.

    • You have been lucky Joe, to not have sin-levelling messages said to you.

      THe test of whether a church really gets this is when they do it right in cases where the abuser and the abuser’s victim both attend the church.

      Many churches are compassionate to victims of abuse who show up at the church without their abusers — either because the abuse was historic but not current (as yours, Joe, in your childhod from your family of origin) or because the abuser simply does not attend the church.

      But when the abuser attends the church as has been passing him or herself off as a believer and then the abuser’s victim, who also attends the church, disloses what the abuser has been doing: that’s the real test!

      Sadly, too many churches fail that test by giving the sin-levelling message, and accepting (pseudo-)confession and (pseudo-_repentance from the abuser. And then those churches blame the victim for not being willing to be reconciled with the abuser. . .

      I suggest you keep your eyes open for this Joe. Once you know to look for it, you’ll probably see it going on. But with your experience of having suffered abuse, you are unlikely to make that mistake yourself. 🙂

  4. Sarah

    Thanks for this Phil. You have given some really thought provoking discussion on how forgiveness and sin can be viewed in the context of trauma victims and offenders. Thank you

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